Understanding and Recovering From Financial Infidelity

Financial infidelity occurs when one or both parties in a committed relationship are dishonest with each other about finances. Though it may not be as well-known as emotional or physical infidelity, it’s more common than you may realize. A decade-long survey discovered that 41% of American adults have committed some kind of “financial deception” after combining finances with their spouse or partner.

Finances are a significant part of any marriage or long-term partnership. As part of your commitment to each other, you should be able to discuss money openly and honestly, even if it’s uncomfortable. When you approach your finances as partners, your relationship provides an opportunity to improve both of your finances.

However, when either of you is deceptive about your money habits, it can have devastating consequences. In addition to putting a strain on your relationship, financial infidelity may have lasting impacts on your and your partner’s credit score and overall financial health.

Whether you’re getting ready to blend finances with your partner or thinking of ending things, it’s vital to learn more about what constitutes financial infidelity, how it can impact your relationship and finances, and how you can prevent it from happening. That way, you’ll be better equipped to protect yourself, help your heart heal, and rebuild your finances.

Types of Financial Infidelity

Financial infidelity can take different forms, which can make it difficult to identify or notice. You or your partner may have committed financial infidelity without realizing it or intending to do so. While some of these financial habits may not seem like a big deal, they can escalate to larger transgressions, lead to other forms of mistreatment, or have more serious consequences if left unchecked:

Secret Spending

Secret spending involves hiding spending habits, failing to disclose purchases, or otherwise concealing expenses from your partner. It doesn’t matter if they are small or large purchases, or if this happens rarely or frequently; any kind of secret spending should be a red flag.

Warning Signs

Signs your partner may be secret spending include:

  • Noticing many new items in your or your partner’s home that they are unwilling or unable to explain;
  • Receiving many gifts from your partner, especially those that are seemingly outside of your or your partner’s budget;
  • Finding a hidden bill or credit card statement;
  • Discovering gaps in your budget or discrepancies between what your partner claims to have spent and the actual charges on your bill or credit card statement;
  • Noticing large or frequent cash withdrawals that are unaccounted for;
  • Finding hidden packages or other deliveries;
  • Spending in any way that is atypical for your partner, particularly if the change happens suddenly.

Concealing Debt

Debt is a normal part of personal finance and isn’t inherently a bad thing for your relationship — unless your partner attempts to hide any previous or current debt from you.

If you’re both open about it, you can deal with debt together, but it’s impossible to make smart and sound decisions for your household if you aren’t fully informed about your partner’s finances. Simply put, it’s incredibly serious if your partner lies about any debt they’ve already acquired or that they’re still taking on.

Warning Signs

Signs your partner may be lying to you about their debt include:

  • Getting defensive or upset when you try to talk about money or personal finances;
  • Avoiding discussions of any previous or current debt;
  • Refusing to provide credit report information, even when making financial decisions that affect both of you (such as applying for a loan together);
  • Taking out secret loans or new credit cards;
  • Lashing out at you or criticizing your spending or financial habits;
  • Deflecting or avoiding the subject of debt every time you or someone else brings it up.

Hiding Accounts and Credit Cards

There is a similar cause for concern if your partner keeps bank accounts, credit cards, or other financial assets a secret from you. There’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to maintain some financial independence, have your own bank account, or keep debt in your own name, but both of you must be honest about it. If your partner lies about any of these things, it can create problems in your relationship and inhibit your financial growth.

Warning Signs

Signs your partner has a secret bank account or credit card include:

  • Getting defensive or upset when you try to talk about credit;
  • Hiding credit card or bank account statements;
  • Refusing to let you see the mail so they can hide bills and statements.

Lying About Income

Your job is one of your most important financial assets, and it can even play a major role in your life and overall happiness. Further, your job and what you earn directly impact the basic structure of your life, including where you can afford to live, your budget, and your financial future. It doesn’t matter if your partner has only recently lied about their income or has been doing so for years; it’s concerning if your partner is willing to lie to you about something so important to your daily lives.

Warning Signs

Signs your partner is lying about how much they make include:

  • Failing to disclose a change in income, whether positive or negative;
  • Asking you to pay for everything;
  • Refusing to tell you how much they earn;
  • Hiding other sources of income, such as a second job, child support or alimony payments, or a recent windfall;
  • Lying about losing a job, getting a promotion, or other changes in employment.

Depending on your partner, they may commit one, some combination, or all types of financial infidelity. If you suspect your partner is being unfaithful with money, keep an eye out for any of these warning signs.

