Financial infidelity as bad as having affair, says psychologist

SINGAPORE - Lying about your financial situation can ruin your marriage.

So warns our panel of experts, which includes a counsellor, psychologist and financial consultant.

What may start off as a little white lie - like a recent purchase - may lead to bigger lies that can include covering up your actual debt situation, says church counsellor Jonathan Soh.

Such deceit may eventually lead to a breakdown in your marriage or relationship.

Mrs Amy Rodrigues, a private financial and debt consolidation consultant, notes that more couples are keeping secrets about their financial status. She sees about one to two clients a month to help them with debt consolidation and restructuring.

Says Mrs Rodrigues: "One in every three or four will tell me that their spouse or partner is unaware of the situation."

But what these debtors do not realise is that such financial infidelity could hurt a marriage or relationship as much as an affair, says psychologist Richard Lim.

Just last year, he counselled about 15 clients on the issue.

Mr Lim says: "My advice is simple. You wipe the slate clean and confess. At most, you'd have a nagging spouse or partner.

"But both of you can work on tightening the belt and with combined effort, you may be able to get out of the financial rut easier and quicker."

But not all clients are willing to take the risk, he says.

In a report published in The Huffington Post last week, a survey of 2,035 adults in the US conducted by the National Endowment for Financial Education (Nefe) showed that 33 per cent of people with combined finances have lied to their partner about money.

What's more, 35 per cent have been financially deceived by a partner.

Those numbers are up ever so slightly from Nefe's 2011 assessment, in which one in three Americans (31 per cent) admitted to lying to their spouses about money and 33 per cent said they had been financially deceived.

For most of the couples, the lies took a toll on the relationship.

Seventy-six per cent of those who experienced financial infidelity said the lies affected the relationship in some way, with 47 per cent admitting it caused an argument.

One third - 33 per cent - reported that it had resulted in less trust in the relationship.

Ten per cent of respondents said that the deception ultimately resulted in divorce.

In Singapore, there are no specific statistics about lying to one's partner about one's financial health.

But it is clear that debt is up.

A report last year said that the average debt exposure has risen over the years.

According to the report, numbers from the Credit Bureau Singapore showed that the average principal sum borrowed per consumer went up from $8,887 in 2008 to $12,678 last year. Credit card delinquency increased to 4.9 per cent last year.

Those interviewed by The New Paper on Sunday explained why they were unwilling to tell all about their financial situation.

One woman, who declined to be named in case her spouse found out, says: "My husband thinks I earn only about half of my actual pay, which leaves me with more money to splurge on things that he otherwise would disapprove of.

"And when he sees the purchases, I'd just say that I bought it at half the price during a sale."

Mr Lim observes that in those he counselled, most times there are already underlying issues in their relationships which encourage the lies.

"They feel that their spouse or partner has too much control over their life, and sometimes, it's an act of rebelling against that control," he says.

Mr Soh says: "Many of these debtors also delude themselves into thinking that they can resolve the debts sooner or later. But they may end up borrowing from others to meet payment.

"In the end, their debts climb and by the time they want to sit down and confess to their spouse or partner, it's be so much tougher."

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