Is Financial Infidelity Ruining Your Marriage? Here’s What To Know

Is your partner a cheater?

I don’t mean the carnal infidelity kind of cheater — we’re talking about financial infidelity. 

Did you know that’s a very real thing? I had no idea, yet apparently 43% of adults say they’ve cheated on their partner financially, according to a poll from the National Endowment for Financial Education.

That’s nearly half of the population running around deceiving their other halves. 

But what counts as cheating? Do you have to account for every penny spent? Let’s find out.

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What Is Financial Deception?

“Financial deception ranges from lying to your partner or spouse about money to hiding things such as cash, bills or a purchase,” according to CNBC

A survey of more than 2,000 adults was conducted online by The Harris Poll in June, and 43% of participants admitted to financially cheating. 

Why does this happen? According to Billy Hensley, president and CEO of the National Endowment for Financial Education, it stems from financial stress. 

“Money is often a reason for stress in relationships and is even a leading cause of divorce,” Hensley said

And that’s because money is often a difficult topic to bring up.  

“As a society, we talk about money with the assumption that everyone starts at the same place in terms of understanding, and that is very untrue,” said Hensley. “This can make discussions about debt, saving and spending more uncomfortable.

“At the foundation of it is that we don’t provide enough financial education in schools or in any other venues so people have the confidence necessary to approach these topics early on,” he said.


Red Flags 

Warning signs that financial infidelity is afoot may be little things that seem insignificant, such as a receipt for a purchase you don’t recognize, or not seeing bills for utilities or other household expenses. 

A glaring red flag is if when you ask about the receipt or unaccounted for bills, your significant other is defensive or withdraws completely when you broach the subject of money. 


How Financial Infidelity Affects Couples

I spoke to a friend, who wishes to remain anonymous, about being cheated on financially. 

She and her husband were in what she thought was a “comfortable financial state” for years. 

They both worked, him full time, her part-time, and had joint checking and savings accounts. 

Her spouse handled all the big bills — mortgage, car payments, insurance, etc. — and she always had money in her wallet to pay for groceries, things for the kids, and other day-to-day needs. 

There was always money when she needed it, so she didn’t feel the need to look at bank balances or credit card statements. 

That all changed last year when she came out of her workplace and her car was being repossessed. 

“I thought it was a mistake,” she told me. “I was screaming at the repo man, telling him that I was gonna go to his boss, and went full ‘Karen’ on him. Looking back, I was so naive.”

She called her husband, who assured her that it was definitely a “mistake” and that he’d “take care of it.”

But the wheels of doubt had begun to turn in her head — calls from creditors, overdue bills — all things her husband explained away as “mistakes.”


Coming To Terms With Financial Infidelity

The next day, she went looking for those mistakes and was unprepared for what she found. 

Without divulging too much of her situation, let’s just say it was bad. The mortgage was way past due, their kids’ school tuition was in arrears, and they had insurmountable credit card debt. 

Their bank accounts were nearly empty. She was angry and scared when she confronted her husband, who stuck to his “mistakes” story — for three days. 

On the fourth day, she sat him down with a large file of evidence disputing his “mistakes.” He finally told her the truth — he had a gambling addiction. 

They are in the process of filing for bankruptcy now and divorcing, so in their case being financially unfaithful was insurmountable — but it doesn’t have to be irreparable if addressed sooner. 


Why People Are Financially Unfaithful

The survey found that most infidelities happen for these reasons: 

  • Thirty-eight percent felt that some aspects of money should remain private, 34% had discussed finances but thought their partner would disapprove and another 33% were too afraid or embarrassed about their finances to speak about it.  

  • Of the couples who had experienced financial deception, 42% said that it resulted in a fight. Others said that the event eroded trust and privacy, led to the separation of finances, or triggered the termination of the relationship altogether.

Some poll takers said they turned financial infidelity into a positive experience. 

They said talking it over made their relationship better — “19% said they were closer after, and 16% said the deception helped them communicate more proactively later.”

“When you agree to combine finances in a relationship, you’re also agreeing to a certain degree of cooperation and transparency in your money management. It’s easier to achieve joint financial goals when your money is pooled and working together. Yet we’re seeing the implicit promise of collaboration destroyed by financial game-playing,” says Ted Beck, president and CEO of NEFE. 

“Financial infidelity hurts regardless of its scale. Hiding or lying about small amounts of money can damage a relationship just as effectively as a high-dollar deceit. In fact, in all cases of this deception, people affected say it impacted their relationship in some way – almost always negatively. It causes arguments, erosion of trust, separation or even divorce.”


How To Broach Suspected Financial Infidelity 

If you have any suspicions or concerns about financial cheating, it’s necessary for you to bring those issues up to your partner.  

According to The Scope of Practice, “They may have a valid and satisfactory explanation for these concerns, and then you’ll feel much better. If not, you may have just exposed an area in your relationship that needs immediate fixing.”

But a word of caution: “Be careful to do this in love. The last thing you want to do is accuse your spouse of financial infidelity without cause. If the problem is lack of knowledge and communication on your part, then your accusation may irreparably damage your relationship going forward.”


Getting On the Same Page And Rebuilding Trust 

Beck says in order to rebuild trust, the financially deceptive partner should say something akin to the following: “I’ve done some spending you don’t know about, and I want to make sure we get on the same page and create goals today that we can stick to.”

After the person comes clean about their financial infidelity, you have to accept that it will take time to rebuild the trust you once had — and that may not happen. 

“It will take sustained transparency in all communication, and it takes a commitment from both to stick to the goals that you’ve set together,” says Beck.

It may also be a good idea to work with a financial therapist or coach to have a neutral third party that can help you talk about money. 

“To avoid financial issues in a relationship, couples should discuss how they’d like to combine — or not combine — their finances before doing so, or before deciding to cohabitate,” says Hensley. 

“It’s important that people realize that there is not one way for couples to manage money. Some experts recommend that committed partners keep some aspects of their finances separate.”

For more tips on working together as a couple to handle finances and starting that awkward conversation about money that you have been avoiding, click here

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Have you ever committed or been a victim of financial infidelity? Share with us below. 


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