Who Commits Financial Infidelity?

People of all ages, genders, nationalities, and income levels can — and do — commit financial infidelity. Some people, though, are more likely to do so than others:

Financial Infidelity by Gender

Men and women are almost equally likely to lie to their partners about finances. A survey from the Journal of Financial Therapy discovered that 28% of male respondents and 27% of female respondents had committed some type of financial infidelity. Another survey had similarly balanced results, with 39% of male respondents and 42% of female respondents being financially unfaithful in some way.

Financial Infidelity by Age

It’s thought that individuals in their 40s are the most likely to commit financial infidelity. “Financial Infidelity in Couple Relationships,” from the Journal of Financial Therapy, found that 38% of respondents in their 40s were dishonest with their partner about finances. Just under 30% of respondents in their 30s and 50s committed financial infidelity, while about 15% of respondents in their 20s and 60s or older did so.

Ultimately, researchers discovered that age and gender aren’t the best predictors of financial infidelity; “conscientiousness” and financial organization are. It’s thought that individuals who are more organized and dependable are more likely to establish positive financial habits in their relationship. What’s more, high levels of conscientiousness and financial organization are also correlated with higher levels of marital satisfaction — and all three of these qualities seem to make people less likely to commit financial infidelity.

Why People Commit Financial Infidelity

As with other forms of unfaithfulness, there are several different reasons someone may feel compelled to commit financial infidelity:

Conflicting Goals

Even if you’ve already discussed it, you and your partner may have different ideas about the role your finances play in your relationship or differing financial goals altogether.

If your partner makes a decision that they believe you wouldn’t agree with or that you wouldn’t approve of, they may want to keep their spending or monetary decisions from you to avoid upsetting you. For example, if you’re trying to save money to buy a house together, your partner may hide or minimize some of their extraneous spending since it doesn’t support that goal.

Avoiding conflict is one of the most common reasons people commit financial infidelity. If either you or your partner feels the need to be dishonest about financial habits to prevent an argument, there’s likely some major discrepancies between how you view money. Instead of getting into a disagreement about spending (and any lies told to cover it up), it’s always best for you and your partner to communicate about these issues so you can come to an agreement that works for both of you.

Embarrassment or Guilt

Similarly, your partner may feel embarrassed or guilty about their current or previous financial habits. They may have a lot of debt, have a hard time keeping track of their money, or otherwise make poor decisions that continue to affect their finances. Your partner may share your values or want to work toward the same goals, but if they feel guilty about their finances, they may simply be too ashamed to be honest.

These feelings may propel your partner to lie about more serious issues. For instance, they may be too embarrassed to share their poor credit history with you. They may start this lie at the beginning of your relationship and not know how to get out of it, or neglect to tell you about any major changes during the course of your relationship. Either way, your partner may have good intentions, but this kind of dishonesty makes it difficult for both of you to deal with the consequences of their bad credit and prepare for your future.

Addiction

In some cases, your partner may commit financial infidelity to hide some kind of problematic behavior. Whether it’s compulsive gambling, extreme alcohol or drug consumption, or excessive shopping, your partner may cover up their spending to keep their darker habits a secret from you. On the other hand, if you are the one dealing with an addiction, your partner may commit financial infidelity, such as opening a secret bank account, to protect your shared finances.

Any kind of addiction, substance use disorder, or mental health problem can be difficult for you and your partner to deal with. The situation gets even more complicated if your finances have suffered.

It can be overwhelming to deal with both the personal and financial fallout of your partner’s behavior. In addition to rebuilding your finances, it’s also worth seeking mental health treatment for your partner to help them overcome this issue, especially if you plan to continue your relationship.

Resentment

Resentment is another powerful emotion that can result in financial infidelity. It often stems from financial issues, such as differences in income. If you earn more money than your partner, they could become jealous. They may spend money recklessly or excessively, and then hide that spending, as a way to get back at you.

If your partner earns more than you, they may resent your low earnings or become controlling over the money they earn. Your partner could feel like you aren’t pulling your weight or contributing enough financially. They may also surreptitiously spend money as a way to settle the score of your relationship, especially with large or expensive purchases.

However, resentment can also come from other problems in your relationship that are unrelated to money. Your partner may engage in similar spending behaviors or lies because of a previous extramarital affair, problems with your extended family, disagreements about your children — really, any issue that your partner feels upset or angry about.

