Financial Infidelity: What it is and How to Avoid it

You’ve likely heard of physical and emotional cheating, but what about financial?

Financial infidelity can be just as damaging to a marriage as physical or emotional infidelity. As technology advances, the opportunity to take financial advantage of a spouse increases.

What is financial infidelity?

Let’s say one spouse get a large inheritance. Instead of telling the other spouse, he or she chooses to spend it, conceal it, or both, without the other spouse knowing. Or, one spouse starts borrowing money against the other spouse’s marital property. Or, one spouse starts racking up credit card debt without the other spouse’s knowledge. Financial infidelity is essentially when a spouse steals money or hiding assets from the other spouse.

You may think, I’m too young for my spouse to steal from me, or I’m too old, or I don’t have enough assets. Learning about financial infidelity isn’t meant to make you paranoid; it’s meant to make you aware. A spouse can borrow against another spouse’s property, can hide various assets, or can steal right under the other spouse’s nose.

When you go to the grocery store and opt for an email receipt, or you shop online, you have no hard copy of the receipts, making it easier for financial infidelity. Because no paper trail exists, it made be harder to keep track of spending.

Some financial infidelity offenses are less serious. There’s a spectrum of financial infidelity that spouses may lie on. Did your spouse indulge on that Amazon purchase and hide it? Or, on the other end of the spectrum, did someone lie on his or her taxes? Did one spouse spend or borrow a significant sum of money? When you spend money, especially from a joint account, it’s important to be open and honest with your spouse.

Every marriage is different. Maybe you and your spouse have your own bank accounts. Maybe you each have your own budgets. Maybe your spouse doesn’t care how frequently you’re spending from a joint account. The issue is whether one spouse is hiding his or her spending, likely for a personal gain.

There are many categories of financial infidelity. These include, addiction, social pressure, different values, anxiety, and affairs. Addictions come in many forms. Whether it’s drugs, gambling, or any other form of repetitive spending, a spouse may commit financial infidelity by feeding his or her addiction.

Social media creates an increased pressure to fit in. Some people want the most expensive homes and items, and thus are willing to go to great lengths to get those, even when they’re not financially secure.

Do you and your spouse have different values?

Maybe your spouse wants to help pay for your son’s apartment, but you want him to learn about saving and spending on his own. Maybe you don’t want to pay for your children’s car payments, but your spouse does. Working through these differences, before potentially going behind your spouse’s back and spending money, can help your marriage in the long run.

Do you find yourself shopping when you are stressed? Do you view your financials as a roller coaster? Maybe you have a job that’s solely commission-based, compared to one where you get paid bi-weekly. Sometimes saving is easier said than done. By creating a budget with your spouse, you can come to an agreement for how much you want to spend weekly or monthly.

Sometimes, financial infidelity can mix with emotional and physical cheating. Physical and emotional cheating can lead to financial infidelity. The expenses that go along with these forms of cheating typically come from an account that one spouse may hide from the other.

If you’re concerned that your spouse may be committing financial infidelity, speak with an attorney or financial advisor. For more information about financial infidelity, read “Living With a Thieving Spouse,” by Judith Newman.

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1. “Living With a Thieving Spouse,” Judith Newman. Family Finances. February/March 2020.