(CNN) — ‘Tis the season for overspending — just ask the 141 million people who raided retail stores online and in-person the weekend after Thanksgiving.
But before you buy that Red Ryder BB gun or Jelly of the Month Club membership, remember that relationship experts agree it’s best to set economic expectations with your partner unless you want to end up on the naughty list next year.
“Financial infidelity,” when a spouse or partner is not forthcoming about monetary decisions, can be insidious.
“All of us have some area of our lives where our impulses overwhelm our judgment, and spending — especially at holiday time — is a common one,” says Joseph Grenny, co-author of the New York Times best-seller “Crucial Conversations.”
“Couples feel shame and resentment about discussing spending mistakes, which drives them to silence.”
According to a recent report from McGraw-Hill Federal Credit Union, 48% of heterosexual married couples have disagreements over how much to spend during the holiday season. And research by the National Council on Family Relations finds that financial disagreements are the type of argument that most strongly predicts divorce.
Just as sexual infidelity can start with an innocent kiss under the mistletoe at the holiday party, financial infidelity can also begin humbly — whether it’s lying about how much a new pair of boots cost or secretly cashing a check.
According to relationship experts, as with any other marital issue, financial fights have a larger underlying factor: a lack of trust.
“Financial infidelity is very apt because, like an emotional infidelity or an actual sexual infidelity, it’s first of all doing something that at some level the partner would not approve of,” marriage counselor Susan Heitler says.
Heitler, the author of “The Power of Two: Secrets of a Strong and Loving Marriage,” says couples should agree on a dollar amount that each person can spend independently on holiday purchases — this number will fluctuate depending on the household’s financial situation.
Heitler says a particularly popular form of money management these days is for couples to maintain both individual accounts and a joint account, especially since two-working-parent families are now the majority in the United States.
If partners maintain separate accounts, Heitler says, there should be a discussion about the point when an individual’s decisions affect the group. The key is to find balance between autonomy and partnership; nobody wants to ask permission for every single cup of coffee.
“As adults, you don’t want to be asking permission, you want to be advocating your financial needs and working them out as partners,” says marriage and family therapist Jane Greer. Greer’s latest book, “What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship,” focuses on that battle of “I want” versus “you want.”
Greer says financial infidelity usually occurs when one partner feels their pleasures are being denied. The experts see an obvious solution: Open up a conversation before opening up your wallet. But given the spirit of the season, some see the holidays as an opportunity to splurge a little — especially on their partner or children.