With Marlow and Chris Felton, Authors of The Prosperity Factor and Couples Money, What Every Couple Should Know About Money and Relationships
Meet Marlow and Chris Felton, Authors of Couples Money
Conflicts around money are said to be the number one cause of divorce; therefore, it pays—in more ways than one—to evaluate the financial health of your marriage and, if necessary, head off any problems before you start going down the dark and usually irreversible path of divorce. Marlow and Chris Felton are experts on the subject of the influence of money on marriage and the trouble or trust it can bring, and the authors of The Prosperity Factor and Couples Money: What Every Couple Should Know About Money and Relationships. In addition to their publishing activity, the Feltons work with couples directly on these and related issues.
How To Catch Signs of Financial Infidelity And Set Things Straight
Steve starts out the conversation by noting that many people wonder if their spouse has been financially unfaithful and what the warning signs of such infidelity are. In Couples Money, they identify seven signs that your spouse is financially cheating on you. He asks the Feltons to expand on the number one sign they identify: that when the subject of money comes up, the spouse gets defensive. Marlow says that, oddly enough, this clue is often overlooked. One spouse isn’t getting their needs or wants met, and they start sneaking around, spending money without their partner’s knowledge or approval. They may go to great lengths to hide the evidence of their secret spending and avoid a confrontation. It’s this latter behavior, in particular, which can cause so much damage, or “death to a relationship” as Marlow puts it, while the spending itself is often fairly innocent. It’s crucial to talk through these kinds of issues right away, whether the secretive activity has come to light through confession or discovery. Chris and Marlow each confide their own periods of “financial unfaithfulness” towards one another, and Chris’s takeaway is that the root of the secretive behaviors in both cases was a lack of clarity about the direction they were headed as a couple. In the absence of a common understanding of what you’re aiming for as a couple, you’re prone to being distracted by “every bright shiny object.” As Steve distills it down, the key is to improve your communication skills and make it a central goal of your relationship so that you don’t fall prey to old habits of avoiding confrontation about difficult subjects.
What Happened To My Monthly Financial Statement?
The second sign of a partner’s infidelity is missing financial statements. When someone is intercepting the mail in order to keep their husband or wife in the dark about their cheating ways, something is very wrong. In today’s world of online banking and online brokerages, it’s perhaps an open question as to whether there is a digital equivalent to nabbing statements from the mailbox. The Feltons argue that complete financial transparency is essential in a marriage or long-term relationship, and this would obviously constitute a serious breach of that principle.
How To Confront Signs Of Financial Cheating Without Being Accusatory
The next indication of potential cheating is unexpected and unrecognized account activity. This one may be easier to translate into a digital context, as an online bank or credit card account would probably be the easiest place to spot such activity, though it could come in the form of a phone call from the anti-theft department of your bank or credit card company. The Feltons advise their readers and clients to bring up this subject in a casual, non-accusatory way; after all, you’re not sure exactly what is going on here, and potentially awkward, upsetting topics like this can easily go off the rails. Approach the topic, they coach, by “calling out the elephant in the room”: Say you want to talk about something without getting into an argument, and that you won’t get mad no matter what comes up, and that you hope they won’t get angry either. Scrupulously avoid accusatory attacks. These are simply good communication practices and apply to a lot of other situations as well. In the bigger picture, the goal is to establish a clear framework and code of honor to support healthy dialogue, including discussing the uncomfortable and flammable stuff. These need to be put in place before any major conversation about money or other controversies because, as Chris puts it: “when emotion goes up, intelligence goes down.” The code or framework will keep conversations on track and prevent sudden jumps into emotionality.
Couples: Joint Vs Individual Bank Accounts
Steve mentions that when he first married years ago, he and his wife had a single joint bank account. Nowadays, it seems to be more common for married couples to maintain three accounts: one for each spouse and a shared third account. He asks whether this arrangement increases the odds of financial secrecy in a marriage. Marlow concedes that it can have this effect, but she adds that the more important point is to have clarity as a couple as to what your shared financial goals are—ideally before you create segregated bank accounts. Couples need to be clear about what these individual accounts are to be used for, how much money is going into each of them, how to make those deposits equal, and how to make sure there is no siphoning between accounts. There has to be accountability and transparency or the project is likely to break down at some point. She adds that they believe that having a single account is asking for trouble in numerous ways, and so they advocate for the three-account system.
Why Is My Spouse Sporting New Digs?
