QUESTION: I keep a separate bank account for personal use -- nothing nefarious or illegal, just the occasional impulse purchase. Here's the thing, though: my wife doesn't know about the account. Should I 'fess up?
JIM: Absolutely, positively, you should tell your wife! The concern is not so much that you're spending money outside the family budget (although that's certainly a consideration), but the damage that this sort of secrecy can do to your marriage.
Others have fallen into the same trap. In an online survey by Forbes and the National Endowment for Financial Education, about one in three Americans admitted lying to their spouse about money, and another third said they were the ones who'd been deceived.
This "financial infidelity" took on many forms. The leading offenders either hid cash from their spouses, or covered up minor purchases and bills. But a significant number also said they hid major purchases, lied about their debt or earnings, and, yes, kept secret bank accounts.
Among those affected, 67 percent said the deception led to an argument, and 42 percent said it caused less trust in the relationship. More than a quarter said lies about money led to either a divorce or a separation.
Don't let this happen to you. Your wife will likely be hurt when you tell her, but your honest confession might make the revelation less painful than if she were to "catch you in the act," which would inevitably happen at some point. I implore you to see a pastor or marriage counselor and work through this issue together. It's better to get things out in the open now rather than let the deception continue. Honesty and trust are the foundation of a healthy marriage.
QUESTION: How much should I tell my fiance about my past? I realize that honesty and transparency are important in any relationship, but there are times when it can be harmful to "let it all hang out." I don't want to keep secrets, but neither do I want to cause hurt or damage. Where do I draw the line?
JULI: You're absolutely right that there is danger in erring by both keeping secrets and telling too much detail. I'm glad you're asking this question while you're engaged, before making a lifetime commitment to each other. While dating, people naturally present the best of themselves. They talk about their victories and put their best foot forward. In the intimacy of marriage, however, everything will be revealed. All of your weaknesses and insecurities will be uncovered. Even if you never speak of them, wounds and choices from your past will impact your marriage. This unhindered intimacy is what makes marriage so great and so threatening at the same time. Your engagement is the "in-between" period. It's the time to reveal significant things from your past and aspects of your personality that you may not let most people see.
Your fiance should know about things like your financial situation, any sexual relationships from your past, abusive relationships and addictions you may struggle with. These can present some very scary conversations, wondering how he will respond. It may feel like you're taking a step backward, but it's actually a giant step toward true intimacy. Your fiance's response will show you a lot about his character and willingness to embrace all of you within the intimacy of marriage.
There's a limit, however, to how much you share. The goal of sharing is to build trust. It takes discernment to know which details will build a foundation of trust, and which will erode it. Your fiance may even ask for details that would be hurtful for him to know in the future. As you wade through these difficult waters, I highly recommend premarital counseling to help you develop that solid foundation of authenticity and love.
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.
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