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What Is Financial Infidelity in a Relationship?

Keeping money secrets can hurt just as much as an affair

When you hear the word ‘infidelity’, your mind might immediately think of an affair. But there’s another type of infidelity that doesn’t involve cheating: financial infidelity — when one or both partners intentionally lies about how much they spend, save, or owe. 

Financial infidelity is a lot more common than you’d think, and recent data shows that many people regularly keep money secrets from their partners. 

Over 40% of American married couples with combined finances admitted to some type of financial deception, according to a recent poll by the National Endowment for Financial Education nonprofit. The lies ranged from hiding cash or purchases from their partner to hiding credit card debt from a spouse. 

Another poll taken by researchers at the University of Southern Mississippi found that 53% of participants had kept money secrets from their partner — such as hiding a receipt, lying about the cost of a purchase, and even withdrawing money from a shared account or covering up debt.

“Money problems are often listed as leading causes of conflict and divorce but it’s the secrets that create the big problems,” explains Dr. Marisa T. Cohen, a relationship scientist and therapist. 

“Financial deceptions can breach trust in a relationship that can be just as destabilizing as any other betrayal — not to mention the lasting and legal impact they can have in and outside the relationship,” she adds. 

So how do you spot financial infidelity? And more importantly, can you save your marriage after financial infidelity? Keep reading to learn more.

What is financial infidelity?

“Financial infidelity occurs when one partner makes financial decisions that don’t hold up agreements in the relationship or that are secret from the partner. This involves betrayal and a lack of open and honest communication,” says Martha Teater, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Choosing Therapy.

Financial infidelity involves engaging in something expected to upset or betray your partner and then intentionally lying or not disclosing that behavior. 

Spending a lot of money on a purchase, for example, isn’t in of itself financial infidelity (even if you know your partner wouldn’t be happy about it). But spending that money from a joint account and lying about how much you spent would be considered financial infidelity. 

It’s also worth noting that having separate bank accounts isn’t financial infidelity. It’s entirely healthy to keep your finances separate if that’s what you and your partner prefer.

You’re entitled to spend your own money how you wish, and your partner shouldn’t dictate how you can and can’t handle your own finances — that’s often one of the signs of a controlling relationship

That being said, it’s important to be on the same page about finances if you want to be in it for the long haul. You can still maintain financial independence while being on the same page about your future. 

Werther you want to save for a house together (or simply split the rent after moving in together), financially prepare for children, plan your retirement together, or simply go on holiday together, being in the dark about each other’s finances will make all of that difficult.   

7 signs of financial infidelity

  1. Evidence of unexpected spending. 

  2. Hiding big purchases.

  3. Finding questionable card statements. 

  4. Missing money. 

  5. Secrecy about transactions.

  6. A lack of transparency around finances, spending, and income. 

  7. Changing passwords on joint bank accounts or removing a partner’s name from them.

How to save your relationship after financial infidelity 

Repairing trust after infidelity will require effort and patience, but it can be done. Below are some expert tips for making up for financial dishonesty in marriage. 

Take accountability 

If you’re keeping money secrets from your partner, the first step is to come clean about your indiscretions. 

“If you want to gain your partner’s trust, it’s crucial to take full responsibility for your own mistakes and lack of truthfulness,” says Teater. “Try to avoid becoming defensive and acknowledge the truth of what you’ve done. Be open to doing whatever your partner says would help repair the damage that has been done.” 

Apologize 

The next step is to apologize. “Apologize simply and fully,” Teater adds. “‘I’m sorry that I broke our agreement and damaged your ability to trust me’, is a good start. Not, ‘I’m sorry if you’re hurt’, or ‘Remember when you did (blank)?’.” Knowing your partner’s apology language helps!

Reflect 

Dr. Cohen also recommends a healthy dose of self-reflection. “Start by being honest with yourself about the secrets you’re keeping — what is it you’re trying to hide, and why? Are you scared of being judged? Of your partner losing interest?” she says. 

“Self-disclosure can be scary but if it matters to you to be completely honest with your partner. By opening up you will offer them a more complete picture of what’s inside and develop intimacy that will boost connection and communication,” she adds.

Should you forgive financial infidelity? 

“Forgiveness is always an option,” says Teater. “That may partly depend on the level of remorse and ownership shown by the partner. It’s also important to look for a willingness to change behavior along with a commitment to make different choices in the future. If the partner who committed financial infidelity blames the other partner, it will be harder to forgive and move forward. If the behavior is part of a pattern, it will also take more work to forgive.”  

Talk about money 

Talking about money with your partner can be tricky, but the more you do it the easier it gets. “Communication is the only way to resolve, and avoid difficult financial issues. Have these conversations regularly so there are no unwanted surprises, and keep them positive so they don't feel like a chore,” says Dr. Cohen. 

Talking openly about money with your partner also helps overcome assumptions. “Just as we have unique relationship pasts, so too can we bring complex financial histories to the table when we form a relationship,” says Dr. Cohen.“When we pair up, we inevitably have a range of existing financial allegiances, obligations, spending habits, and propensities for debt.” 

Having different money habits or a money imbalance in relationships doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker as long as you and your partner have transparency about it. 

Talking about money can also make it easier to agree on ground rules for your mutual finances. “Discussing your short-term financial goals is a positive place to start and can reveal a lot about your priorities and current aspirations in life,” adds Dr. Cohen. 

“Address different spending habits and check in with your partner to see if there are any areas of financial difficulty and how you may offer support. Include some fun things that you could save for together and how you can work to do this as a team.”

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