More and more marriages are ending in divorce due to financial infidelity. Although the phrase is new, the problem isn’t. Couples have always fought about finances. Money issues are one of the leading reasons for divorce. It’s just the language that’s new. However, this new language is powerful. Could your marriage be at risk?
What is Financial Infidelity?
Of course, infidelity means that you are cheating on your spouse. Therefore, financial infidelity means that you’re cheating on your spouse with money. Of course, you aren’t having an affair with money. So then what is financial infidelity? Put simply, it means that you’re lying to partner about something related to your shared finances.
Examples of Financial Infidelity
Right now I’m reading Kathy Curto’s memoir Not for Nothing. She shares little vignettes about her mid-century childhood. Her father worked. Her mother was a housewife. Their relationship was tumultuous. In one vignette, Curto shares several ways that her mother squirrels money away. For example, she writes a check at the grocery store for more than the amount of groceries. She tells her husband she spent it all on groceries but keeps the cash back for herself.
Likewise, I know many women in the crafting community who don’t tell their husbands when they buy more craft supplies. It would cause a fight. They don’t want to deal with the fight. So they spend the money, hide their “stash” and never mention it to their spouse. These types of things are common. And yet, they are examples of financial infidelity.
What’s the Line? Do You Have to Tell Your Spouse Everything?
As with the other kind of infidelity, just what falls into the category of financial infidelity depends upon the boundaries of your relationship. Think of it this way: some couples think it’s okay to kiss someone else but not to go any further whereas other couples would consider this cheating. Likewise, what a couple considers a lie about money varies from relationship to relationship.
There’s also the issue of an outright lie vs. a lie of omission. You get an expensive new haircut. Your partner never asks about it. Is it financial cheating for you never to bring it up? That depends upon the unique agreements in your own marriage. These agreements may vary depending on all types of factors including:
- Whether or not you both have jobs
- If there’s a significant pay difference between your jobs
- Whether all of your accounts are joint accounts or you keep some money separate
- If you both do financial paperwork or only one of you handles it
Ultimately, it’s not the specific details that matter. Instead, what matters is that you and your partner set financial boundaries. You have to discuss them. You have to get on the same page. Then, you have to stick to the agreements that you’ve made. Otherwise, you’re at risk of committing financial infidelity.
Problematic Types of Financial Infidelity
Although each couple must set their own boundaries around financial infidelity, there are some common types that tend to wreak havoc in a marriage. First of all, if you agree to certain boundaries then lie about behavior that crosses those boundaries, you’re committing financial infidelity.
Additionally, if you place your partner at financial risk without their knowledge, then you’re committing financial infidelity. What this looks like can vary from relationship to relationship. For example, if you have agreed to each have your own separate credit cards, then it’s not infidelity to run your debt up without telling your partner. That’s what you’ve agreed to. However, if you’ve agreed to limit your debt then you run up credit card loans without their knowledge, that’s financial infidelity.
Broadly speaking, if you’re lying about or hiding any of your earning, spending, or saving then you’re marriage is at risk of financial infidelity.
Signs of Financial Infidelity
Perhaps you’re worried that your partner is committing financial infidelity. Here are some common warning signs:
- They shut down any conversation about money.
- You frequently see credit card expenses they won’t explain. Alternatively, their explanations don’t make sense.
- When you go to use a credit card, it gets declined. It’s over limit or you have been removed from a joint account without your permission.
- Your partner has changed their passwords to online financial accounts. They won’t share the new password.
- It’s baffling to you where your partner has gotten the money to afford large new expenses.
If you are worried about financial infidelity, then you might want to seek help. There are therapists who are trained to help couples with money matters. Or you might just start with an open, honest conversation about setting some financial boundaries and see where that takes you.