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Is Your Partner Financially Unfaithful?

The National Endowment for Financial Education recently published a poll that revealed a startling new statistic: one third of adults involved in relationships that have combined finances admits to deceiving their significant other financially. More than 3 quarters of the individuals surveyed claimed that their relationships have been negatively by financial deceptions.
One minor infidelity of a small purchase could turn into full-blown disloyalty of hidden bank accounts, secret credit cards, and more. This could easily cause a lost sense of trust and even a relationship split. Not only can financial infidelity cause lost sense of trust, but it could also turn into a credit nightmare if the dishonest partner goes too far. What causes a partner to be unfaithful about money? What needs to be done to catch them in the act? What happens after you've caught them? This is the ultimate guide to financial infidelity and moving past it.

What is the Psychology Behind Financial Unfaithfulness?

Generally, people cheat for one reason and one reason only: they are ashamed of what they're doing and they would rather their partners not find out to save embarrassment. In general, men and women both have varying perspectives about what an "important purchase" is. While a woman might find that a pair of shoes costing $100 to be a fair trade, a man might not see the worth. On the other hand, a man might see football tickets priced at $200 to be quite the steal, but a woman probably won't understand the worth. Fearing judgment from the other partner is often what drives many people to be deceitful about their financial transactions.
At the most basic level, people often make the attempt to obtain things even though they know they shouldn't in the first place. For example, one of the partners in a relationship could be home alone one night, and they might see a video game console priced online at $150. He/she knows that the other partner would not approve of the purchase, but the want overrides reasoning. The purchase is made, and the individual makes every attempt possible to hide the evidence.

Symptoms of Financial Infidelity

No matter what type of infidelity is present in a relationship, whether it be romantic or financial, it can have devastating and lasting effects on the bond between the two partners. Patricia Nelson of Wise Women Workshop states that any out-of-the-ordinary behavior should raise questions. Common signs of financial infidelity are:
  • Receipts that aren't familiar. The receipt might outline purchases that weren't agreed upon as a couple. The unsuspecting partner might also see frequent charges on their debit/credit card bills that don't make sense or aren't familiar.
  • Being denied the right to viewing monthly bills. The dishonest partner might always express a peculiar optimism about wanting to check the mail first or make payments for the bills.
  • Withdrawn behavior whenever money or finances are mentioned. The unsuspecting partner may notice an inexplicable loss of money but won't know where exactly it is going. When this is brought the unfaithful partner's attention, he/she might quickly become defensive.
  • Lying to others about income or expenditures. Concern should be felt if the other partner is overheard lying to a neighbor or friend about how much something cost or where it was purchased. These types of statements should be confronted behind closed doors.
  • Secret bank accounts. Sure, the dishonest partner might want to have their own money on the side to spend. However, if they never mentioned the secret account in conversation, there's a good chance they've also been deceitful with joint finances.

How to Broach the Subject

The majority of the respondents to the survey claimed that the financial infidelity negatively impacted their relationships. However, others reported that the dishonesty opened the door for transparent finances. Less than 10% reported the infidelity bringing the two partners closer together and strengthening their relationships. 
When a partner's deceit has been discovered, knowing how to talk about it might not be immediately obvious. These are essential steps that must be taken when the time for "the talk" comes.
  • Expect the deceitful partner to continue being defensive. It's highly likely that there will be quite a bit of sensitivity surrounding the deceit. Understand that this stems from guilt. It will eventually pass.
  • Create and adhere to a list of points that will be made. The important part of this discussion is creating a plan that will move the relationship forward and out of the infidelity. Don't resort to having this talk unprepared.<
  • Spend some time building solutions that will create more financial security in the relationship. The point is not to take away either partners' spending freedom; it is rather to create a more transparent dynamic. Set up credit card alerts that notify both holders of the account immediately when purchases are made, or ensure that bills are being sent to both parties.

Related Article: Weekly Tip: Always pay at least the minimum on your credit card bill.

Moving Past Financial Infidelity

Once "the talk" is over with, it's time to move past the deceit and turn over a new leaf. It's a good idea at this point to create a budgeting date when both partners will sit down and work through their bills and accounting together. Setting goals, reviewing progress, and reaching goals together will also give both partners in the relationship a chance to enjoy success together. As the couple moves past the financial infidelity, they have a better chance at restoring trust and building a stronger relationship in the end.
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Yael Kent's picture

Yael Kent is a personal finance enthusiast with experience writing about credit cards, credit repair, debt, and more. In addition to being an editor at Creditnet, she has been featured on Yahoo Finance, Reuters, and other financial sites.

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