Financial Cheating in Marriage

Telltale Signs of Spouses Who Lie About Money

Financial Cheating in Marriage

Financial infidelity — call it FI for short — appears to be widespread. A 2018 Harris Poll survey found that 41 percent of Americans who combine their finances with a spouse or partner admit to some form of misbehavior. An even bigger proportion of partnered people, about 75 percent, say that a relationship has been affected by financial deception. 

Some stealth might not qualify as FI — say, the daily Frappuccino you don't tell your spouse about. Other occasional indulgences might merely be misdemeanors. “I definitely took shoes the shoebox before my husband came home so he wouldn't know I'd been shopping,” admits Moira Lawson, 60, a health-policy executive in Baltimore.

At the other end of the spectrum are major offenses — actions that, when they blow up, threaten a couple's financial security. That could mean borrowing or spending thousands of dollars, or cheating on taxes without a spouse's knowledge.

It could even mean scheming to undermine a current spouse's future finances, says one financial adviser.

Some of her female clients’ husbands secretly established residency in states with no minimums for child support or alimony, so if the marriage went south, they wouldn't have to pay up.

Financial experts, therapists and divorce lawyers agree: The reasons for FI tend to fall into several key categories. Here are seven of them.

1. Addiction

Drugs, shopping, gambling — just about any type of compulsion that requires cash — can be the spark. “Addiction, and the shame that can go along with it, is one of the most common reasons for financial infidelity,” says Jane Greer, a New York City psychotherapist and author of How Could You Do This to Me?: Learning to Trust After Betrayal.

Carol, 61, a teacher in New Jersey, says that once her husband, Steve, kicked a drug addiction, he replaced it with a shopping habit: “When we were $30,000-plus in debt, and I was selling books to raise train fare to work, I used to find price tags from Steve's secretly purchased designer clothes deep in the recesses of the closet, the way you might find empty bottles if your spouse was an alcoholic.»

2. Revenge 

FI can be payback when one spouse feels betrayed. Tom, 63, a sales executive in Miami, says his wife became irate after he had a financial setback.

“When I asked for us to economize a bit, she acted as if I was breaking our marriage vows,” he remembers.

Her spending skyrocketed — she went behind his back to lease a BMW — until Tom decided his only chance for solvency was divorce. “It stopped the hemorrhaging,” he says.

3. Social pressure

In this Instagram-crazed world, where everyone's life looks better than yours, a money shortage can feel a disgrace you have to hide. Robin learned this after she and Mark, both in their 50s, had dated for a couple of years, then started sharing her New Jersey apartment.

“He was a charming business guy, very well dressed,” Robin recalls. “His house with his first wife was gorgeous.” Then, however, Mark's facade collapsed. He had gone bankrupt. His current work was quasi-illegal. “I don't think he was trying to scam me,” Robin says.

“But he completely misrepresented himself.»

4. Different values

Older couples often disagree about supporting adult children. “We all know how hard it is to watch our kids struggle,” notes New York City lawyer Jacqueline Newman, author of The New Rules of Divorce: Twelve Secrets to Protecting Your Wealth, Health, and Happiness. “So, one partner will fund the kid secretly.

” Recently she was involved in the divorce of a couple with an unemployed adult son, to whom the wife had been sneaking money. When the husband found out, he cut off the son, not restoring the money — even when his son had to sleep in his car — until he got a job. “Admittedly, it was a very nice car,” Newman adds.

“But the point is that during the marriage, the son had been a major source of secrecy and lies between the parents.”

5. Anxiety

Secret hoarding or spending can fulfill a deep emotional need, says Ed Coambs, a marriage and family therapist in Matthews, North Carolina, who works with couples in financial crisis.

Often, he explains, this behavior is not just a matter of deception but a coping mechanism stemming from childhood. Money hiders, for example, may come from families with boom-and-bust finances, never knowing whether they'd be living it up or scrimping.

As adults, he says, they might revert to their child emotional mindset.

6. Affairs 

Sexual infidelity and the financial kind can easily go hand in hand, in part because the money for the incidental expenses has to come from somewhere — secretly.

But even if financial misbehavior isn't funding the extramarital sex, they're often linked, Vasileff says.

