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Your Clandestine Affair With… Your Credit Card

Your partner has become secretive, hiding receipts and financial statements from you. You suspect your partner of lying about where he or she has been and what he or she has been doing. Your spouse insists on separate credit cards and doesn’t want to share passwords with you. Unfortunately, all of these signs indicate that your spouse may be cheating on you, but not necessarily with another person—your spouse could be cheating on you financially. A 2011 study from the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) found that 16 percent of marriages ending in divorce have been attributed to what has come to be known as financial infidelity. Money can be a serious source of tension and strife in marriages. Approximately 76 percent of married couples say that money influences their relationships in some way, and two-thirds of married couples report that their finances have led to arguments.

Violation of Partnership and Trust

Financial infidelity involves keeping purchases and credit card or bank statements secret from your spouse and making large purchases without the knowledge or consent of your spouse. Many of those who hide purchases or statements do so because they believe that their partner would be angry or disapproving of their spending. Some adults go even further with their financial deceptions and lie in addition to concealing information about their financial histories. Spouses may lie about the amount of debt they have accumulated and some may even lie about how much money they earn. Like sexual or romantic infidelity, financial infidelity is a violation of the trust that partners place in each other when they get married. While marriages have varying levels of financial interconnectedness vs. financial independence (separate vs. joint bank accounts, for example), the financial position of one spouse almost always has an impact on the other spouse.

Detecting Financial Infidelity

Secretiveness about receipts, financial statements and bank passwords can all be signs of financial infidelity. A variety of other signs can also indicate that a spouse is not being honest about money matters. Partners who are committing financial infidelity may become avoidant or argumentative when money issues are raised. They may make major purchases without consulting their spouse or open new lines of credit without disclosing that information. Finding evidence of new credit cards, hidden cash, secret bank accounts, unexplained income gaps or bills for major purchases that you didn’t know about are all major signs that your spouse is committing financial infidelity.

Avoiding Financial Infidelity

Small deceptions about financial situations often begin at the outset of a relationship. Many people exaggerate their income or underestimate their debt because they want to seem more appealing to a new partner or are embarrassed by their true situation.  However, these small deceptions early in a relationship can lead to larger ones later on as it becomes more difficult to hide the true state of your finances. While serious talks about money are uncomfortable for many people, having the conversation early on in marriage or before marriage can help to ensure that there are no misconceptions or secrets that could lead to future tension or financial deceit. Clearly dividing the expenses of a combined household and setting certain financial goals can also help partners know what to expect from each other and promote financial transparency.  

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