Lies and secrets are like cancer to the soul. They eat away at what is good and leave only destruction behind.
– Cassandra Clare
There is a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous: ‘You’re only as sick as your secrets.’
If you’re doing something that you want to keep secret, you are probably doing the wrong thing, or for some reason you are attaching shame to the secret. This is particularly true if the secret is causing harm. When it comes to finance, or financial problems, we don’t attach shame and we don’t keep secrets. The power of the secret is gone the minute you open your mouth. The more overt you are about financial problems, the less power they have in your life. You need to get things out into the open and talk about your financial struggles if you want to be powerful with our money.
Keeping secrets stops us from experiencing true intimacy. How can you be completely open and honest with someone if you have to keep a secret? Hiding things about ourselves is stressful. All kinds of secrets, whether about money or a lie, create a stress response in our body. Long-term stress increases adrenaline and cortisol levels. These two hormones cause inflammation in the body and damage the immune system. The price of a secret is a tax too high to pay.
We have all heard stories of friends and colleagues who hide purchases from their spouses. I had a girlfriend who used to hide her shopping in the boot of her car. Other friends hide things in the wardrobe and then pull them out with the old chestnut, “this old thing, had it for ages”. I once worked with a woman who never, ever wore the same outfit twice. This was something she was not overt about or something that she ever discussed with colleagues; it was something that was whispered about her as she passed in the hallways: “That’s her”; “that’s the one”; “she never wears the same outfit”; “watch her, you’ll see”.
Dr. Michael Finklestein MD, medical director of SunRaen, a holistic healing center in New York, encourages journaling as you prepare to come clean. He also encourages role-playing as a way of preparing for difficult conversations.
If you have a financial secret and you need to come clean, sit down with your MOJO and write about it. Journal it to yourself and work out an action plan.
Utah State University researcher Jeffrey Dew discovered that 31 percent of Americans who have combined their finances say they’ve lied to their spouse about money, and 67 percent of those say it caused arguments. Sixteen percent broke up as a result.
Another survey found that 80 percent of couples spent secret money; nearly 20 percent had a secret credit card1.
The worst case I have come across in my practice was a client who was referred to me because he had $90,000 of credit card debt. His wife had no idea. It cost him his marriage and his career.
If you are hiding money and or debt from your spouse, it’s worth spending some time to explore what’s really going on for you. Often this behavior is a sign that there is a problem with something else completely different. Secret keepers don’t feel loved or they don’t feel powerful (see diagram on external drivers). Overspending makes us feel good. It triggers a release of dopamine, that feel-good neurotransmitter. If it feels good we will repeat the behavior, especially if we aren’t feeling good about other parts of our life or relationships.
There are three immediate and practical benefits to being open about any money problems that you might have:
Your relationship will be deeper and more intimate as a result of sharing your vulnerabilities.
People won’t expect too much of you financially. You don’t have to worry about being asked to contribute for expensive gifts or nights out at fancy restaurants. I’m not saying don’t have a life; I’m saying come up with strategies that support your new lifestyle. Invite people to a picnic instead of a fancy dinner or choose a smaller personal gift if you can’t afford to contribute to an expensive one.
When you turn things around, you can share your success. Your friends and family love you for who you are, not for what you have. Try not to be concerned about what people will think of you when you decide to be truthful about your financial situation. My son Ben says: “Don’t worry about what people think about you, they rarely do it.”
You will find that your friends and relatives will support you when you disclose your financial struggle and celebrate with you when you turn it all around and you are living well. You might find that you become the go-to person among your friends and family for helping people with money problems.
Secrets are like rot and rust. Get them out of your life.
(When it comes to how much money you earn and the wealth you have accumulated, that should be a secret and should only be shared with discretion. Money is like underwear. Everyone wants to know that you have it but we don’t need to see it. Be discreet.)