Financial infidelity can be just as devastating to a relationship as an affair. In fact, some 31% respondents in a recent CreditCards.com survey felt that keeping a credit card or savings account a secret from their partner was worse than being unfaithful. And it appears that financial infidelity is rife. In the same 2018 survey, 15% of people admitted that they weren’t always honest about money with their partners, while 23% said they didn’t think their partners were honest with them. Two out of five people admitted to lying about money or hiding financial details from a partner.
Financial infidelity can take many forms such as secretly spending money, holding hidden bank accounts, borrowing money on the sly, lending money to family and friends without your partner knowing, or building up debt without your partner’s knowledge. However, financial infidelity can also include financial decisions made by one partner that affect, burden, strain or set back the finances of a relationship. Where one partner takes significant financial decisions without the knowledge of the other, it endangers the financial futures of both partners and results in financial problems that can take years to resolve.
Besides the breakdown in trust, financial infidelity can cause arguments, unhappiness in the home, built-up resentment and anger, financial instability, and even divorce. Interestingly, financial infidelity happens at all income levels but is more common amongst men. While women tend to hide smaller purchases, the CreditCard.com survey revealed that men are more likely to hide extravagant purchases of electronics and/or sports equipment. The survey also revealed that younger couples are more likely to hide details about money than older couples.
Types of financial infidelity
Financial infidelity goes beyond hiding purchases from your partner, although this is often the starting point. Here are some examples of covert money behaviour that can break down trust between couples:
- Spending in secret: This can include buying items and lying about the cost, not telling your partner about something that you’ve purchased, or even getting other family members or friends to lie on your behalf.
- Hiding an item: If there is financial tension in a relationship, one partner may begin hiding purchases from the other in order to avoid a fight.
- Hiding debt: Secret spending and lying about expenditure may result in a person incurring debt and then hiding the debt from their partner. If their spending patterns do not change, the debt will grow and become more unmanageable.
- Lying about income: This may include a partner lying about how much he earns or keeping a bonus or increase secret from his partner so that he can spend the extra money without her knowledge.
- Hiding accounts: This could entail one party setting up secret bank accounts or holding secret credit cards in order to hide their purchases from the other. This often happens in the case of extra-marital affairs.
- Gambling: Where one partner has problems with gambling, she is likely to gamble on the sly to avoid confrontation and arguments.
- Lending money to others: Lending money to family or friends without your partner’s consent or knowledge can be an enormous source of tension in a relationship and can result in irreparable fracturing of family units.
- Misleading your partner: This can include acts of omission where one partner fails to communicate important financial information to the other thereby misleading her into a false sense of security. For instance, one spouse may lead the other to believe this his business is doing well whereas, in fact, it is insolvent.
- Taking money out of savings: Tantamount to stealing, this could involve one partner withdrawing money out of the joint savings, withdrawing out of an investment or using money that the couple has earmarked for other purposes.
- Taking major financial decisions without partner’s knowledge: This can include one partner resigning from his job, buying a property, booking an overseas holiday, taking out a personal loan or upgrading a car without first consulting his partner. This form of betrayal can be particularly hurtful and result in built-up resentment.
Preventing financial infidelity
Financial infidelity in a relationship is easier to avoid than it is to stop. Like interest, financial secrets have a way of compounding and it often starts with one small, unsuspecting purchase. Ensuring that financial infidelity doesn’t find a home in your relationship means learning to communicate with your partner and having open discussions about money. Develop a financial plan in which both your goals and dreams are represented, and make a concerted effort to share the financial load between the two of you. Regularly check up on your finances and don’t shy away from having robust conversations about your money.