How to Address Your Secret Debt With Your Partner

In this week’s episode of Money Confidential, host Stefanie O’Connell Rodriguez talks with a woman who is keeping her credit card debt a secret from her boyfriend.

Photo: courtesy

Real Simple's new podcast Money Confidential is all about real, open conversations surrounding money in order to ditch some of the financial guilt and shame so many people feel. On this week's episode, host Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez addresses the concerns of Sofia, a woman who is hiding her credit card debt from her boyfriend. (Sofia is not her real name.)

The London-based Sofia has struggled with credit card debt since she was at university. At first, she had a very low credit limit—but as she earned more money over the years, that credit limit grew, and her spending grew with it until she was carrying a large amount of debt. She kept her credit card debt—and her guilt and shame surrounding it—to herself until she and her boyfriend began talking about purchasing a house together. Finally, she confessed to her debt and its impact on her credit score, and they reached an arrangement where her boyfriend paid off her debt in full and she paid him back. Sofia found paying her boyfriend back to be easy, and repaid the full sum within a few months.

Now, a few years later, Sofia has accumulated a large amount of credit card debt again—and is worried about approaching her boyfriend about it, particularly when he already helped her with her debt once and she said it would not happen again. Instead, though they have purchased a home together, they keep their spending habits to themselves and stick to talking about bills and shared expenses.

Brad Klontz, Psy.D., CFP

"There's a lot of power, actually, in having someone else eyeballing what's going on."

— Brad Klontz, Psy.D., CFP

To help Sofia find the courage to open up to her boyfriend about her debt and establish a better relationship with talking about money for both of them, O'Connell Rodriguez turns to Brad Klontz, Psy.D., CFP, an expert in financial psychology and financial planning.

"Money is the number one thing couples fight about, especially early on," Klontz says. Everyone has a different background and relationship with money, but the key to a financially equitable relationship is communicating openly and clearly about money—and fighting the urge to commit financial infidelity by keeping secrets about your spending. When you make money a regular topic of conversation with your partner, Klontz says, you both strengthen your bond and gain support with whatever you might be struggling with financially.

Listen to this week's Money Confidential"Is it OK to keep money secrets from my partner?"—for Klontz and O'Connell Rodriguez's tips for breaking the habit of financial infidelity, managing disagreements about money, and fixing your relationship's relationship with finances, to the benefit of all involved.



'I struggled with balancing trying to help and give back and also not creating codependent relationships or enabling bad behavior.'

'It's really an unknown land for me and for my husband'

'I didn't want to judge, but I also needed to set strict boundaries.'

Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: This is Money Confidential, a podcast from Real Simple about our money stories, struggles and secrets. I'm your host, Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez. And today we're talking to a listener we're calling Sofia - not her real name.

Sofia: I'm based in London, I'm 33. And the situation I've got is that I seem to have sort of relentlessly bad habit with credit card debt.

Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: This week's listener might be based in London, but her financial situation feels pretty universal. The average American family has over $6,000 in credit card debt.

Sofia: My issue with credit card debt began in university because I had quite limited means for getting by. It was just hard to make my stretch each month. So I took out a credit card with a 400 pound limit just to get me to the end of term. And once I began earning money, that's the sort of amount that should have been easy to just wipe out because it wasn't a very big debt.

So as the limit on the credit cards grown over the last 12 years that I've had it I just keep spending up to that limit. Never on anything important, it's all just like death by a thousand cuts. But as my income has grown and the limit has grown proportionately, the extent that I owe is not grown proportionately and it's ended up being a really big debt.

Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: But as Sofia's credit limit increased, so did her spending and her debt grew beyond that initial 400 pounds or $553 U.S. dollars. A few years ago, Sofia and her boyfriend decided to buy a house together, and she knew it was time to be honest about her credit card debt.

Sofia: It came up because we were talking about needing to do credit check for a mortgage. I felt embarrassed and I felt stupid and he wasn't judgmental. So it wasn't conversation about how did you get in this situation? it wasn't about the emotions or how did this end up happening? It was more like, 'Okay, let's just think about moving forward and solving the problem.'

Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: The plan was for Sofia's boyfriend to pay off the credit card balance with his savings, and then for her to pay him back.

Sofia: And it was quite a lot I was paying back. I think it was paying back, uh, 600 pounds a month to him, which meant within a few months. Uh, I think so 10 or 12 months, I had paid off the whole thing to him.

Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: After all those years of struggling to keep up with her credit card balance, when it came time to pay back her boyfriend, Sofia had no trouble keeping up with her monthly payments of about $800 US dollars and getting the balance to zero.

Sofia: I'd found no difficulty at all in paying him back. I think partially because it was very open and also it would have been so, not just shameful, but just so wrong to have not pay that back.

Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: And what did it feel like of repaying him?

Sofia Oh, it felt really positive, like I'm repaying your trust.

Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: But Sofia's money story doesn't end there…

Sofia: So it was back to zero and that was about three years ago, but I've ended up right back to the limit.

SStefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: But after experiencing the support that you got from your boyfriend, the first time you told him about your debt, what made you think you couldn't share it this second time?

Sofia: Hmm. I think there's a feeling of betraying some element of the trust that this won't happened again. And I probably even said, 'This will never happen again.' At least I hoped that, at the time when I assumed it. And I think also the thing that makes me reluctant is obviously you have different things you want to convey in a relationship, but you want to convey that you're competent.

You know, I've got a handle on my life. But maybeI have to accept it as the thing I have a problem with and need help with.

One of the things I want to achieve is when I have a conversation that I'm not coming down at completely empty handed, other than please help me, that I have some plans for not ended up in that situation again.

Stefanie: How do you imagine having that conversation?

Sofia: Um, feeling embarrassed and feeling a bit flat, but also I suppose, feeling sad for him feeling disappointed. I don't think it would make him doubt the relationship, but obviously one thing you want in a relationship is feeling the person respects you or admires you.

So I feel sad about probably putting a big dent in that aspect of being respected and admired. And I don't, but of course that's been kind of been living a lie for a while, so it's more, I'd be losing something I never had any way in that respect.

Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: Do you and your partner currently share any expenses?

Sofia: Yeah. We have a joint account for our mortgage and our utilities and like very small. Um, like if we buy a vacuum cleaner, it would come from that as well.

Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: And do you talk about that often?

Sofia: We'd love joking about the joint accounts. Like, I don't know why, but we joke all the time about pretending we're doing like, you know, naughty purchases,

I almost don't have a vision in my head of what would it look like to talk about money in a healthy way. Because right now I think we have lots of systems and we'll talk about like how we're going to split life insurance or whatever so anything like that.

But actually the idea of just talking about how we felt about it or how we've done leisure spending or for ourselves, or whatever, is treated as very private. Like, like for example, if he buys himself, some nice clothes, whatever. I'll see. I'll admire them, or whatever. But we'd never talked about how much they cost.

It would feel there's a sense of like, that's not just gauche, that it's almost invasive to talk about the cost of things when you buy a treat for yourself. I guess there's a sense of feeling at the moment that you're talking about it cause you're justifying it.

Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: Right. I like this idea of talking about money as a tool for affording a lifestyle you want. Do you think having a conversation about money through this framework is something you could do?

Sofia: Yeah, I think you're right. Actually, from something you've said, I've just realized that. I think that might be also add into me thinking, 'Oh, this is why we can't approach it.' The idea of having budgets for things feels constricting. But yeah, maybe the idea that the things that are nice things in lifestyle, like having a nice meal or holidays would never get budgeted either. Even we just both assume that each of us has enough to cover it.

Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: I also think it's interesting that you did well paying back your debt when you owed it to your partner. Because you identified it as being a kind of, of trust rebuilding, whereas you're back in debt again to the credit card company, maybe just cause it's, cause it's pragmatic, it's debt and there's nothing maybe motivating about that to you. And I wonder if there is again, a reframing of this as what would not having credit card debt feel like for you?

Sofia: Oh, it'd be amazing. Yeah.

Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: What would it allow you to do?

Sofia: Um, not have a secret. That's the main thing. So it would obviously be great. Cause it'd save me money that would probably add up to, at this stage, the price of a moderate holiday every year just going up.

Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: I think there's this interesting difference between, uh, what's private and what's personal. I think in our relationships and especially when it comes to money, I think it's easy for us to think this is our burden, but when we're sharing money, as you know, from applying for a mortgage or refinancing your credit affects your partner and vice versa.

Sofia: Yeah, that's really interesting. So see, your debt doesn't necessarily affect others or your spending, but your credit rating does become shared property. Yeah, that's interesting.

Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: And ultimately, you know, you're in this life together.

