Ask Carmen: Family secrets

We love our families, though they may be a handful this time of year. But sometimes we hide things from them, particularly things to do with money.

Whether it's out of shame, or a desire for autonomy, or as a tool to control those around us, money secrets can be toxic. But it can help to know why you, or someone you love keeps those secrets.

Here to help us dig deeper is Dr. Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist and author of several books, including "The Anatomy of A Secret Life: The Psychology of Living A Lie."

Marketplace Money listener Katherine works for a DC-based national non-profit that handles financial education. When she wrote to us, she had this to say:

"What did my family teach me about money? Everything. 75% what NOT to do, 25% what to do. My parents divorce was largely caused by financial lies and resulted in bankruptcy."

The financial lie, astoundingly, was Katherine's Dad lied about losing his job.

"He left the house everyday. One of the great mysteries of his life is my mom didn't know where he went all day. My mom was at home taking care of two young kids and was pregnant at the time. Dad put everything on credit. It proved disastrous." Katherine was 7 years old. Her parents eventually split up, and her mom never remarried. "She didn't have great lessons to offer me about how to share finances."

Dr. Saltz says this is actually less uncommon than one would expect. "I heard a lot about this during the recession, when a lot of people lost their jobs. For many men, employment equals identity, equals masculinity, equals power and control in the world, and the same of losing your job and getting fired is too much."

"Handling it by pretending its not happening," Dr. Saltz says, "which is an extreme form of denial, is an unfortunate and pathological method of dealing, but it's something men do."

To listen to Dr. Saltz and Carmen talk to Katherine about combining finances with her spouse and other questions, click on the play button above.

About the author

Carmen Wong Ulrich is the former host of Marketplace Money, APM’s weekend personal finance program.

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