How to Save Your Marriage After Financial Infidelity

Two experts explain how to rebuild trust after financial infidelity and plan your financial future together
by Sarah Finley
by Moraya Seeger DeGeare
how to save your marriage after financial infidelity

Money issues can wedge a massive divide between you and your partner, whether you are intentionally hiding financial issues from them or not.

With the cost of living putting a strain on all of us, money issues are bound to come up in any relationship. However, financial infidelity is a breach of trust and can make your partner feel as though you’re not working as a team.

But what are the signs of financial infidelity and how can you save your marriage after financial infidelity?

What is financial infidelity?

Signs of financial infidelity can include intentionally lying about debt or spending habits,  hiding credit cards from your spouse, or secretly withdrawing money from joint accounts.  Kendra Capalbo, a licensed couples therapist at Esclusiva Couples Retreats, explains that the key here is if you were intentionally lying or keeping a secret.

“If within the context of your relationship, you have separate bank accounts and an understanding that you can spend from them without discussing them with your partner first, that would not be considered financial infidelity,” she says.

“If on the other hand, your agreement, as a couple, is that you inform each other of all purchases, and you choose to not do so, that would be considered financial infidelity.”

However, it’s not as rare as you would think, as one recent survey showed that 1 in 4 Americans are hiding financial secrets from their partners.

How serious is financial infidelity?

Financial infidelity doesn’t just damage your financial health it can damage your relationship’s health too. 

“It’s very serious as it’s a breach of trust in a relationship, and trust is extremely important,” says Capalbo. “While the severity may depend on how significant the actual spending is, at the end of the day, no matter what the amount is, trust has been broken.” 

When this trust is broken, such as with any type of affair, it’s tough to rebuild it, but it’s not impossible, it just takes time and effort. 

What do you do if you suspect financial infidelity?

If you suspect your partner is lying about money, including hiding credit card statements and making financial decisions without you it’s best to confront them, says Capalbo.

“It’s important to remain calm and try to avoid accusatory language. Instead, try to approach from the perspective that you are concerned, as you believe there may be financial infidelity, and ask that they be honest with you,” she explains.

“The goal is to have a conversation and create the space in which your partner is most likely to be transparent with you. It is also important to express the hurt you feel at your trust being broken and not just lead with the anger, which will most likely be met with defensiveness,” adds Capalbo.

“A key thing to remember when infidelity happens in a relationship, is some level of communication has already broken down in that the couple was already disconnected,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and In-House Relationship Expert at Paired.

“This is why starting the recovery process can be so painful, because the communication skills, or shame, or ability to regulate emotions in an argument are often lacking already.” 

Can a marriage recover from financial infidelity?

Depending on how much time and communication you both put into the relationship and trying to solve your problems, a marriage can recover from financial infidelity. Most cases of this type of infidelity happen because of an underlying problem in the relationship — over a third of people (38%) who committed financial infidelity did it as they didn’t want to cause an argument about money, while over a tenth (16%) did it to feel more in control financially.

“There are (most likely) underlying reasons why the partner was dishonest about their spending and to successfully move past infidelity, the time would have to be taken to try to understand the issue further — it’s important to process the hurt and rebuild trust,” adds Capalbo. 

How to recover after financial infidelity?

Capalbo takes us through how to recover after financial infidelity:

  • Communication: “Agree to be honest with each other — set up regular meetings to discuss finances and evaluate if the approach you are taking is working and feeling equal for both partners. This will increase the connection in your relationship — going through difficult times is easier if you feel more connected with each other.”

  • Learn to trust again: “The emotional strain it puts on a relationship is primarily that of decreased trust. Once someone finds it hard to trust their partner about one thing, it can bleed over to other areas of the relationship if not addressed thoroughly. So not only may there be mistrust about spending, the injured partner may wonder if they are being lied to about other things as well. Often the injured party also starts to question their own sense of reality, especially if the financial infidelity came as a huge surprise to them.”

  • Couples therapy: “Working with a licensed professional is the best way to work through any type of infidelity, including financial infidelity. It is essential to really understand the reasons why the partner chose to lie about their spending.”

  • Create a financial plan or limits: “While ordinarily, I am not a believer that you rebuild trust by hovering over the person, and watching their every move, in some cases of financial infidelity, ie. compulsive spending, there may be a need to implement some strategies to prevent the problem from occurring again, such as restricting credit card access and working on a cash-as-needed basis. While that may be a necessary approach, it must be discussed and implemented as a couple, so that a power differential or a parent-child dynamic isn’t created.”

How do you apologize for financial infidelity?

Saying sorry or apologizing for any type of affair might be the first step, but it definitely isn’t enough. If you’ve committed financial infidelity, Capalbo explains that empathy and a commitment to understanding your shared money goals is a better way to mend your relationship.

“It’s more important that you express a true understanding of the hurt you have caused in your own words, not just parroting back what you have heard, as well as making a sincere commitment to do the work to ensure it doesn’t happen again in the future,” she says. 

Apologizing after a breach in trust is as much about your words as your actions, says Seeger DeGeare, so you push yourself to be more transparent with your partner, and be patient with them when they are hurting. “Actively listening to your partner’s hurt and being curious about how they’re feeling can be just as clear to your partner that you are sorry as the words ‘I am sorry’,” she adds. 

How can you trust a partner again after financial infidelity?

Financial infidelity is a breach of trust and earning that trust back will take time. “It’s not just a switch you can turn on. It’s also not rebuilt by constant supervision. In my opinion, the best way to rebuild trust is to understand the problem, to begin with, and commit to sharing difficult feelings in all areas,” says Capalbo.

“Rebuilding trust regarding financial infidelity does not have to just revolve around issues of finances so sharing difficult things in other areas of your relationship can be an equally effective way of demonstrating a willingness to be open and honest, the foundation of trust.”

Trust could also come in the form of having regular financial check-ins with your partner, not in a bid to track your spending, but to make sure you are both on the same page when it comes to your money goals. If you both find financial planning difficult it’s worth investing in a financial advisor.

Does financial infidelity change the course of a marriage?

Financial infidelity can change the course of a marriage, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative thing, explains Capalbo. “When a couple is willing to do the work to move through infidelity, I have seen them come out the other side with a healthier relationship than they had before the infidelity.”

If your relationship was lacking honest communication then talking honestly with your partner about your feelings could give your marriage a new lease on life. “Learning how to have difficult conversations and share uncomfortable feelings can equate to a more satisfying relationship overall,” says Capalbo. 

What’s the difference between financial infidelity and financial control?

Financial infidelity is when you hide money troubles or credit cards from a spouse. While it’s rarely a healthy behavior, it’s not necessarily abusive. Financial control, on the other hand, can be a form of domestic abuse. If your partner is controlling your spending in a manipulative way, overspending on credit cards in your name, or making big financial decisions without you, especially if they use money from a joint account, it could be a sign o an abusive or controlling relationship.

If you feel your partner is financially abusing you it’s important to tell friends and family or seek professional help via a safe space such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

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