It’s often said that conflict over money is one of the leading causes of divorce. And with nearly three-quarters of Americans experiencing financial worry right now, it’s reasonable to presume many marriages across the country are facing increasing strain and challenge.
For some couples, money conflict can progress to a damaging situation known as financial infidelity. While financial infidelity doesn’t generally involve physical or emotional cheating with someone outside the marriage, it can still lead to an incredible sense of betrayal that may threaten the stability of the marriage.
Keep reading to learn more about what financial infidelity is, what its top signs are, and what to do if you recognize it in your relationship. Thinking TL;DR? Click on a subtopic link below to skip to that section.
- Financial Infidelity Explained
- Warning Signs of Financial Cheating
- Are You Committing Financial Infidelity?
- What You Can do if You Suspect Your Marriage is Affected by Financial Cheating
What is Financial Infidelity?
Financial infidelity occurs when a partner spends, saves, hides, borrows, lends, or earns money and/or amasses debt without their partner’s knowledge. It’s much more common than people may realize. In fact, according to NPR over 41 percent of adults admit hiding debt, spending habits, and/or financial accounts from their spouses.
Financial infidelity can involve small or large sums of money. It is often, though not always, a consequence of underlying relationship troubles including abuse or unhealthy power imbalances. It is distinct from economic or financial abuse, in which one partner controls the other partner’s ability to acquire, use, and maintain money. (According to the Center for Financial Security, financial abuse occurs in up to 99 percent of all domestic violence cases.)
When someone discovers their partner has been lying about how much they spend or earn, what they spend their money on, or how much debt they have, it can lead to powerful feelings of distrust, betrayal, anger, and insecurity. For the person who has been dishonest about their financial behaviors, they may feel an incredible sense of shame, guilt, denial, or defensiveness.
8 Warning Signs of Financial Infidelity
In many ways, it’s easier to commit financial infidelity than ever before thanks to modern-day technologies like paperless billing, online banking, and password protected accounts. But there are warning signs a person can look out for.
Here are 8 things a partner may begin to notice if their spouse is committing financial infidelity:
- Statements to credit cards or accounts they didn’t know existed
- Missing cash from a debit account or wallet
- Multiple and unexplained ATM withdrawals
- Their partner starts to insist on retrieving the mail and going through it before bringing it into the house
- Their partner suddenly decides to open a post office box without a clear reason why
- Their partner acts overly-emotional, defensive, or worried when money is discussed
- Their partner begins to amass a lot of new possessions, spends a lot of money on hobbies and trips, or becomes unusually generous with gifts
- Their partner has a hobby that tends to cost a lot of money (e.g., gambling, lottery, smoking)
These signs need to be taken into context. For example, the current economic climate may cause many people to react emotionally and fearfully when discussing finances. And while none of these warning signs necessarily prove financial deception is occurring, they should encourage a partner to begin an honest discussion with their spouse about what could be going on.
Are You Committing Financial Infidelity?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, you may be being dishonest about finances with your spouse:
- Do you feel ashamed about the way you spend your money?
- Do you hide receipts, statements, and purchases from your spouse?
- Do you have an account that your partner knows nothing about?
- Do you sort through your mail and remove letters or bills before your partner sees them?
- Do you feel compelled to give money or buy lavish gifts for your spouse and other loved ones, even if you can’t really afford to?
- Do you feel like your spending habits are out of control?
What to Do if You Suspect Your Marriage is Affected by Financial Infidelity
Beyond threatening the health and integrity of a marriage, financial infidelity can also threaten the security and solvency of a couple and lead to long-time, potentially serious financial repercussions. This is why recognizing the early warning signs of financial infidelity and taking swift action is so important.
Here are some things you can do if financial infidelity occurs:
- Strive for open and honest communication
- Clarify your goals for your future
- Create a budget or plan of action to help modify spending habits
- Consult with professionals for assistance, including financial planners, lawyers, and marriage counselors