Here's the thing about finances: Transparency about money, debt, and anything in between is crucial to a happy and healthy relationship. But talking about them just isn't that fun — and can sometimes even lead to fights. If that's the case, you may be tempted to avoid the talk, and head straight for your spouse's wallet or even his or her bank statements to get the answers you need. But that would be a no good, very bad idea.
Here's why: "Finances aren't the most romantic thing in the world to discuss, but like it or not, much of a serious relationship depends on money," says Elle Kaplan, finance expert and founder of LexION Capital. "Everything from your weekly grocery shopping to your big-ticket decisions relies on being in-tune financially." And if you're not truthful about all those things and instead resort to snooping, you're signaling "a vital missing level of communication in the relationship," Kaplan warns.
What's more, trust might be missing from your relationship if you can't go to your partner with money questions and expect an answer — or an honest answer. "It's definitely a problem if one partner doesn't trust the other to be honest and open with them," says Jane Greer, Ph.D., relationship expert and author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship. And on top of that, "there can also be issues of control," she says. "If you're snooping, you may feel controlled by them or they may feel controlled by you."
Snooping in your partner's finances, if you're caught, can make your partner feel violated, too. "If you find out anything, you can't use the information unless you acknowledge that you violated his or her trust," Greer says. "If anything, they'll be angry with you for your behavior, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to address the financial issue in and of itself. You may discover ways in which they spend their money that you find upsetting. This will put you in a bind because you came to the info in a sneaky way, so it's hard to broach the topic."
If you're willing to still risk the damage snooping could do to your relationship, there's one more thing to consider: "If you have to snoop, you're probably getting a brief glimpse at your partner's finances; not the full picture," says Kaplan. "I'm not saying you need to know every single thing your spouse bought for lunch, but financial health is holistic. It involves knowing all the big moving pieces of your financial life, and that can't-and shouldn't-be seen with a quick glance of a bank statement."
Instead of snooping, both Kaplan and Greer agree that talking openly about your finances is exactly what you need to do. "Talking openly and honestly about finances can allow you to nip any problems and the bud and achieve financial success together," says Kaplan. "When partners align monetary forces, it can be a powerful method to reach more than just financial success. Buying your dream home, for instance, is within reach only when both partners are on the same page financially. Those milestones won't happen if you have to resort to financial spying."