“It's easier to be unfaithful in general,” she points out, “because the lies create isolation in the relationship.»

7. Self-preservation

“Sometimes if your partner is very controlling, you can't reason with that person,” Greer observes. “By siphoning off money, you are not only taking care of yourself but separating yourself emotionally from a fraught situation. Several patients I work with have filtered money given to them for the household to secretly pay for therapy.»


Overcoming Financial Infidelity

Financial Cheating in Marriage

Money fights are the worst. Well, let’s face it: All fights are pretty awful. But if you and your spouse (or significant other) have been fighting about money, you’re not alone.

In fact, 41% of married couples say fighting is almost inevitable when they talk about money.1 That’s why it’s so important to keep your lines of communication open. Because when you and your spouse aren’t communicating about money, you can both end up feeling guilty about your spending habits, lying about your spending habits, or worse . . . slipping onto financial infidelity.

Today, I’m shining some light onto financial infidelity: What it is, signs to look for, and how to overcome it.  

What Is Financial Infidelity?

Financial infidelity happens when you or your spouse intentionally lie about money. When you deliberately choose not to tell the truth about your spending habits (no matter how big or small), that is financial infidelity.

You might be thinking, Rachel, isn’t that being a little harsh? Sure, it may start out as an innocent purchase here or there. But things go downhill when you start hiding your latest shopping spree purchases and praying your spouse doesn’t find them. Yeah . . . that might be a problem.

Financial infidelity can be pretty serious—especially when it goes on for too long. But just because it’s serious doesn’t mean there’s no hope. If I know one thing, it’s that there’s always hope. Especially in the hard stuff.

Listen: If you or your spouse is dealing with financial infidelity, you’re not alone. In fact, it happens more than you might think. One in three people who are married admit to hiding a purchase from their spouse. And 31% of couples say they have a credit card their spouse doesn’t know about.2

Financial Infidelity vs. Financial Irresponsibility

When it comes to money, there’s a difference between straight up lying and just being irresponsible (or forgetful).

I get asked all the time what the difference is between financial infidelity and financial irresponsibility. A few years ago, a woman came up to me at an event I was speaking at almost in tears. She had just found out her husband had gone out to lunch three times that month . . . and never told her. She was pretty devastated and fully believed he committed financial infidelity.

Listen, you guys—forgetting to tell your spouse that you went to Chick-Fil-A a few times this month is not infidelity. That’s just financial irresponsibility. But if that sweet woman’s husband knew she wouldn’t approve of him spending money at a restaurant and intentionally hid it from her . . . that’s infidelity. See the difference?

6 Signs of Financial Infidelity

I don’t know about you, but financial infidelity is not something I want to invite over for pizza night. It’s inviting a bear into the front door and being shocked that it terrorized your brand-new throw pillows.

That, my friends, is why it’s so important to keep your money spending behaviors in check (and know what to look for too).

Here are six telltale signs of financial infidelity:

1. Hiding a purchase intentionally

Relationships are built on trust, and that’s why honesty is the best policy (no matter what). So, if you buy something and hide it from your husband or wife, you’re taking a dive in the deep end. Remember, a budget is the best way to get on the same page—and spend money guilt free.

2. Getting cashback without telling your spouse

This one can seem fairly harmless, but cashback rewards on your debit card purchases can add up pretty quickly. It may start out as a harmless $10 here or $20 there. But before you know it, you could be pulling out some serious cash without telling your spouse. Not only will your bank account start to dwindle, but so will their trust. Ouch.

3. Having a secret savings account

This one is tough. When you and your spouse are on the same page about money, you’re probably on the same page about your money goals. A secret savings account will only put a wrench in your family’s money goals.

4. Stashing bills

I love birthday cash. I love knowing that I have my very own “stash” of cash to spend however I want. But when stashing cash goes beyond the gifts and moves into stashing paychecks, that’s another story.

5. Opening secret credit cards or new accounts

Sometimes people open a secret credit card or bank account to make it easier to hide their spending from their spouse. I’ve already said that kind of thing is off-limits.

But other times, one spouse is desperately trying to hide a financial mess by transferring credit card balances or taking out loans to pay the bills—all without telling their spouse. The damage you’re doing trying to “fix” the problem could be worse than the problem itself.

