Is your partner committing financial infidelity? Are you?
By Gina Freeman
Reviewed by Jill Cornfield
Jan 07, 2024
Read time: 5 min
Financial infidelity means being dishonest about money matters with your partner.
Financial infidelity has many causes, and you may need professional help to deal with it.
You can head off or recover from financial infidelity by budgeting and being open with each other about your income, spending, debt, savings, and credit rating.
Most of us manage to be faithful to our partners (married or not) because we love them and want the best for them. But there's one type of infidelity that traditional vows don't cover: financial infidelity. And people in a committed relationship might be doing it without even realizing it.
What is financial infidelity?
Financial infidelity is being dishonest about money matters with your partner—such as lying about how much money you make or how good your credit is. It can also mean buying expensive things or racking up debt without telling your partner.
You might think it's okay to keep money problems to yourself or not admit that you can't afford certain things. But when the truth comes out (and it usually does), your partner will likely feel hurt and betrayed.
Here are some examples of financial infidelity that you (or your partner) might do without realizing how it can hurt your relationship:
Taking a lot of money from a shared bank account without explaining why
Using money from a shared account to pay off your own debts
Not putting in your fair share of money into a joint account
Lying about how you spent money
Keeping your debts a secret from your partner
Buying something expensive without talking to your partner first
Trying to hide financial decisions that go against what your partner wants
Trying to hide financial decisions that mess up your budget together
Keeping a shopping or other addiction a secret from your partner
Financial infidelity is deceit involving money in a relationship, says Dr. Brad Klontz, a therapist and author who specializes in financial issues, and it's very common. Why do people commit financial infidelity?
Reasons people commit financial infidelity
We don't usually plan to be financially unfaithful, but it can happen if we're not careful. There are a few main reasons why it occurs, like stress, fear, shame, wanting to be in control, and addiction. These things can make it hard for us to resist the urge to borrow or spend money when we shouldn't.
Control: Some people may feel a lack of control in their lives, and hiding money decisions can help them feel more powerful. Other times, they spend secretly to push back against a partner they feel is too controlling.
Avoiding arguments. A study by the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) found that many preferred to lie rather than argue about spending.
Fear: People may spend behind their partner's back when they fear missing out. They may even spend because they're worried about money to convince themselves things are okay.
Revenge spending: Some partners use spending to get even when they feel hurt by the other's behavior.
Affairs. A cheating partner may cover up spending on another person. A partner planning to divorce might open a secret account to hide assets.
Narcissism: Narcissists often feel entitled to all money in a relationship and don't feel they need to bring their partner into big financial decisions.
Sexism: Some partners feel that people of other genders can't be trusted to manage money, so they leave them out of the loop when they spend or borrow.
Addiction: Addiction to gambling, shopping, or substances can lead to dishonesty, shame, and financial ruin. The spending won't stop until the underlying problem is addressed.
Do any of these look familiar? Don't despair if you recognize yourself or your partner on this list. You can clear the air and do better, with professional help if necessary.
Signs of financial infidelity
Every relationship hits rough spots, and some partners choose sneaky spending over honest conversations.
Here's how to tell if a partner might be hiding something:
They keep their finances private.
They get defensive when the topic of money comes up.
They blame you for financial problems or say you don't handle money well.
They won't talk about money.
They have hidden information about money in the past.
They don't tell you where the money comes from when making big purchases.
They make important financial decisions without your input.
They have a secret bank account.
They are vague about how much they make and don't share details with you.
They spend money on others but not you.
They hide financial records and bills.
They refuse to make a budget or plan for the future.
If you're both still committed to your relationship, you must solve the problem together. A credit counselor, therapist, or spiritual leader can help you work through it and get back on track.
Avoiding financial infidelity
Make a joint decision to avoid financial infidelity, and draft some rules to live by. If infidelity has already occurred, consider couples therapy to support the person who was hurt and help you move forward.
Bring these principles into your lives:
It may sound corny, but it's true: Honesty is the best policy. Do your taxes together. Review your credit reports together. Shine the light on your debts, savings, investments, hopes, dreams, and fears. Use tools like Achieve's MoLO and GOOD apps to help meet your goals.
If your partner would hit the ceiling if you wrote a big check to your best friend's Go Fund Me or bought a boat, don't do it without a discussion. Some couples set ground rules to make these chats easier. For instance, any purchase over a set dollar amount must be approved in advance by both partners. No one secretly takes out a loan or gets a new credit card.
Make sure the financial power is balanced, even if your incomes aren't equal. Create a budget that you can both live with and commit to. Decide who pays for what and how income and expenses will be divided. Be respectful. It's not fair if one person always gets short-changed because the other goes over budget every month.
Schedule regular reviews of your budget, savings, debts, income, and investments. At least monthly. Go through your credit reports together (credit card balances, new accounts, and inquiries will usually appear). How did your budget and planning hold up? What do you need to adjust? Make your meeting a problem-solving session, not a power grab. And celebrate your wins together.
Rebuilding trust after financial infidelity
Recovering from financial infidelity isn't that different from getting over a cheating incident. You'll have to decide if you can stay together, and if trust can be restored. The guilty party will have to reassure the victim and keep the books open at all times.
You'll need to address the root cause of the infidelity. Addictions and other serious problems will likely require professional help. Some pros you might enlist include marriage and family counselors, credit counselors, debt professionals, religious counselors, and psychologists.
Rebuilding trust and earning forgiveness after financial infidelity is possible by having open and honest conversations about income, spending, credit, and financial choices. And in some cases, seeking professional assistance.
Creating a budget together is one of the best ways to head off financial problems, including infidelity. Make sure that both parties get their most important needs met, and look for ways to reach effective compromises. Review your budget vs spending together and celebrate together when you stay on track.
Gina Freeman has been covering personal finance topics for over 20 years. She loves helping consumers understand tough topics and make confident decisions. Her professional history includes mortgage lending, credit scoring, taxes, and bankruptcy. Gina has a BS in financial management from the University of Nevada.
Jill is a personal finance editor at Achieve. For more than 10 years, she has been writing and editing helpful content on everything that touches a person’s finances, from Medicare to retirement plan rollovers to creating a spending budget.