Infidelity is any action that violates an unspoken or explicit agreement between two partners.

We’ve all heard stories of romantic infidelity. One spouse cheats on another, leading to a destructive breach of trust and, in many cases, the end of a relationship.

But what happens if the deception is financial?

Financial infidelity occurs when someone intentionally lies about money to a spouse or partner with whom they share joint finances. This kind of dishonesty can be just as damaging to a relationship as romantic infidelity and it’s much more common than you might think.

By 2021, 2 in 5 Americans admitted to financial indiscretions[1] against their partner.

In this article, we’ll look at the most common signs of financial infidelity, why it happens, and how to overcome it.

What is Financial Infidelity?

Like romantic infidelity, financial dishonesty in a relationship includes certain offenses committed without your partner’s knowledge. These include lying about your financial decisions, debts, or hiding financial information that your partner should know about.

For example, regularly sweeping money from your joint savings account to fund a compulsive shopping addiction is a common example of financial infidelity. That doesn’t mean that one pair of shoes you bought on sale and stashed in the back of your closet is a crime. However, repeated or widespread financial infidelity can lead to loss of trust, arguments or the end of a relationship.

Let’s take a look at other common ways financial infidelity can manifest in a relationship:

Making major purchases without telling your partner or lying about the true cost of your purchases Piling up debt without telling your partner Lying about how much you earn and keeping a large portion of it to yourself Secret bank accounts, credit cards or loans Hide cash from your partnerHide an addiction such as gambling or shopping Withdrawing money from your pension funds or investment plans without consulting your partner

You may have noticed that all of these behaviors have one thing in common: your partner probably wouldn’t approve of them, which is why many people keep them a secret.

Common Warning Signs of Financial Infidelity

Unfortunately, it is becoming easier to hide debts, overspending and many other financial wrongs. Sometimes your intuition and a few telltale signs are all you have to spot financial infidelity. Here are some common warning signs to watch out for:

Frequent withdrawals: Noticing consistent significant withdrawals from your joint accounts that your spouse cannot account for. Defensive behavior: Your partner becomes defensive, shuts up, or changes the subject when you bring up finances. Secretive behavior: Your partner starts being secretive about their bank details, bills and anything else related to money. For example, if they rush to check the email every time it comes in, they may be hiding a secret credit card account or loan they don’t want you to know about. A change in lifestyle: Although there is no change in their income, your partner is spending more than usual on travel, gifts or other luxury discretionary purchases. Account Deletion: Your spouse has removed your name from a joint account or credit card without notifying you.

These are all indications that something is wrong, and financial infidelity is likely to be part of it.

Why Does Financial Infidelity Happen?

Although financial infidelity hurts the person on the receiving end, most people don’t adopt this harmful behavior to hurt their partner. People usually hide their financial transgressions because they are ashamed of what their partner might think and want to avoid a possible confrontation.

Money has always been an almost taboo topic among many couples in the US. A 2018 Fidelity survey found that 34% of cohabiting couples did not know how much money the other was making[2]† Another study found that married couples are the least likely to talk about money[3]†

The discomfort of money-related conversations, especially when you’re ashamed of your actions, encourages financial dishonesty. And the deeper the hole you dig for yourself, the harder it is to clean it.

Other times, financial infidelity can be much more toxic. According to a study by the Journal of Financial Therapy, some people use financial manipulation to gain power over their partners. When this happens, financial infidelity can become financial abuse.

☝️ Financial abuse occurs when one partner controls the other partner’s access to financial resources in an attempt to gain power or control. For example, one partner takes care of all the finances and uses his spouse’s salary for his own benefit without being asked.

How Financial Infidelity Affects Relationships

The moment you combine finances with your spouse or partner, you agree to handle money as a team. This means that you work together on common goals such as retirement, a household budget or your children’s education fund.

For this to work, there must be full financial transparency. When you consciously choose to hide your financial habits from your spouse, you no longer care about your mutual interests.

