Sleeping with someone who isn’t your partner is one way to destroy a marriage. Having a secret stash of money or debts that your partner doesn’t know about is another! If you haven’t heard of the specific term for it, this behavior is called financial infidelity, and nearly one in three Americans admit to lying about money to their spouse. Among couples affected by financial infidelity, 67% said it led to an argument, and 42% said it caused trust issues in the relationship. But it doesn’t stop there: 16% of these respondents said financial infidelity led to a divorce, while 11% said it led to a separation.
Are You Guilty? 6 Types of Financial Infidelity
Just like sexual and emotional infidelity, financial infidelity is one of the most dangerous things that can happen in a marriage. When one spouse is making significant financial moves without the knowledge of the other, it endangers the financial future of both people. Trust and honesty are key components to any lasting relationship or marriage. And these expectations should not only be valued when it comes to your sexual relations. In fact, you need to be able to trust your partner with your finances as well.
“Betrayal regarding money can be just as painful and damaging as other kinds of cheating,” says Tina Tessina, psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex, and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage. When a partner is caught concealing huge amounts of debt or involved in money-related addictions, the result can be a “total loss of trust, feelings of betrayal, and destruction of the relationship.”
Financial infidelity takes many forms, some more serious than others. Are you guilty of this? Here are three types.
Spending in secret
The most common form of financial infidelity is lying about or covering up spending. In the 2016 National Endowment for Financial Education survey, 22% of respondents said they had hidden a minor purchase from their partners, and 7% had hidden a major purchase. In addition, 12% of respondents had hidden a bill or bank statement so their partners wouldn’t see how much they’d spent. While many people may not think that lying about spending is as problematic as actual romantic cheating, it’s still a huge deceit that can ruin trust in relationships.
Lying about income
One in 20 respondents in the NEFE survey said they had lied to their partners about how much money they make. A 2018 survey by Safe Home got a higher response rate for this type of lie; roughly 13% of men and 15% of women admitted to deceiving their partners about earnings. Whether overpaid or underpaid, people lie about their income for various reasons. Some hide a high income from their spouses for fear their spouses will spend it all, while others exaggerate a low income because of embarrassment.
Lying about missed payments
A late payment could damage credit rating. If you share the account, it could also damage your spouse’s. So out of fear and guilt for forgetting to pay for this month’s electricity bill, you lie to your spouse about your carelessness and then rush to the computer to pay it before you get caught. If you share the account, you’re also damaging your spouse’s credit account. Sooner or later, getting approved for a loan becomes difficult for you both.
The joint credit card bill arrives on the mail, and you just remembered you made a huge purchase that you know will enrage your other half. Rather than get into a fight, you quietly hide the bill in a drawer. The big danger here is that you could forget to pay it. But even if you remember, that’s still money coming out of your joint bank account. You can conceal the expense temporarily, but sooner or later, your spouse is going to wonder where that money went.
A more serious form of financial infidelity is hiding debt from your partner. In some cases, secret debt can even amount to tens of thousands of dollars. For instance, in an interview with CNBC, financial adviser Neal Van Zutphen recounts meeting with a couple and learning that the husband had accumulated more than $60,000 worth of credit card debt without telling his wife.
Seattle-based Theo Pauline Nestor, 49, learned this the hard way and eventually published a book about her experience. When she noticed a curious dip in their joint checking account, she discovered he’d been secretly gambling for years. Not only had he opened several credit cards without her knowledge, he’d also racked up thousands of dollars in debt. According to CreditCards.com’s latest financial infidelity poll, 19 percent of U.S. adults who are in domestic relationships—which equates to 29 million people—are hiding a checking, savings, or credit card account from their partner. And 20 percent of all survey respondents feel a partner hiding a secret bank account from them would be worse than physically cheating.
Watch Out for These Financial Infidelity Red Flags
Financial infidelity cuts at the heart of our sense of safety, trust, and security with our partners. Here are red flags to look out for, in case you’ve found something amiss more than once.
Unfamiliar bills or bank statements
The Savvy Couple
Have you ever found a receipt for a purchase you didn’t know about, or mail from a bank that you thought neither of you had an account with? Why is this a problem? Well, it’s going to take away from the other goals in your life. It’s also an indication of dishonesty as your partner isn’t telling you about significant expenditures.
Is your checking or savings account lower than you expected it to be? Does your statement indicate a bunch of ATM withdrawals that you didn’t expect? Where did that cash go? If you are on a shared savings or checking account with your partner, you have the right to know where the cash goes from ATM withdrawals.
Does your partner suddenly have a new phone or a new tablet that you didn’t talk about? Is your partner suddenly enjoying lots of nice restaurants when traveling for work or at lunchtime? Does your partner suddenly have new clothes or shoes? Who is paying for these items? Are the expenditures showing up on your bills? Aside from the fact that these meals or items smell like an affair is going on, it could also mean they’re hiding a bank account from you. If you haven’t talked about this and, worse, if this is impacting your budget, expect this to erupt into a huge argument.
Sudden financial woes from your partner
Does your partner react with extreme emotion—tears, defensiveness, cold avoidance, or unease—whenever you bring up your finances? Or are they suddenly worrying about financial hardship? While this may mean that your partner regretted the way they handled their finances, it can also be indicative of a hidden spending problem.
Joint credit card removal
If you are an authorized user on a credit card with your spouse and then suddenly find yourself removed from that card for some unclear reason, that’s a sign that the card is in the process of being used for something you may not like.
Financial infidelity hurts couples in two ways. The first casualty is trust. Second, when the deception has something to do with money, it has financial consequences of its own. Even minor deceptions, like a few secret purchases, can cause your household budget to fail.
The best way to keep financial infidelity from harming your relationship is to put a stop to it before it starts. Communicate, share responsibility, and handle finances together.