If you’re further into debt than you care to admit, there’s hope. And it’s time to come clean. 

6. Playing the dollar-for-dollar game

Does your spouse have an expensive hobby? Maybe they golf, hunt or love to skydive for fun. Those things aren’t cheap.

It’s easy to tell yourself that you should be able to match what your husband or wife is spending on their favorite things. In theory, that’s true. But you both need to agree to that plan and include it in your budget.

Spending freely without your spouse’s knowledge is a dangerous game. If that’s you, quit while you’re ahead.

How to Overcome Financial Infidelity

If you or your spouse has committed financial infidelity, it’s not the end of the world! But you do have to come clean and work together to clean up the mess. There’s hope! And it starts with these four pillars of building a life you love—together:

1. Communicate

Share everything. Yup—I mean everything. With marriage (and money), there’s no such thing as overcommunication. In fact, it’s better to say too much than not enough. Not only will that help rebuild trust, it will show your (or your spouse’s) commitment to stop hiding or lying about money.

2. Get on the same page

You guys! Being on the same page with your spouse is so important for just about every aspect of life: raising kids, life goals, career choices and so much more. And the one thread that holds it all together is money. So, if you’re not on the same page (doing a monthly budget together), it’s time to start.

Budgeting is a game changer. Not only does it make you communicate about money, life goals and dreams, it helps you get there. If you’ve never done a budget together, that’s okay! It’s never too late to start. Check out our free budgeting app, EveryDollar. It’ll walk you step by step to creating a zero-based budget. After about three months, you’ll be pros.

3. Tell the truth always—even when you make a money mistake

There’s nothing more gut-wrenching than the feeling when someone intentionally lied to you.

And while it’s hard to tell the truth when you’ve got the weight of money mistakes on your shoulders, it’s harder to dig yourself the hole if you don’t. Marriage is a lifetime of ups and downs.

But your spouse is your built-in accountability partner. They can help you grow, learn and build better habits just you can do for them. It’s a beautiful thing! (Does anyone else need a hug?)

4. Get on a budget and spend without guilt

So many people think a budget is there to keep you from spending money. And even though I’m Dave Ramsey’s daughter, I felt that way too. But now, I’m the biggest fan of budgeting you’ll probably ever meet. A budget actually helps me spend freely—without guilt.

A zero-based budget shows your money who’s in charge. That’s right, you get to tell every single dollar where to go. And get this: The average household finds $332 in their first month of budgeting with EveryDollar.

No matter what scale it’s on, financial infidelity can be tough to deal with. And sometimes, just working out the kinks in your communication and doing a regular budget won’t heal those wounds. If that’s the case, there’s no shame in seeking the help of a professional marriage counselor.

And as for the money mess, check out Financial Peace University. It’s a nine-lesson course that will teach you and your spouse how to get debt, save for emergencies, and take control of your life. Remember, when you combine your life goals with your budget, there’s no stopping what you and your spouse can accomplish—together!


Financial Infidelity and the Damage it Does

Financial Cheating in Marriage

Financial infidelity is when someone lies about or withholds important information about money.

This dishonesty can happen within romantic relationships, between roommates or business partners, or within a larger family structure. For the purposes of this article, I’ll be largely focusing on romantic relationships.

(If you’d me to write about financial infidelity within other relationship structures, let me know in the comments!)

A 2016 Harris poll for the National Endowment for Financial Education revealed that 42% of Americans admit to deceiving their spouses financially, up from 33% in 2014.

Financial infidelity is when someone lies about or withholds important information about money.

What counts as financial infidelity?

Acts of financial infidelity are wide-ranging. They can be seemingly harmless, or severely damaging. This is different than having your own separate financial accounts.

My boyfriend and I keep our finances separate right now, but we know what accounts we each have and generally how much we have and owe.

I actually recommend to my clients that they have some of their own money, even if they’re married (this will help them down the road if the relationship ends). Financial infidelity is very different than financial independence. Wondering what counts?

Secret accounts

I’m all about having and using your own money, but your accounts shouldn’t be a secret. If you feel you have to hide your spending from your partner, something is wrong.