Affairs

Financial infidelity may accompany emotional, sexual, or romantic infidelity. If your partner is having casual dalliances or a long-term affair with someone else, they’ll likely spend money on their extramarital activities, such as travel, gifts, or dates. To keep it hidden, they may lie about where that money went or open up a secret bank account that you don’t have knowledge of or access to.

If your partner is preparing for divorce, perhaps so they can marry someone else or enjoy the single life, they may commit more serious acts of financial infidelity. Your partner may funnel their income into a separate account, cover up a recent windfall or inheritance, or otherwise hide assets to prevent you from securing them during the divorce.

Fear

Finally, people may be dishonest about finances out of fear. Similar to feeling guilty or trying to avoid an argument, your partner may simply be afraid of how you’ll react. For example, if they’ve accumulated a lot of credit card debt or lost their job, they may be scared that you’ll be upset with them. Depending on the severity of the issue, they may even be worried that you’ll end your relationship altogether.

Problems Caused by Financial Infidelity

Whatever the cause may be, if your partner commits financial infidelity, it can lead to serious personal and financial consequences for both of you.

Damage to Relationship

As with any form of infidelity, being financially unfaithful can have a severe impact on your relationship. Financial infidelity demonstrates a lack of trust between you and your partner. In being dishonest with you, your partner shows that they don’t trust you enough to share these problems or stressors with you. Once you discover the lie you may struggle to trust someone who hid or lied about important parts of your shared life.

With enough work and support, you might be able to overcome this dishonesty with your partner. However, it could result in the end of your relationship, as financial problems are commonly thought to cause or contribute to divorce. While disagreements about money are not believed to be the primary cause of divorce, financial problems tend to be more prevalent, frequent, and difficult to resolve than other sources of marital conflict.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if you can move past financial infidelity. If so, this is an ideal opportunity to grow with your partner and improve the way you communicate about finances in the future.

Damage to Credit Score

The effects of infidelity can haunt your credit for years to come. Your partner can still ruin your credit, even if they didn’t have malicious intent or intend to do so. From securing loans to starting a business, having good credit is crucial for many important activities related to finances, housing, and employment. Conversely, having poor credit can have devastating effects and hamper your ability to participate in these activities.

If there are major impacts on your credit score, your partner may have also taken on a significant amount of credit card debt. It’s best to try and pay off this debt quickly, but depending on the state of your finances and the amount of debt your partner accumulated, this may be easier said than done.

Paying off debt and repairing your credit is possible, but it isn’t always easy. Depending on the extent of the damage, you may be able to do it yourself.

In severe cases, you may need professional help to repair your credit and regain your financial freedom. In others, you may need to start from scratch and build your credit up all over again. While some short-term repair strategies can help boost your credit quickly, overcoming the damage done by your partner could take years.

Identity Theft

In extreme cases, financial infidelity might involve identity theft. Your partner may have opened up a bank account or credit card in your name, but without your permission or knowledge. If they have access to your personal information, it’s fairly easy for them to open multiple accounts and rack up debt in your name.

In addition to breaking your trust in your partner, identity theft can wreak havoc on your credit. If you’re able to catch and report identity theft early on, your credit is less likely to suffer. Long-term identity theft is far more difficult to recover from. While there are ways to resolve identity theft, even at the hands of your romantic partner, it can still take years to get everything straightened out.

Is Financial Infidelity Abuse?

In some instances, financial infidelity may be considered a form of abuse. Though financial abuse can overlap with some aspects of financial infidelity, they are not one and the same. While financial infidelity involves dishonesty about money with your partner, financial abuse is “all about control; it involves manipulating a victim’s capability to earn, keep, or spend money.”

Essentially, it’s about intention. If your partner is using money to control or manipulate you, that constitutes abuse. Further, if your partner is intentionally using money to cause you harm or is solely in a relationship to enjoy or steal your money, it could still fall into the realm of abuse. Some people may partake in certain forms of financial infidelity — such as spousal identity theft or maintaining secret accounts — as a way of perpetrating financial abuse.

Financial abuse is a serious issue in and of itself, but it is often accompanied by other forms of abuse. If you believe your partner is being financially abusive, it’s crucial to seek help. For more information and support, reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Is Financial Infidelity Grounds for Divorce?

Though it isn’t necessarily abusive, financial infidelity still shouldn’t be taken lightly. Depending on your state and the severity of the deception, it may even be grounds for divorce. Because laws can vary based on your locality, it’s best to get in touch with a family attorney in your area for more information.

