Secret Credit Cards and Other Marriage Breakers

Last Updated Jul 23, 2010 9:03 AM EDT

Already think the divorce rate in America is pretty high? It turns out even more couples believe they might part ways if they were honest with their spouses when it comes to money, according to a recent survey. Indeed, nearly 40% of married folks report that their unions could dissolve if they revealed their spending habits to their better halves, according to CESI Debt Solutions, a non-profit debt counselor.

Money has always been a thorny issue for couples. So I wasn't surprised or particularly concerned to read that 80% of the participants claim they keep at least some of their spending a secret from their husbands or wives. But it turns out we aren't talking about a few innocent white lies. CESI discovered that folks are hiding some pretty big fibs that could indeed lead to divorce.

So what's the most common type of financial infidelity that folks worry will wreck a romance? Forty seven percent of participants said they discreetly spend money even though they're already drowning in debt. Is this truly a marriage breaker? I would say it's a definite maybe. The issue here is that one spouse may be trying hard to save the family from financial ruin while the other is only thinking of his or her own immediate gratification. For a marriage to last, both partners need to be working toward the same long term goals.

An even more concerning marriage blunder is when one spouse has a secret credit card. According to the survey, 18% of participants are guilty of this sin. Last summer, I interviewed Dr. Doug Welpton, a Clearwater, Fla. based psychiatrist and family therapist, about financial infidelity. At the time, he called such behavior the equivalent of a full-on affair.

Despite the severity of the indiscretions found by CESI's survey, I'm still not convinced that a little honesty would seriously increase America's divorce rate. I think husbands and wives can be a pretty forgiving bunch. I do, however, hope that more couples will come clean about their spending habits and try to work out their financial problems.

Would you stand by your partner if he or she had a secret spending habit? Or would you take the checkbook and run?

Credit Cards image by Andres Rueda, courtesy of CC 2.0.
Stacey Bradford is the author of The Wall Street Journal. Financial Guidebook for New Parents.
More on MoneyWatch:
Financial Infidelity: Is Your Marriage at Risk?
Marriage: Money Rules for Couples
Finances for Stay-at-Home Moms
  • Stacey Bradford

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