The final sign of financial infidelity that Steve brings up is noticing that your partner has new clothes, shoes, or experiences that you were not privy to. It should probably register as a red flag if there’s no good explanation of how these were acquired other than a throwaway comment like “I got them at a great price.” Of course, you should be even more alarmed if your partner appears to be indulging in addictive gambling or playing the lottery, not to mention drugs and alcohol. All of these could deplete a bank account on top of other problems they might create.
Set Up & Fund Your Individual Bank Accounts Fairly
Asked how he might respond to this kind of a situation or, better yet, how to anticipate and contain it, Chris argues that having shared financial goals— grounded in emotional commitments—and agreeing on rules about your individual and shared bank accounts can make a big difference. He adds that he and Marlow always get the same amount of money deposited each month into their individual bank accounts, and while they’re each free to do whatever they want with this money, once it’s gone it’s gone until the next month. He claims this approach has been extremely helpful for them and for many of their clients.
Disclosure: The opinions expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily United Capital. Interviewee is not a representative of United Capital. Investing involves risk and investors should carefully consider their own investment objectives and never rely on any single chart, graph or marketing piece to make decisions. Content provided is intended for informational purposes only, is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities, and should not be considered tax, legal, investment advice. Please contact your tax, legal, financial professional with questions about your specific needs and circumstances. The information contained herein was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however their accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. All data are driven from publicly available information and has not been independently verified by United Capital.
Steve Pomeranz: If money is the leading cause of divorce, how can you tell if your relationship is headed down that dark path? More specifically, how can you tell if your spouse is cheating on you financially? That’s a question many find themselves asking. So, let’s find out what to look for.
My guests are Chris and Marlow Felton, authors of The Prosperity Factor and Couples Money, What Every Couple Should Know About Money and Relationships. Welcome, guys.
Marlow Felton: Hi, Steve.
Chris Felton: Welcome, yeah, thanks for having us.
Steve Pomeranz: So, you’ve written there are seven signs, seven important signs, your spouse or significant other or whatever is financially cheating on you. Number one is when you ask about money, they get defensive. Take us through that a little bit.
Marlow Felton: Well, that’s really important and that’s the number one clue that many people overlook. And when someone’s needs aren’t being met, they tend to sneak around and do things they shouldn’t.
And when someone is defensive, that’s a telltale sign. Years ago, I like to tell this story of how I was unfaithful financially to my husband. I have a need for lots of shoes, as my husband knows. Right honey? [LAUGH] And I was purchasing shoes.
Chris Felton: You were unfaithful?
Marlow Felton: [LAUGH] Yes, yes, financial, honey, just financially.
Chris Felton: Okay.
Marlow Felton: And I was buying shoes because I liked them, and I didn’t want to tell Chris. And s I’d hide them in the trunk of my car, and I didn’t want to talk about it. S avoiding the conversation could just be death to a relationship. We, fortunately, came up with a good solution and talked it through, so I don’t have to do that anymore.
Steve Pomeranz: So, Chris, now that Marlow has told her tale and come clean, is there anything you want to tell us?
Chris Felton: Yeah, well, it’s just, it can be uncomfortable, right? So, people avoid having uncomfortable conversations, and so they just continue to kick the can down the road. My unfaithfulness was just small spending here and there, and happy hours, and golf. It just, the root of it was just we didn’t really know where we were going as a couple. We had no clarity about what we were aiming for. And so, if you don’t know where you’re going, then just every little shiny object will catch your attention. And that’s what was happening to me.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, that’s a good point. The point of all of this is to get communication going and to recognize these areas where you, maybe based out of habit or just previous life experience, sometimes it’s easier just to avoid confrontation on these issues. All right, let’s go to the next one.
Financial statements are disappearing. If your partner is intercepting the mail before you have a chance to check the payments, I guess something’s not right. You want to take us through some of that?
Marlow Felton: [LAUGH] Well, yeah, we really believe that there should be complete financial transparency in a relationship. Any spouse that isn’t willing to be financially transparent is hiding something, and that’s really a warning sign.
Steve Pomeranz: I think when you get to that point-
Marlow Felton: For sure.
Steve Pomeranz: Tell me if I’m wrong now, but when you get to the point where you’re actually taking statements, and maybe you’re trying to come home early to get the mail, then something serious is really happening.