Financial infidelity can complicate divorce settlements. You may not have a full picture of your assets and liabilities because of their secrecy. In some situations, you may have discovered your partner’s infidelity after initiating a divorce for other reasons. This can make it difficult to determine who gets major assets, such as your home, or to know what you should ask for in the settlement.

Even if financial infidelity is not grounds for divorce in your state, you can still choose to end your marriage because of your partner’s dishonesty. It may simply be on other grounds, such as irreconcilable differences, rather than financial infidelity. If you are not married to or legally entwined with your partner, you can take any steps you deem necessary to end your relationship or separate your finances.

How to Prevent Financial Infidelity

There’s no way to guarantee that your partner won’t commit financial infidelity. Relationships require trust, and you have to trust your partner to be faithful and honest when it comes to money. You can’t control their actions, and, unfortunately, they may not always treat you well or behave how you want them to.

That said, there are a few things you can do to prevent, or at least identify, financial infidelity in your relationship:

Communicate

Communication is the key to all successful relationships. You have to be able to talk to your spouse or partner about money, even when it’s uncomfortable or difficult. After all, your finances are too important to dance around or get shy about with someone you trust.

Before you join credit cards or open a joint bank account, start up an ongoing dialogue about finances with your partner. You don’t have to create a detailed life plan, but you should discuss some basic things, such as your long-term financial goals, current spending habits, or any major debts you’re dealing with. Establish boundaries for how you will approach your budget, pay bills, or make large purchases.

Remember, this isn’t a one-time conversation. As you get older and navigate life with your partner, your financial situation will change. As it does, you need to talk about it together to make appropriate changes or come to a solution that works for both of you.

Improve Financial Literacy

Similarly, you should continually look to improve your and your partner’s financial literacy — or your knowledge of finances and ability to manage money. Learning about basic financial concepts is a necessity if you want to make sound financial decisions, and both you and your partner will need to increase your financial literacy if you want to make those decisions as a team.

As you get older, you’ll have to start making different considerations and learn about new financial concepts. For instance, it’s important to start learning about retirement planning when you’re young, but you may not need to decide when you’ll start collecting Social Security benefits until you’re closer to retirement. Before making that decision, though, you should learn more about Social Security, how it works, and how it factors into your other sources of retirement income.

Additionally, as your finances become more intertwined, you and your partner must be financially literate enough to make decisions that won’t negatively impact the other person. Greater financial literacy may also reduce the chances that your partner inadvertently commits financial infidelity, as they will be better informed about how to manage shared money or accounts.

Shared Responsibility

Finally, you and your partner should share responsibility when it comes to financial planning for your household. If you’re both involved, you and your partner will be familiar with the basic state of your shared finances, including how much money you have and how that money is being spent.

Women, in particular, need to get involved with household finances. As many as 56% of married women leave all major investment and financial decisions to their husbands. Women who do not participate in financial planning are particularly vulnerable to financial infidelity and abuse; not only are they unaware of the day-to-day state of their finances, but they may not have the language or financial literacy to get involved in the future.

You don’t have to agonize over every transaction together or merge all of your accounts to share financial responsibility. You could try:

  • Sharing your personal bank account information with each other;
  • Using account alerts to get notified of large withdrawals or unusual activity;
  • Creating a budget for your household;
  • Sharing a profile on a budgeting, investment, or personal finance app;
  • Maintain some spending independence;
  • Paying bills jointly, or alternating who pays bills each month.

Experiment with different ways to share financial responsibility, and make financial information accessible until you find something that works well for you and your partner.

How to Stop Financial Infidelity

Unfortunately, despite your best efforts, your partner may still commit financial infidelity. However, this doesn’t have to result in the termination of your relationship, and no matter how bad it is, you can try to address the problem head-on.

If your partner has previously perpetrated or is currently committing financial infidelity, you can work to prevent their transgression from going any further:

Admit the Problem

First and foremost, acknowledge that there is financial infidelity in your relationship. If you suspect or find evidence that your partner is being unfaithful, talk to them about it.

When you bring it up, try to stay calm. It’s okay to feel hurt, angry, upset, or betrayed, but your partner may not respond well if you come at them in a panic. Instead, present the issue, your suspicions and evidence, and your feelings in a solution-oriented way. By focusing on understanding your partner’s actions and searching for a resolution, you are more likely to have an honest and productive conversation.