Sofia: Exactly. Yeah, no, that's really helped me reframe it in my head. I think it's important to not feel unequal. That each can be there to support the other and obviously emotionally, but also financially.

To also actually, think I probably would feel good and feel better if we did start talking about budgets for things and what it would like to start saving toward holiday we really want. It's either we do have the money or we don't. So why not talk about exciting things we'd like to do, but talk about how much they cost and actually open up our accounts and look at, okay, what timeframe would that be and so on. So I think that would feel really good actually.

Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: Coming up after the break, we talk to financial psychologist Dr. Brad Klontz about what a financially equitable relationship even looks like and if we can get there when we're still holding onto our money secrets.

As both a clinical psychologist and a Certified Financial Planner, Dr. Brad Klontz has seen a lot of couples fight about money.

Brad Klontz: Money is the number one thing couples fight about, especially early on. And the reason for that is that we grew up in different families. We have been raised with our own money stories and our own money beliefs. And it's different than our partner. So like conflicts are just normal.

Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: One of the things I found most interesting about Sofia's story though is that the money she shares with her boyfriend is actually money she seems to manage quite well. Like after years of struggling to pay down her credit card debt, when he agreed to pay off for her, she had no problem paying him back. So it seems she doesn't have the same struggle with debt when she owes her boyfriend that she has when she owes the credit card company. So I asked Dr. Brad Klontz about why that might be.

Brad Klontz: The more abstract things become the less salient they are, the less important they are, the less we're paying attention to it. Like if she, if she knew somebody at that credit card company and she felt, 'Oh, man, I owe this person money' and it would create this psychological discomfort and she would be motivated to take care of it.

And I think that's the difference. I think that that credit card company is just abstract thing. There's no human relationship with it. And so it's real easy to just be like, ah, I don't need to pay attention to that. But when it comes to my boyfriend—Oh my goodness. He loaned me this money. He's going to having feelings about me in a negative way. So she's very motivated to take care of that.

Brad Klontz: It's like when she's working in relationship with someone else around money, She tends to do things the right way or at least the way that she feels good about it when she's doing it in isolation, that's where it's a slippery slope for her.

There's a lot of power actually in having somebody else sort of eyeballing what's going on and you being somewhat accountable to that person in terms of talking about it, for example.

So, so super powerful tool that I used in my relationship with my wife too, is a spending limit And for us, it's, it's a hundred dollars. Um, and we could change that number, but if I'm going to buy something that's over a hundred dollars, I'm going to just chat with her about it.

And it's not paternalistic. It's not like she's going to be there saying no, you know, but what's so fascinating is that I think about that. And so I'm like, okay, so this is above that trigger point. So I'll have a discussion with her. And what's so fascinating is as I'm thinking about discussing it with her, I'm actually discussing it with myself.

You're like, 'Oh, I want that.' And this is how we're wired. Right. And, and a good marketer, a good advertiser knows exactly how to get you triggered to just make that impulse purchase. So anything that puts time between that impulse and that action is pure gold for your financial health. And so that is what I think quite often happens in relationships is you have an accountability partner.

You think about it, you look at it and you shift your behavior. And so I think that's one of the reasons why we do better when other people are seeing what we're doing.

Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: But Sofia hasn't been able to leverage the accountability from her boyfriend to help her with her spending or pay off her debt this time, because he doesn't know about it. And I asked Dr. Brad Klontz if keeping that kind of money secret is ok.

Brad Klontz: So there's this thing that we've identified in studies that we call financial infidelity. And this is essentially where you're, um, lying to somebody about money. Now, the issue with that though, is there's an underlying assumption that you've agreed to be truthful, right? I mean, if you're just keeping something private and you're both fine with it. That's just, you know, you guys are having private lives here.

The problem comes if, if the boyfriend thinks that she is being honest or, or forthcoming about the details of her financial life, if he thinks that that's their agreement. That's when it can be a threat to the relationship. And that's when it can be really kind of scary. There's been a lot of surveys on this, too, and I think it's about 50% of Americans admit to lying to their spouse or partner about spending like, like purposefully lying or, you know, actively withholding information.

And quite often it's meant to cover up shame and feeling bad about things or I'm not wanting to be judged by your partner, or maybe you even have a controlling partner around money. And you're like, look, I don't want to be controlled. So there's lots of reasons why people will do it, but he's walking around thinking that they're being honest and then he finds out later that there's this secret that could harm their relationship.

Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: One of the things I hear a lot with couples is this idea of, well, it's my debt. It's my problem. It's my responsibility. And I personally think that's a bit of a fallacy, especially when you're in certainly a marriage, but even a long-term partnership, you know, we already have seen how someone's credit could affect your capacity to move in with somebody. Right. So what are the kinds of rules, quote, unquote, of what you have to disclose or what's your responsibility or not?

Brad Klontz: What's so fascinating is that I bet you, if you're in a long-term relationship or if you're married at some date along the way, I dunno.

Let's say date number 10. Um, everyone likes to argue with me around which date it is, but at some point you might say something like, Oh, so, you know, would you ever, what are your, do you want to have kids someday or, um, where do you picture yourself living? Or what career do you picture yourself pursuing?

So there's a discussion around, um, you know, are we matching up on some of these core issues around where we want to live? What kind of faith do we want to have a family? There's there's some of that sorting process now what's fascinating is we never do that around money.

How do you want to manage money? Do you want to have joint accounts or separate accounts?

Like, what are your financial goals? You know, what was it like for you growing up around money? How did you feel about it, your socioeconomic status and childhood, you know, like what did your mom teach you? What did your dad teach you?

What are your biggest financial fears? This is a conversation that when I work with couples in conflict around money, who've been married 20 years. I go back and I say, let's have that conversation.

There's really no right or wrong way to do it. Should you do your money separate? Should you do it together? This, this is all stuff that people can negotiate and talk about, but you have to have the conversation.

Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: It's funny because on the one hand you have this couple that's been married for 20 years and is having this conversation with you in your office, but then you also don't want to be the person on the first date who's saying, okay, what's your credit score and how much money do you make? And I'm wondering, how do you know when to bring up that conversation and how do you even bring it up?

Brad Klontz: It's a challenge, right? It's there's a reason why people avoid it. It's like, I'm afraid you're going to judge me.

I don't want you to think that I'm just in it for your money. It's just inundated with all these sticky things that makes it really, really challenging. But I think it's a good conversation to have. And again, maybe not the 10th date, maybe it's the 20th date.

And if you're getting married, your financial life is intertwined. If you're married, like you might think you have separate accounts, you might think all this other stuff is going on, but, but the government looks at it entirely differently. You are, even if you file joint or separately, it doesn't even matter, you have a household. And that's the way the government looks at it. And if you don't believe me, talk to somebody who got a divorce and see what happened with their financial life, because this is, this is actually the reality. Your partner's credit score is going to have a profound impact on your life.

Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: And does that conversation include specific numbers? Like, is there stuff that conversations shouldn't include or must include?

Brad Klontz: I think it's obviously a case by case basis and some people are going to be really comfortable just telling you what their credit score, because they're proud of it. Right. And then some people are going to be reluctant because they're not so proud of it. So the details matter and they need to be unfolded on your own timeline. And also just talking about how do you feel about that? Like, I think that's a great conversation.

I was just reading this article the other day, and it said that couples should talk about their credit scores. I mean, how does that feel to you? I mean, they gave me all these reasons why it's important. So this is the way you might want, you could start the conversation.'

Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: I love that. That feels like very natural to me. I know that I'm always looking for those natural ins to talk about money. And I always use the example of when my now husband asked me out, I said, I don't care where we go, as long as it's someplace cheap because I'm on a budget and it was so simple, but it just set a precedent for the fact that like, this is a central piece of the conversation. One thing I was wondering when I was listening to her story is say, the roles were reversed.

And you're the partner who has someone coming to you and is revealing a large credit card balance, a debt of any kind. How can you respond to that?

Brad Klontz: It gets really helpful to just understand that people feel ashamed and embarrassed. And so if you're dating somebody and, um, they essentially trust you enough to tell you this, I think it's something you should sort of have your ears perked up on like, okay, I need to be a good listener. And this is a sensitive topic.

The average American has like around $90,000 in personal debt. So please don't be surprised if you're dating somebody and they reveal some debt.

And then secondly, it could be an indicator of a pattern that's of concern. You talked about a deal breaker is this that's one of the things I want to think of as somebody who's sort of vetting a future partner and, and guess what, this is what we do on dates, right? We're vetting a future partner around their attitudes, their religious preferences, a whole host of things.

But I might want to be looking at it as like, 'Is this somebody who just got into trouble when they were younger and they didn't know what they were doing, or was this like a pattern of sort of financial mismanagement that's been going on for 10 years?' And that's what starts to raise more concerns for me.

Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: One of the things that came up when I was talking to Sofia was I asked her, you know, do you and your boyfriend talk about money? And she said if we're talking about the bills, we can talk about how we're going to do that. We can talk about maybe refinancing our mortgage. We can talk about making sure we have sufficient insurance coverage, all really important conversations, but there wasn't a discussion around, what is the goal for the money? What do we want the money to afford us?

And so I'm kind of wondering why you think having that full scope around what the money's for and the goals around the shared money. Also specifically why that's so important.

Brad Klontz: Oh man. I'm so glad you brought it up because we just did a study trying to encourage people to save more. And we put half the people in a class on financial literacy and the other half, I had them essentially make vision boards. You know, I had them get super excited about why you're saving and what we saw as a 73% increase in savings in that group who got goal passion. And they just immediately started saving 73% more, which is just nuts. And the reason why is because they had goals. They had a clarity around a goal. They had passion around a goal.

We don't get inspired by abstract concepts. So the concept of like a saving account is so boring that I have trouble even saying it out loud, um, a budget—Oh goodness. Let's not talk about budgets.

You have to attach emotion in a positive way. This is the way your brain works. So aim that emotion towards your financial goals.

And if you're really clear on that goal, like for example, if I have a college fund for my son and my son's name is Ethan and I call it Ethan's college fund and I'm putting a hundred dollars a month or $200 a month over to that fund, there is a 0% chance I'm going to rob from that fund and buy a bass boat.

Whereas if it was a savings account, I just might do that because I'm like, well, geez, I want the bass. I love to to fish. I want that nice bass boat or whatever it is. So if you can name those accounts and, and, but to me, that's where the goals come from and just getting super passionate and super clear.

If you start with like, What do you actually want to spend your money on, what matters most to you? And this is incredibly powerful when you do it with your partner, like what matters to us. And if you then target those and then pay those things first, then the rest of the money, you just do whatever you want with, you know, and so budget that money, but pay yourself first on the stuff that really matters to you.

Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: What matters to us is such a different place to start a conversation around money with your partner, then what do we need right now in this moment? And it's not that like what we need doesn't matter. Of course it matters, but I love that reframe and I think to your point about emotion and power, what do I want? Could anything be more powerful?

Brad Klontz: Absolutely. And you know, there's nothing worse than like, Hey, we need a budget. So let's sit down here. And I'll look at all the joy that we need to cut out of our life. And let me start with you. All right. So where are you spending all your money? I mean, it's like, Oh, what a terrible emotional experience.

And that's why people don't do it. Like they've done studies where they have people like write down everything you spent the last week and in the next 24 hours, you're gonna be depressed.

Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: Speaking of emotional cost, the final thing that kind of came up in my chat with Sofia, how was how differences in money in a relationship—so differences in earnings, differences in savings, differences in management responsibilities—can affect the power dynamic of a relationship.

And while she intellectually understands that relationships don't have to be both partners earning the exact same amount of money. this idea of being unequal just came up again and again and again, and I'm wondering how couples can navigate both those feelings and just the realities of being in different financial situations and that not becoming a proxy for power.

Brad Klontz: Right now, this is a very complicated issue. It's not that easy. I think it's a lot easier to when couples are starting out together and they have nothing together, you know, and it becomes more complicated the more you see. You are in your own career and you have your own life and your own income. And then when there's a gap between somebody making more, somebody's making less, there's tons of baggage that comes along with this and by the way, gender loaded.

I just want to normalize that experience. Now, the couples that I see that manage it really, really well are ones who really are looking at it as a household unit. Um, so you're looking at what it takes to run a household, you know, income, taking care of the bills, you know, all those different aspects and couples that I think do best are ones who look at themselves as a team.

And so we're going to divide responsibilities. Now,maybe you want to take some of that money and do separate accounts so that you can feel free to indulge yourself, whatever. But I think it's really important to hammer those things out.

Like, what is your philosophy around money? What is your philosophy around money? So, let me get this straight. So are you comfortable if I make more then I have more power and control? Is that, is that the kind of relationship you want? Whoever makes more is the boss like, is that what you want? Because guess what? You might not make more five years from now. So is that the way, is that how you want to do this?

And so I think having that philosophy is really, really important and talking about it, because there's lots of ways to manage it, but you have to sort of have a shared philosophy around it.

Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: We already know money is complicated and we already know relationships are complicated, so maybe we shouldn't be too surprised that combining that two can be tricky and uncomfortable to navigate. But just because a conversation is uncomfortable doesn't mean it's not worth having. So I asked Dr. Brad Klontz what next steps he'd suggest for Sofia.

Brad Klontz: I think coming clean at some level is probably going to be beneficial. It all comes about in how you frame it too. Like my guess is that she didn't set out to deceive him. She didn't set out to do this. And my guess is that it's just sort of snowballed, you know, like she had this account and it's like, you know, there's $10 of debt on there, and then all of a sudden she's looking at, and she's like, 'Oh my gosh, I have this, and he doesn't know.' Right. And so now she's feeling like bad about this, and she's feeling uncomfortable about it. And she's probably worried about what he's going to say. So there's some risk involved in coming clean.

You know and again, I don't know him, but, you know, partners are there to help, right, and support each other. And so she manages money well when they're doing it together. And so maybe this is an opportunity for her to even say, 'Hey, look, I need your help. Like I realized that when I'm doing this on my own, we haven't really talked about this, but when I'm doing it on my own, it's more of a slippery slope. And what I really benefit from us doing it more together.' So there's a risk there if he stumbles upon this and he feels like you've been cause, cause the problem with it, it's like, then the next question is, well, what else are you hiding?

And so it can sort of shatter that foundation of trust. And again, I don't know what his mindset is. Like, I don't know. Maybe he has accounts she doesn't know about, I don't know. I don't know what their arrangement is, but it's an opportunity to talk about, 'Hey look, we've been together. I'd like to take our relationship to the next level. I'd like to talk about money. I'd like to talk about us doing, going all in together on this.' And that can actually feel really good. It just really depends on how you frame it.

Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: It's funny because when I asked her how she would feel, if he needed her support, she felt wonderful about the prospect of being able to provide that, but then she couldn't see that for herself, that he might feel the same way toward her, even though he's done it in the past. And I love what your point was about. You know, obviously it's when her finances are shared in some way or public in some way that they're under control.

So why wouldn't that be the first step?

Brad Klontz: And I think that before she talks about it, she can even talk about her fears. Like, look, I want to talk to you about this money thing. And I'm so afraid that, you know, whatever, like you're going to leave me. You're going to be really upset at me. And I just want you to know that I did not intend this. I mean, just to talk about those fears, because what it does for me, if I hear that from my wife, 'Hey, I want to talk about something, but I'm really worried that you're going to be really upset with me.

I immediately sort of tuned into like, Okay. Well, I don't want to be that person that I don't want to like exhibit her worst fears. And so just to talk about her fears is another way to tell, bringing it up gently might cue him in to being more compassionate around this situation. Because from what I understand of her story, I mean, she legitimately feels bad about this and she wants to make things right.

Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: So is it okay to keep money secrets from your partner?

Like other forms of infidelity, financial infidelity is an action that violates the rules, expectations and boundaries of a relationship. But because most couples don't take the time to define those rules, expectations, and boundaries around money, it's hard to know if and when you're breaking them. So that's a good place to start.

Define expectations. These can include things like how much each partner is expected to contribute to shared expenses or savings; or what types of financial tasks you'll each be responsible for; and how frequently you'll review your spending and savings goals as a team.

Define your shared rules and boundaries. These can include things like spending limits, how much you will or won't spend without checking in with each other first; or what money decisions and mistakes you'll share with each other, and how often.

And finally, define your goals, both individual and shared - not only can they help keep you accountable for what you're working to achieve, they can help shape the money philosophy that will guide you as a couple through the inevitable changes in earning dynamics, spending dynamics and money ups and downs all couples experience throughout the course of a relationship - What do we actually want to spend our money on? What matters to us? And what are we going to do to prioritize it?

This has been Money Confidential from Real Simple. If, like Sofia, you have a money secret you've been struggling to share, you can send me an email at money dot confidential at real simple dot com. You can also leave us a voicemail at ‪(929) 352-4106‬.

Money Confidential is produced by Mickey O'Connor, Heather Morgan Shott, me, Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez. Thanks to our production team at Pod People: Rachael King, Matt Sav, Danielle Roth, Chris Browning, and Trae Budde.

If you like what you hear, please consider leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts, or telling your friends about Money Confidential. Real Simple is based in New York City. You can find us online at, and subscribe to our print publication by searching for Real Simple at

Thank you for joining us and we'll see you next week.

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