Marlow Felton: [LAUGH] Right, when you’re rushing home, that’s exactly right. When you’re creating that much stress in your life just to hide something, that’s when you know you’ve gone way too far.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, you need to…
Chris Felton: When your new best friend’s the mail man? Yeah.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, exactly. If you know the mailman by his first name or her first name, then maybe that’s not such a great sign. All right, so the next one is unexpected and unrecognized account activity. You say, bring up this topic in a casual way that really asks them, more than accuses them. Chris?
Chris Felton: Yeah, part of what we teach our couples is that if you need to have an uncomfortable conversation, we coach them on, “Hey Marlow, I want to talk to you about something, but I’m kind of afraid you’re going to get mad at me.” And you kind of call out the elephant in the room.
So I’m hesitant to talk about it because I don’t want it to get into an argument. “And no, I’m not going to get mad at you.” “ You sure? Because I don’t want to go there with you, and I don’t want to bring it up if it’s going to lead to a fight.”
So if you do that up front and, yeah, if you’re accusing them then they’re defensive and it’s just a disaster. But it also means the couple doesn’t really have a clear way or a system or a code of honor about how they’re going to communicate and bring stuff up. And if they create that ahead of time, because when emotion goes up, intelligence goes down.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah.
Chris Felton: So.
Steve Pomeranz: Good point.
Chris Felton: If you create that ahead of time, then you’re going to have a code to kind of follow and way to have uncomfortable conversations in a system that people will follow through with, versus jumping to emotion.
Steve Pomeranz: Marlow.
Marlow Felton: Right.
Steve Pomeranz: Let me ask you a question. When I was coming up, when I first married many years ago, we shared, we had one bank account. We shared our bank account and checks went into the bank account. But I think couples these days have maybe three bank accounts. One for him, one for her, and may be a shared bank account. Does this create more tendency towards secrecy do you think?
Marlow Felton: Well, it can. But going back to what Chris said, is getting clear on your goals first, before you create your segregation system is incredibly important because then it can avoid the uncomfortable conversation. Because you can always go back to, okay, well, we agreed as a couple, this is where we want to be. This is what’s important, these are our financial goals. But we do very strongly believe in segregation of funds, which is, I think, what you’re referring to or could be, having the “yours mine and ours.” But it has to be really clear what those accounts are being used for. And how much is going into them each month, and that it’s equal and agreed upon, so that you don’t have the siphoning of money from one account. Like his account, right honey? [LAUGH] If there’s more money going into his account, and Chris is out playing golf all the time and having great happy hours, I’d be like what’s going on over there? So there has to be the accountability. But we think that the one checking account system is really asking for trouble for a variety of reasons.
Steve Pomeranz: Okay, well, we don’t have time to get into that, but that is an interesting point. I’d like to hear your thoughts on that at some future time. I guess what you guys are saying is that, obviously, relationship needs to be built on trust. And people are human and have a lot of emotional characteristics to their personalities, so sometimes that trust gets eroded. Here’s one that I like. Your partner has new possessions, shoes, and experiences not involving you. Be wary of all of your partner’s new items, how they were obtained, and if they were obtained with a great deal, quote end quote. Also, take note if your spouse’s new hobbies are addictive activities like gambling or playing the lottery excessively. That could, of course, take a toll on bank accounts, and I think drugs and alcoholism come in here. This whole idea of you hiding your shoes in the trunk is kind of reminiscent of the alcoholic who’s kind of hiding the bottle.
Marlow Felton: Right, yeah, and it’s really just the root of much more deeper problems.
Steve Pomeranz: Absolutely, Chris, you want to weigh in on this at all?
Chris Felton: Yeah, I mean I just kind of going previously, our separate fund accounts, it’s just a set amount that she and I get every month, and it’s the same. And, once again, that’s under the umbrella of one or two major financial goals that we have. And we’re really clear on, hey, here’s the reasons why we want it to happen. Here’s the emotional reasons why we want to have these goals happen. And when we have that buy in up front, but also having funds set aside, or you’ll self-sabotage the plan.
So when that amount is spent every month, it’s gone. And if we’re clear on the major goals, then we’re okay with that. So, go have fun, allocate money for fun, do with it what you want. Buy what you want. But when it’s gone, it’s gone, you’re not getting any more. So, that’s been super, super helpful for us and the people we coach.
Steve Pomeranz: That’s good advice. We are out of time, my guests are Chris and Marlow Felton, and author of Couples Money, What Every Couple Should Know About Money and Relationships. And you can find them at couplesmoney.com.