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Are you guilty of financial infidelity?

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"I got this beautiful present for him when he bought me a normal sort of present and he was just horrified; he felt terrible. It ruined the Christmas for him," she recalls.

"That's when we came up with our dollar limit for birthdays and Christmases. I would much rather stash a pile of money and get something quite expensive than work and be creative within $100, so this is not my style, but it's absolutely the right thing to do and it's good for our marriage."

Men also may have the best of intentions when they shelter their partners from harsh financial realities. But that, too, can be a slippery slope, Hayden warns.

"I got a call from a retired attorney who had lost $450,000 in his 401(k) overnight, virtually his whole retirement, by day trading and his wife found out about it," she says. "If the spouse who is cheating also does the tax returns, there may be no way you would know about it."

Money 'gaslighting'
Why would you cheat financially? There are numerous reasons, according to Robin Stern, a New York City-based psychotherapist and author of "The Gaslight Effect."

5 reasons spouses financially 'cheat':
1. Lack of trust in spouse.
2. Reluctance to share with spouse.
3. Compulsion to lie because you don't feel entitled to buy things for yourself.
4. Spouse doesn't feel you're entitled to buy things for yourself.
5. Inability to problem-solve together about money matters.

"It may be an avoidance behavior, an unwillingness to confront," says Stern. "Many people I know don't want to tell their partner how much money they're spending because they don't want to have to deal with the person's reaction. They aren't willing to bring the issue out onto the table and work it through."

Stern says partners who overlook each other's financial peccadilloes may be under what she calls the "gaslight effect," in which one party subtly manipulates the other to accept a shared alternate reality that makes their duplicitous behavior acceptable. Tony and Carmela Soprano on the long-running HBO series "The Sopranos" are an excellent example of such a financially "gaslighted" couple.

"I worked with a couple where she basically had no idea what kind of money was coming into the home," says Stern. "When she would ask her husband, he would say, 'What's the matter, don't I take good enough care of you?' So she kept being in the dark about it, and she knew it was trouble because she couldn't have the conversation without her spouse turning it back on her."

Stern says what might start as playful deception can turn destructive when others are drawn into the charade, especially children.

"How do you tell your kids to always tell the truth and never tell a lie, but don't tell Daddy that I bought this?" she asks. "How do you teach them what the discriminating factor is that determines when it's OK to lie?" In some cases, financial infidelity is associated with something much worse -- actual marital infidelity.

Next: "What's the health of your relationship?"
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