Financial Infidelity

Article excerpt

You can tell something about a woman's marriage by the way she pays for her facial or perm, says Angela Allen.

Allen owns From Head to Toe salon and spa in Greensburg, which provides hair treatments, facials and other services to a mostly female clientele.

"They'll say, 'Can I pay you part with check, part with cash?'" says Allen, who owns the business with her husband. "They always pull out money from deep underneath the wallet."

That tells her they could be concealing the real cost of the salon visit from their husband. The partial-cash payment can mean that a $50 bill for hair coloring will appear on a credit card statement as costing only $25.

It might sound like the kind of quaint peccadillo that formed the plot of an "I Love Lucy" episode. But financial infidelity, as some call it, can assume more extreme forms, such as maintaining a secret bank account or running up credit card bills or gambling debts without the other spouse's knowledge.

A new golf club hidden by a husband or a new pair of shoes tucked in the back of a closet by a wife can signal problems beyond their monetary value, says Lois Greenberg, a licensed clinical social worker whose Castle Shannon practice includes couples counseling and individual psychotherapy.

"It's not what are you hiding," she says. "It's why are you hiding it and what is this peril and what is the danger of revelation? What will happen if he or she knows that I've got this, and what is this really about in terms of one's feelings of guilt and shame?"

Each partner brings his or her own value systems to a marriage, Greenberg says. A purchase that is a necessity for one spouse might be frivolous to the other. Couples should negotiate such concerns, she says.

"This is the major issue in relationships," she says. "We don't know how to fight about things. We can't tolerate the tension of dissonance. People have difficulty confronting each other."

Susan Dunhoff, owner of The Modern Matchmaker in Squirrel Hill, says, "Finances are a very intimate part of a relationship.

"Financial fidelity is as important as sexual fidelity," she says. "Because once the element of trust is shattered, it's very hard to repair that."

A spouse who decides to leave the marriage might hide assets, such as stock or company profits, to avoid dividing them in the property settlement. Lawyers for the other side might hire forensic accountants or private investigators to find them.

Susan Williams, a former divorce attorney who now practices civil law in Greensburg, says husbands often are the ones hiding the assets because they're the breadwinners.

"I don't want to say the blame is on the wife, but even in today's society, women are still very trusting of their husbands," Williams says. "I recall situations where a woman would come to me for a divorce and I would say, 'What are the marital assets? What do they consist of?' And she would say, 'I don't know.' And I would say, 'Did you sign the income tax return?' She'd say, 'Yes, but I didn't read it.'

"To some degree, women need to be proactive and educate themselves."

Williams doesn't think full disclosure of purchases is an absolute necessity in a marriage, however.

"I think it depends on what agreement the spouses have on finance," she says. "In our marriage, because we both work, there's not a lot of accounting from one to the other. ... He just bought himself a motorcycle and he didn't have to ask my permission."

In its 2005 Women & Investing Survey, the New York City investment firm OppenheimerFunds found that both women and men hide money from each other. Of the 1,000 female and male investors surveyed, 40 percent of women and 36.8 percent of men said they maintained a checking, savings or brokerage account to which their spouse does not have access.

Both genders -- 24 percent of males and 26 percent of females -- named cash as the No. …