Overcoming Financial Infidelity in Your Relationship

financial papers on the table

Financial infidelity. The secretive act of possessing credit and credit cards, spending or borrowing money, holding secrets about a bank or credit card accounts or stashes of money, or incurring debt unknown to one’s spouse or partner. This trend continues to grow exponentially.

The statistics 

Research conducted in 2012 by Self.com and Today.com who surveyed almost 24,000 men and women found:

  • Almost 50% of married adults admitted to keeping money secrets from their spouses.
  • 37% of men and 56% of women admitted to lying to their partner about money.
  • 63% of men and 70% of women agreed that being honest about money was as important as being monogamous.
  • 31% of couples had committed financial infidelity.

One in ten. That’s the ratio that people admit to having hidden credit card purchases, which have played a role in their separation or divorce, according to a report by Moneysupermarket.com and reported in the article, Secret Credit Card Spending and Divorce Linked in New Survey. 

Warning signs.

According to Adrian Nazari, Founder and CEO of CreditSesame.com, and further discussed in the Huffington article, Financial Infidelity: What To Do When Someone Cheats, there are three warning signs of potential financial infidelity: suspicious withdrawal, changing the topic when money issues come up, or a partner who wants to control the finances. A person should also look for their partner insisting on secret passwords for online banking accounts and having separate credit cards.

Discovery and Disclosure

The awareness that the financial infidelity is much more complex and destructive than first imagined becomes more real. The betrayed partner experiences rage, intense anger, heartbreak, and immediate loss of trust for their partner. They ask:

  • What else could they be hiding?
  • How could you do this to us?
  • How could I missed this?
  • How long has this been going on?
  • How will I be able to trust him or her again?

Although financial infidelity causes significant damage to a relationship, it doesn’t have to destroy it. However, overcoming the infidelity and rebuilding trust is a lengthy process.

Steps to Recover and Rebuild Your Relationship  

1.) Full Disclosure. In other words, come clean and put your debt on the table. This entails coming clean and taking ownership of the debt and the infidelity. Apologize and mean it.

2.)  Have a conversation and ask the questions. People vary in their relationship with and behaviors towards money. Ask: What is your relationship with money? What affects have your family’s relationship with money affected your relationship with money? Can you separate a want from a need? The answers create a context for understanding your partner’s relationship with money and helps provide an explanation, not necessarily an excuse.

3.) Review your budget.  I remain surprised by the number of people who have no budget (read, “fly by the seat of their pants”). They have no idea on how much money it takes to run their home, take care of their bills, and what, if any, their disposable income is.

4.) Set financial rules and goals. Make time on a regular basis to discuss money, bills, expenses, and short and long term financial goals for the future. How much can a person spend on their own – no questions asked? Who will manage the money and budget? What are the parameters for making joint versus unilateral decisions?

5.) Seek professional help. It is imperative that both people have a willingness to seek outside professional help – be it a financial counselor and/or marital therapist. You will need a third party who provides an objective viewpoint and new skills and strategies you will need to get you through the tenuous times – and there will be many.

6.) Rebuild Trust. This is the most difficult and challenging step. Upon learning of the financial infidelity disclosure, the betrayed partner has no time or patience, let alone trust. They are unsure if they can or are willing to make the relationship work.

Since the infidelity didn’t occur overnight, the problems will not dissipate overnight. The pain and suffering caused by one, will be felt by both. People want the bad feelings and problems to “just go away” and resolve quickly. It doesn’t happen this way. There will be a lot of “fits and starts”, improvements yet setbacks and relapses. Expect the betrayed partner to ask the same questions – more than once or twice. Remember that your feelings will be all over the place and will feel like you are on a roller coaster. You are.

Keep in mind that a person’s willingness to examine their behaviors, take responsibility for their finances AND incurred debt and infidelity, and tackle the difficult feelings often associated with financial infidelity – shame and embarrassment are vital.

If both people are willing to learn how to communicate honestly and openly, there is greater hope that the relationship will survive the significant pain and stress of the financial infidelity. Over time, disclosure, greater transparency, and a willingness to share feelings – both good and bad – provides the couple with not only the ability to trust again but an openness to resolve issues together before they become significant problems.

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