Understand the Root Cause

When you sit down to talk about their infidelity, try to understand why your partner chose to be unfaithful. While it’s important to talk about the reason behind their infidelity, this discussion should go beyond their motivation of wanting to avoid an argument about having poor credit habits or feeling embarrassed about getting fired.

This conversation should focus on deeper problems or dynamics in your relationship, such as why your partner feels resentment toward you or why they didn’t feel like they could share this information with you. These discussions may be painful or bring up difficult subjects, but it’s crucial to understand the financial and personal reasons for their infidelity. If you choose to continue your relationship, you and your partner can work to overcome all of these issues and avoid repeating these mistakes in the future.

Seek Professional Help

If you are unable to confront these issues on your own, you can always enlist the help of a professional counselor or therapist. You may find it helpful to see someone on your own or to talk with a marriage counselor with your partner.

By going to therapy individually, you can each come to terms with the situation and confront your long-held beliefs or experiences that contributed to the infidelity. If you go to therapy together, you can try to understand deeper issues in your relationship and work to resolve them.

You may also want to see a financial advisor or pursue credit counseling if you need help dealing with the financial fallout of your partner’s infidelity. A financial professional can help improve your financial literacy, make a plan to pay off any debt, and help you and your partner build healthier financial habits.

Rebuild Trust

All kinds of infidelity can shatter your trust in your partner. If you choose to continue your relationship, it will take time and effort to rebuild that trust. Be patient with yourself and your partner as you try to restore your faith in them and strengthen your relationship.

As you focus on rebuilding trust, consider employing some of the financial infidelity prevention strategies discussed above. Have frank conversations about your goals, expectations, and boundaries when it comes to money. Change your approach to financial planning as a couple, so you’re both involved in money management. Take time to demonstrate your commitment to improvement so neither of you repeats your past mistakes.

If you feel like you can’t trust your partner again, it may be time to end your relationship. Carefully consider and research how to go about getting divorced, especially if your finances are still suffering. The divorce process can be lengthy and costly, but it’s better than staying with someone who makes you unhappy. You may also have an easier time recovering financially if you’re able to have a fresh start and do things correctly from the get-go.

How to Recover From Financial Infidelity

Financial infidelity can feel like a personal betrayal and attack on your finances. Whether you stay with your partner or end your relationship, it will take time to heal your heart and replenish your wallet after your partner’s deceptions. With a concentrated effort, you can work to rebuild your finances and recover from financial infidelity:

Budget

Create a budget for your household. Budgets are a basic but essential financial tool that can help you manage your money and take control of your finances. This is especially important if you previously avoided a budget or if your lack of budget contributed to your partner’s infidelity.

Not only will adhering to a strict budget help you account for every cent that comes in and goes out, but it can also be used to address any financial problems caused by your partner. For instance, a budget can help you pay off debt while still accounting for regular monthly expenses and rebuilding your savings.

You can tailor your budget to suit your exact needs. From minimalist to zero-based budgeting, there are several different ways to approach it. Just make sure you find a budget that works for your unique financial situation.

Repair Your Credit

If your partner’s unfaithfulness impacted your credit, it’s crucial to begin repairing the damage as quickly as possible. There are already countless ways you may be accidentally hurting your credit; being proactive about rebuilding your credit will prevent things from getting any worse.

You can take steps to repair your credit on your own, but depending on the severity of the situation, you may need to seek professional credit repair services. A reputable credit repair company can help you remove negative items from your credit report and boost your score. Keep in mind that credit repair is just a start for improving your credit; you’ll need to embrace positive long-term credit habits to keep your score high.

Additionally, if your partner committed identity theft, make sure you’re familiar with your rights under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act (FACTA). While the act works to prevent identity theft, it also provides helpful resources, such as credit monitoring, to support individuals who are victims of fraud.

Consolidate Your Debt

Finally, if you need to, take steps to consolidate your debt. This allows you to combine your various credit card bills, loans, accounts, and debts into one bill, so you only have to make a single payment. Not only is this more convenient than juggling different payments, but you can also enjoy more favorable loan terms, such as lower interest rates or lower monthly payments.

Like credit repair, debt consolidation is a useful way to start getting your finances back on track. It can help boost your credit score and make it easier to pay back any debts your partner has accumulated. Of course, you’ll still need to change your financial habits to make the most of the benefits provided by debt consolidation.

Financial infidelity is difficult to go through, but it isn’t impossible to overcome. As long as you’re committed to recovery, you can make positive changes and get your finances back on track.

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