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American couples have a dirty little secret

The real taboo in American relationships is not sex. It's money.

A national survey or more than 200 people reveals about 80 percent of spouses acknowledge making secret purchases. To compound this dirty little secret, nearly one-fifth (18.5 percent) of those married admit to having credit cards their spouse knows nothing about.

"Sex isn't the last taboo, money is," says Jean Chatzky, personal finance expert and TODAY Money contributor. "We feel a lot of shame and embarrassment about things we want that we think our mate wouldn't value or worse would blame us for buying."

The survey, conducted for CESI Debt Solutions, reveals 38 percent of married couples are concerned the revelation of their financial unfaithfulness would result in their spouse seeking divorce or separation. Some 43 percent said they wanted to avoid an argument.

What are Americans buying that they don’t want to share with a spouse? Most, 34 percent, don't want them to know about that new item of clothing or accessory or food/dining (24 percent). Most troubling perhaps is that 24 percent of respondents said they will never tell a spouse about their spending habits.

Chatzky says one of the big reasons for hiding purchases is that only one spouse handles the family finances and doesn’t want to tell the one in charge. "It becomes too parental," she says. "That in turn is the furthest thing from romantic."

Hiding purchases from a loved one can signal the beginning of the end, explains Gail Saltz, relationship expert and TODAY Money contributor. "Lying to your partner about (money) is basically a kind of betrayal (and) diminishes the trust between you. Loss of trust usually ends a marriage.

"Financial infidelity," says Saltz, "can be as bad as sexual infidelity in terms of the hurt and destruction it causes."

How can someone resolve their habit of hiding the truth?

When it comes to money, Chatzky says, both spouses should have an active role in family finances. She says that includes setting goals, paying bills and deciding how to spend the rest.

If someone feels they've dug a hole too deep to speak to a spouse, Chatzky suggests getting help from a therapist or a compassionate finance advisor who can help put a spending plan in place.

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