Marriage is all about trust and transparency. When you promise to spend the rest of your life with your chosen partner, it takes a lot of openness and effort from both parties to make the marriage work.

However, not all marriages last long. According to Marriage.com, extra-marital affairs are the top reason for the failure of most marriages that end in divorce. The second most common reason is money problems.

Although money problems are usually perceived as the difference in spending or the power struggles over who earns more, there is another problem that some couples experience: financial infidelity. According to experts, it causes just as much damage to a marriage as cheating on a spouse.

Defining Financial Infidelity

There is no fixed definition of financial infidelity, but the book Financial Therapy: Theory, Research, and Practice defines it as the deliberate financial dishonesty between the couple when there is a stated or unspoken belief in mutual honest communication about financial matters.

Some cases of financial infidelity are small, such as lying about the cost of an item or covering up missed payments. Other incidents of infidelity have larger effects on the relationship. For example, your partner may not have been upfront about planning and saving for retirement, they may have purchased a property in Perth without your knowledge or they may be ashamed to tell you about being in huge debt.

Why People Lie About Money

The rate of financial infidelity varies, but according to a survey conducted by the 2018 Journal of Financial Therapy, 27 per cent of individuals admitted to keeping a financial secret from their partner. A 2018 survey by CreditCards.com also showed that 23 per cent of respondents felt their partners weren’t always honest with them about financial matters.

Each case of infidelity also differs. Some may be trying to avoid fighting over money. Concealing money matters could reflect on larger relationship problems such as decreased marital satisfaction or loss of trust. The erring spouse might also be hiding something else, such as an addiction or an extra-marital affair.

Effects of Financial Infidelity

When the infidelity is exposed, it usually stirs feelings of betrayal and loss of trust. It could also lead to the dissolution of the marriage. According to Megan McCoy, a professor at Kansas State University specialising in financial therapy, fights about money are more severe and last longer because money suggests safety in retirement or a child’s higher education.

The decisions made by the erring partner may have financial consequences. Minor deceptions, like secret purchases or hidden bills, can cause finances to fail. Larger-scale deceptions can get a partner, or the couple, in bigger trouble. The deceptive spouse may land in jail, or the couple may have to sacrifice a comfortable retirement or their children’s chances to go to a good school to give way to paying for the debt.

Keeping the Relationship and the Bank Account Healthy

couple saving money

The best way to prevent financial infidelity is by having the money talk before getting married or living together. This allows you to agree on what to spend on and save for before combining finances, and it also helps you tackle small gaps in your budget that could lead to bigger problems if not addressed sooner. Continue to discuss your finances regularly and adjust for when your financial situation changes.

When financial infidelity does happen, approach the problem with concern rather than anger. Look for the root cause of the problem so you both know how to address the issue. Seeking the help of a couple’s counsellor or a marriage or family therapist will help you figure out how to address the causes of financial infidelity.

Hiding financial matters could cause a marriage to dissolve. When your spouse is showing signs of financial infidelity, address the problem right away.  You could keep your household finances safe and possibly repair the relationship you have with your partner.