What is Financial Infidelity

Financial infidelity occurs when couples with combined finances lie to each other about money. For example, one partner may hide significant debts in a separate account while the other partner is unaware. Another common example is when one partner makes large discretionary expenditures without discussing the matter with their partner.

BREAKING DOWN Financial Infidelity

Money can be a big point of contention among couples, so it is important for each partner to be open about his or her financial situation, expenditures, and attitudes toward money. A good idea is to go over both partners' financial pictures before combining finances. Also, setting up a mutually agreeable system for handling expenditures can help avoid many fights down the line. For instance, many couples set up an allowance system, which allows each partner to spend a set amount each month without having to consult the other. This allows for partners to maintain part of their financial independence while still working toward mutual financial goals.

Signs of Financial Infidelity

It's pretty easy in this age of online bill pay and free-flowing credit card offers to hide mounting debt. Every card issuer offers the option to have bills sent over email rather than the postal service, so spouses won't see the monthly statements. From there, people who have trouble managing money can amass tens of thousands of dollars of debt without their partner ever knowing, at least for a time.

Excessive spending on gifts, trips, or gambling with unexplained withdrawals from joint accounts is a classic sign of financial infidelity. Larger than normal cash withdrawals or checks made out to cash may be another sign. 

Defensiveness or stonewalling when one partner raises the subject of money is common among couples struggling with financial infidelity. The list goes on, from hidden income to secret shopping and trips to casinos, to hiding bank statements and cutting a partner from joint accounts.

What Can Be Done

The best thing is to come clean, and counselors can help facilitate that hard conversation. Experts say it's important not to accuse, but to gather the facts and discuss priorities and what to do about them. All accounts must be opened to both parties for scrutiny and discussion. Try to find shared goals that you'll both work toward. If there's a lot of debt, make a plan to pay it off and a plan to stop new debts from popping up.