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Financial Infidelity And What It Means For Your Relationship

Rebecca Cohen  |  June 9, 2021

52% of people say financial infidelity is worse than a physical or emotional affair. Here's what to do if you find yourself in this situation.

When you think of your partner cheating on you, your head might immediately go to excuses of late meetings and secret text messages. But there’s a whole other class of cheating that has come to the forefront of marital issues — financial infidelity. 

Many people view marriage and their partner as a source of stability — a bedrock in their emotional and financial lives. Marriage brings tax benefits, savings on healthcare and other insurance costs, and the potential for a dual-income household… But these benefits largely depend on a relationship that has financial transparency. No, you don’t need to share every single dollar you make, but you should be discussing big financial moments and decisions with your other half. That’s why financial infidelity can be a huge problem for couples — even the most compatible of them.

“Money plays a huge role in the quality of life a married couple builds together, and that’s been especially evident over the past year while many people have worked extremely hard to make ends meet. Financial trust and transparency is a must for our members, which is why more than half of them believe cheating financially is just as or more serious than having an affair,” explains Paul Keable, Chief Strategy Officer at Ashley Madison.

How Big Of A Problem Is Financial Infidelity? 

Per a survey conducted by dating site Ashley Madison, 52% of people say that financial infidelity is just as bad as — or worse than — emotional or physical affairs. For 19% of respondents, financial infidelity is a complete deal breaker. 

Why is this? “Most couples make an agreement about their shared finances similar to the agreement they make about their monogamy. They implicitly assume that big purchases and investments will be discussed, and that a conversation about small purchases should happen before a conflict is created,” explains Dr. Tammy Nelson, TEDx speaker and author of When You’re The One Who Cheats

Financial infidelity becomes a deal breaker when it is a constant and ongoing issue, involves gambling, or puts their family at risk, Nelson explains. “It feels deceitful and is more humiliating to find out that a partner has been lying about money than lying about an affair,” she adds. 

According to the survey, 31% of people say financial infidelity disrupts the future of the family more than sexual and/or emotional infidelity does. Of those who have actually experienced financial infidelity, the following outcomes were reached: 

  • 28% went into serious debt 
  • 19% got divorced 
  • 15% had to borrow money from family or friends 
  • 15% had to take out a loan 
  • 13% lost all their savings 
  • 13% impacted what they could spend on a child’s education
  • 7% had to remortgage the house 
  • 4% had to sell the house 

What’s Your Next Move? 

So you found out your partner is cheating on you — financially. It can be worked through, but you have to be willing to put in the work. 

“It takes a commitment to be transparent, to create a new agreement about financial boundaries, and a shared vision for the future of the couple’s financial life. Financial infidelity happens when one or both partners break the agreement, without the knowledge or consent of the other. If the commitment doesn’t work, if the agreement is broken, the agreement needs to be reevaluated and reworked. A financial agreement and a financial plan should be written and can be updated weekly or monthly. Seeing a counselor, a coach and a financial advisor can help,” Nelson recommends. 

If the behavior continues, and there has been “perpetual dishonesty and promises to stop risky behavior with money,” without discussion, it can lead to “catastrophic results,” for example, divorce. “The person with the money issues should seek therapy and the couple should pursue counseling before a decision about divorce is final,” Nelson says. 

Moving Forward

Even if you find yourself experiencing financial infidelity, remember that it can be reversed. Additionally, if you are not facing this problem currently, make this your reminder to sit down with your partner and go over your shared rules and philosophies when it comes to your money and your family. “Creating a sound, shared financial plan is important. Decide who will be paying what bills out of which account, how much to save for the future, and how much risk you’re both comfortable taking with regards to investments,” Nelson says.  


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