Friday, August 6, 2010

Side-step Financial Infidelity

Here's a statistic that may surprise you, especially given today's economic climate: in 25% of households, women are earning more than their male counter-parts. This could also be especially due to today's economy given that the men in these households may be out of work while their wives and partners remain employed. According to a New York Times study done early in the recession, as companies from Citibank to GM announced massive layoffs, 82 percent of the people getting laid off have been men. It won't be long before women become the majority of the American workforce. And the pendulum is swinging again, re-writing gender roles and our relationship to money.

Typically, as men have been the breadwinners, they find themselves more defined by money and their earning power. But as the statistics above show, we need to change the way we look at male-female power dynamics. We need a new way to navigate the shift in power due to male-female role reversal and the resulting power dynamic that now faces both couples and singles.

Finances have long been at the root of much relational difficulty, and with this shift, it's becoming even more important to identify your money patterns and define what areas of your relationship tend toward Financial Infidelity. This is a form of cheating that's often so subtle, people don't know they're engaging in it, yet it can be just as devastating as a physical affair.

In my book, Financial Infidelity, I define this type of infidelity as going behind your partner's back when it comes to your finances. What this looks like in practice varies for each couple; for couples who are on a tight budget it can mean withdrawing $20 extra at the grocery store and using it for something personal. Or it can be as dramatic as not telling your significant other about a work bonus with the idea of keeping it for yourself. I call this the “money mistress.”

Of course there are many other ways this can manifest itself and a lot of it has to do with how our relationships toward money were cultivated in our early years. This is where what I call “Financial Imago” comes in. “Imago” is a term that references the unconscious image you've created which defines the type of partner you're looking for. Coined by Harville Hendrix, the term is the Latin word for “image.” As you transition through life changes with your significant other, a big part of making that transition successfully comes from the way you deal with financial stressors as a couple. In order to do this, you have to understand the ways you're both prone to deal with money – and you have to have a road map for how you WANT to deal with money.

To do this successfully, I suggest engaging in Smart Heart Dialogue. with my patients, the power of non-judgmental communication, or what I call “Smart Heart Dialogue.” This type of communication is even more important now, when egos are fragile, stress abounds, and tempers are short. It's important that each person give the other a place in which they can be honest and – just as importantly – a place where each person knows the other is going to take their honesty to heart. What good is a conversation if no change comes from the concerns voiced?

But as with any significant change – whether culturally or within your own relationship – tradition, habits and patterns are heard to break so be sensitive and tread lightly.

- Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil

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For more about Imago and the other techniques mentioned in this article, visit Also be sure to catch Dr. Bonnie's advice on the Today Show.

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