Analysis: Keeping money secrets in marriage

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, UT. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

Question:

My husband and I were raised totally different. He came from a family that didn’t have a lot of money, so he’s very careful. While my family was not rich, we were very giving of what we had. We live on a budget and don’t have a lot of discretionary money, but we do have extra each month that we could share occasionally with others in need. So, here’s my question:  is it all right to do those things without telling my husband? I wouldn’t even ask as he’d never know, and I’d never openly lie about it; I’d just do it in private. So, what do you say?

Answer:

It’s good to see your earnest desire to have a healthy and unified marriage with your husband. Despite the differences you may have about discretionary income, the answer to this question will determine your long-term ability to establish and maintain trust with your husband. Here are some thoughts on honesty, unity, and living with perpetual differences.

First of all, it’s never a good idea to hide your behavior from your husband. I have no doubt in my mind that you believe you’re doing a greater good by helping the less fortunate. However, you will never get the full measure of joy by giving to others if you’re simultaneously betraying your husband’s trust.

I’m certain your deepest desire is that you could give openly to those who are less fortunate with the full support of your husband. While this may or may not be a reality for you in the future, I can promise that if you begin doing it secretly, you will only increase the likelihood that this will not become your reality.

Secrets create distance in close relationships. They are a form of turning away from your marriage and show disrespect and contempt. Secret behavior assumes that you know better than your spouse, which will begin to breed discontent and resentment toward your “less enlightened” partner. You may think you’re helping the marriage run more smoothly, however, I believe you’re only setting yourself up for failure.

There is nothing noble about cheating one person to give to another. If you are acting on your deepest value of compassion by sharing your money with the less fortunate, you also violate the same value of compassion by disregarding your husband’s wishes. Once your heart is back in the right place and you’re demonstrating this level of respect and commitment to your marriage, then you’ll be ready to start discussing it productively with your husband.

I recommend finding a good time to talk when you’re both calm and emotionally connected. Make sure there are no distractions, such as television, cell phones, or children. Notify him in advance about the topic and your desire to have him hear your thoughts and beliefs about it. Let him know that your intention isn’t to argue or change his view on the matter. Simply tell him that you want him to listen.

Most spouses make the mistake of discussing their position on a difficult topic by trying to change the way their partner sees things. This most often creates defensiveness and makes it hard for your partner to hear what you’re trying to say. If he can hear your desires and understand where you’re coming from and why this is so important to you, it’s likely you’ll begin to move toward finding a way to honor this desire.

This discussion can’t be avoided with the hope that it will someday resolve itself.  Recognize that you were willing to betray the trust of your marriage to get your need met.  If you’re willing to take that kind of risk for this need, it’s important enough to address with your husband.

Even if you feel like you’ve unsuccessfully brought it up with him in the past, try again with different conditions. If you continue to run into resistance despite your best efforts, you may need to consider seeking the help of a marriage counselor to help you talk through it. It’s much better to try and keep talking about it rather than to go below the surface and create secrets in your marriage.

email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

twitter: @geoffsteurer

Copyright 2012 St. George News. 

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