This breach of trust causes a lot of financial stress in a relationship. For example, if you have a gambling problem and accumulate a lot of debt, your debt also becomes your partner’s debt. Your financial infidelity will likely endanger their financial security as well.

Financial infidelity also puts a lot of strain on a marriage, leading to arguments and loss of trust. According to the Journal of Financial Therapy’s previous survey, 76% of married couples say financial dishonesty has negatively impacted their marriage and that’s why 10% got divorced.

How should couples deal with financial infidelity?

To overcome financial infidelity, the partner who commits it must be clear and take full responsibility for their actions. They must also be willing to take the necessary steps to change their behavior and solve their problems.

Some participants in the Journal of Financial Therapy survey said opening up to their partners and taking ownership of their financial mistakes led to more proactive communication and even brought them closer.

That said, overcoming financial infidelity doesn’t happen overnight. If you are the one who has been lied to, you will feel deeply hurt and betrayed. You might start to doubt your relationship. If they lied about this, what else could they lie about? Getting to a place of forgiveness and learning to trust your partner again takes time and patience.

If you decide to work together to overcome financial infidelity, consider these steps:

1. Have regular money calls and check-ins

The only way to restore the broken trust and build a solid foundation for your future relationship is through regular and open dialogue. The more you do it, the less taboo the subject of money will become.

Start with conversations on lighter financial topics and work your way up to more difficult conversations. Here are some topics to talk about:

The goal is to get to a place where you’re both financially aligned. If you are in the habit of being open about money, you are less likely to hide money problems.

2. Consider Counseling

It is often difficult to get past a financial betrayal and reconcile. If you are struggling to overcome this together, consider financial therapy. A financial therapist or counselor has the tools and expertise to help you and your partner work through your emotions and repair broken trust.

By doing in-depth, introspective work with the help of an expert, you can make meaningful changes in your relationships and your behavior around money.

3. Draw up a recovery plan together

If financial infidelity has resulted in debt, you need to work together and create a debt repayment plan. For example, if your spouse has used multiple credit cards, you can use the avalanche method to pay off the card with the highest interest first.

4. Ensure full transparency in the future

To proceed, make sure that you have access to all of your unfaithful partner’s accounts and that there are no more secrets between you.

If your partner has been the only one to handle the finances until now, it’s time to change that. You must be aware of the money going in and out and all other household financial matters.

Should You Forgive Financial Infidelity?

Choosing to forgive a financially unfaithful partner is ultimately a personal decision.

Your decision may depend on how serious the infidelity is. A partner with a shopping addiction is different from a partner who steals your personal identity, takes out loans in your name and ruins your credit.

Or maybe you’ve already tried to forgive your partner, but they keep hiding things from you and show no regrets or a willingness to change.

If you can’t move forward and the relationship is irreparable, it’s perfectly acceptable to end things.

How can financial infidelity be avoided?

As we noted before, not talking about money is one of the biggest financial mistakes couples make.

To prevent financial infidelity from surfacing, experts recommend having an honest conversation about money before you tie the knot.

In our article The #1 Money Question to Ask Before Marriage, we asked a panel of relationship experts and finance professionals the best questions to ask your partner before marriage. By asking the right questions before the big day, you can build a strong foundation for your marriage and ensure that you are on the same page when it comes to finances.

For example, asking each other how much debt you have can help you avoid keeping harmful secrets. Fidelity reports that 74% of millennial couples have brought depth into the marriage and 46% admit that debt is damaging their relationship.

Once you are married, it is just as important to continue to have regular financial audits. Research has shown that couples who regularly talk about money have a more satisfying relationship[4]† For example, set a household budget to manage your finances and hold monthly budget meetings where you go through everything as a team. If a problem arises, nip it in the bud before it escalates.

💡 Make financial conversations a non-judgemental zone where open and honest communication is encouraged. People who are afraid of getting negative comments or arguing are much more likely to hide a financial problem.

Final Thoughts

Financial infidelity can be just as devastating as romantic betrayal.

The best antidote is honest and frequent communication about money. If you’ve decided to move on, start rebuilding a solid foundation for your relationship and break the taboo on money conversations.

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