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No acceptable level of violenceThat money is the single biggest common factor of many failed relationships, including most divorces, is a widely accepted belief, backed up by plenty of evidence, both empirical and anecdotal. What is less commonly discussed is that while money may be a dominant factor in unhealthy relationships, it is often not the cause, but a symptom and reflection of deeper rifts in the foundation of relationships. This is why, in the Grown Zone, we stress guarding and restricting access to your finances, as well as your body (sex and powers of procreation), home (physical safety and peace) and heart (emotional stability and security), especially early in relationships, when you are still learning the truth of who a person is (even if you’re attracted to what that person is). As we often say in the Grown Zone, the rules of love and money are the same as for boxing: Protect yourself at all times. (Hands down equals man—or woman—down!)

An important part of protecting yourself is recognizing three key money habits that are proven relationship killers. Let’s briefly review each of them, as well as what each represents as a symptom of deeper, potentially fatal, problems in a relationship.

Financial Secrecy. This is when one or both partners in a relationship refuse to become financially open and transparent, although they may be intimately bonded to one another financially, as well as in other ways, including by sex, procreation, marriage and/or cohabitation. Examples of financial trust and intimacy include sharing credit reports, being open about sources of income and how it is spent, as well as financial obligations such as student loans, child support, credit card debt, etc. Financial secrecy represents lack of trust and integrity in a relationship, which feeds on itself until it corrodes the relationship beyond the capacity recover. Any relationship built on a foundation of secrecy and distrust is inherently unhealthy, and likely unsustainable.

Financial Infidelity. This is when one or both partners go beyond merely withholding information about their financial histories and habits, to actual cheating and deception. In fact, financial infidelity in a relationship is often strongly correlated to acts of emotional or sexual infidelity, and can be just as devastating. Signs of financial infidelity include one partner intercepting credit card bills and other mail before the other partner can see them; maintaining secret bank or credit accounts with which to finance illicit activities (an affair, gambling habit, shopping addiction, etc.), and/or lying about where money is coming from and how it is spent. Of course, cheating and infidelity, whether financial, emotional or sexual, is a classic sign of an unhealthy relationship.

Financial Violence. Just as with verbal, physical or emotional abuse, financial violence is about using money to hurt, isolate, punish, demean and/or control the thoughts, movements, associations and esteem of another person. Examples include a partner deliberately blocking or sabotaging the capacity of the other partner to earn income, gain financial independence or have a say in how household income is to be budgeted and spent. Deliberately maxing out credit cards, emptying bank accounts, or engaging in spending sprees to punish, retaliate against or financially injure the other partner are other common examples of financial abuse. (How many couples, including in your own family, do you know who use these tactics when fighting with each other?) As with secrecy and infidelity, financial violence is often accompanied by or a precursor to physical, sexual, verbal and/or emotional abuse. A relationship without safety and security between partners is, by definition, unhealthy.

If you are single, it is critical that you learn to recognize and deal with unhealthy habits of financial secrecy (distrust), infidelity (cheating) and violence (abuse), both in yourself and others, before committing to any relationship. That goes double if you are in a committed relationship, engaged, or married, as these deadly money habits will erode the integrity and sustainability of your relationship, robbing it of the honor, esteem and respect that characterize healthy, loving partnerships.