Having secret bank accounts or credit cards could mean there’s overspending happening, which could end up hurting the whole family. There could also be more sinister motives behind these secret accounts.

Some people feel the need to hide money from their partner if that partner is abusive. Others might have secret accounts that they use to spend money on an affair or an addiction.

Hiding large purchases

This could consist of making and hiding large purchases, or just making the decision to purchase unilaterally.

Again, I’m all about everyone having their own money to spend as they , but when you’re in it together, big purchases should be okay-ed by both partners.

An example of this could be if your partner decides to buy a new car without discussing it with you first. It’s especially damaging if you can’t afford the payments for that new car.

Spending joint funds

If you have joint bank accounts, you should create guidelines for how you each spend that money. For example, you may decide to use joint funds to pay the mortgage, or pay off debt.

If you or your partner are pulling from your shared cash to spend on things that are not mutually agreed upon, you’re committing financial infidelity.

This act could be particularly alarming to the other partner, because it’s partly their own money that is being spent.

Lying about spending

I’ve heard of people saying that they’re paying the rent or utility bills, and then spending the money on something else. Then when the lights get turned off, or they get evicted, their partner is completely shocked and caught off guard. Saying your money is going one place when it’s really going somewhere else is dishonest and can lead to debt and credit problems.

There are many other actions that can be considered financial infidelity. Learn more here.

Why is financial infidelity harmful?

Loss of trust. Money is already one of the leading reasons for divorce. When two people are not on the same page when it comes to money, there is a lot of potential conflict.

Financial infidelity makes things even worse. Seventy-five percent of people who have experienced financial infidelity say that it has negatively impacted their relationship.

Infidelity of any kind can erode trust within a relationship, and financial infidelity is no different.

Financial ruin. Yes, financial infidelity can hurt your interpersonal relationships, but it can do a lot more damage than that.

If your partner is racking up debt in your name, or not paying the bills, your credit can be severely impacted. This can lead to having to file bankruptcy, losing your house, having your credit score tank, and more.

These types of financial issues can follow you far beyond your relationship.

What you should do now

Your next steps obviously depend on the severity of the financial infidelity. If you or your partner have been stealing from each other, things might not be salvageable. But if you just need to start being more truthful with each other, there may still be hope.

1. Have the money talk. First of all, if you’re new to a romantic relationship, you should have the money talk ASAP.

Even if you and your partner differ when it comes to money, you should both be aware of where the other is coming from. It’s important to get on the same page, so that no one feels they have to be dishonest later on.

And if you can’t work through the differences, it’s better to find out early on in the relationship.

2. Confront or confess. If you’re already in a serious relationship and you’ve discovered financial infidelity (or committed it yourself), approach your partner. Don’t throw wild accusations or go into the conversation angry. Sit them down and explain what you found (or what you did). Try to stay calm and allow your partner (or yourself) to explain themselves.

3. Get on the same page. Talk about your financial goals and restrictions together. If you never had the money talk at the beginning of your relationship, have it now.

Put it all out on the table.

If your financial goals differ, how can you compromise? Is there a way that all your goals can work together? Being in agreement means you can be more honest and communicative with each other moving forward.

4. Start rebuilding trust. If you think your relationship is salvageable, you and your partner need to begin to rebuild trust. Once you’re back on the same financial page, you should set up ways to prove that you can trust each other.

Perhaps you can set a “money date” once a week to sit down and go through your finances together. Or you can set up a joint Mint or LearnVest account so you can see what the other person is up to.

If you can take the small steps to prove that you’re trustworthy, you can start rebuilding trust within your relationship.

5. Walk away. If things have gone past the point of no return, sometimes the only option is to walk away. If you know you could never trust your partner again, it’s okay to admit that. Be as kind as you can, protect yourself (financially, emotionally, physically), and start the process of leaving.

*If you have experienced financial fidelity, please share your story in the comments!

I want to point out that financial infidelity and financial abuse are not necessarily the same thing. If you are in an abusive relationship where money is being used against you, please get help. If you are in this situation, you are not alone.

One in four women experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. 99% of those women also experience financial abuse within the relationship. Abusers often use money as a weapon against their victims, making it difficult for the victim to leave the relationship safely.

For more information and resources on financial abuse, visit Purple Purse.*


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