How to cope with financial infidelity

How to cope with financial infidelity

For many couples, there are few topics as challenging to navigate amicably as money and shared finances. Whether one person earns more than the other, how bills are split, where money is spent, who pays for what – the list of potentially thorny issues goes on and on.

Research confirms that money is the most common source of arguments within a relationship. More than 6 in 10 couples who argue do so because of money. A third of people worry that they’re incompatible with their partner because of differences in spending habits, while around a quarter say they believe their spouse is irresponsible with money. This is a difficult foundation on which to build an honest, open relationship where each partner can freely express how they deal with their finances without fear of repercussions within the relationship.

It perhaps shouldn’t come as any surprise that finances are a source of recurring conflict and anxiety.

With the cost-of-living crisis and soaring food and energy bills, many of us have felt the pinch of financial pressures in the aftermath of the pandemic. If one partner disapproves of how the other person handles their finances, or if irresponsible spending leads to problems such as missed bill payments or insufficient cash for essentials like food, it’s easy to see how distrust and secrecy can flourish.

In some relationships, money can become the elephant in the room. Financial disagreements can lead to a huge amount of conflict, erode trust, and cause significant resentment.

What is financial infidelity and how does it impact relationships?

There are many types of infidelity within a relationship. While many of us will think of intimate or physical infidelity as being the bigger issue, financial infidelity can be just as devastating.

Financial infidelity happens when one partner deliberately lies about money-related matters. Financial infidelity may well start in a very minor way – not telling your partner that you stop for a drive-through coffee on the way to the office each morning for example, because you know they wouldn’t approve.

While a coffee or slice of cake here and there may seem innocuous, regularly and purposefully concealing purchases, being deceitful about spending habits or running up debts on credit cards or with loans in secret can all lead to bigger problems.

Not providing an itemised list of everything you’ve spent money on isn’t a sign of financial infidelity. Nor is splashing out on an impulse purchase now and again or using your own money to buy something that you want. However, if spending habits are systematically and regularly concealed, financial infidelity could be taking place.

Signs of financial infidelity include:

  • Having secret accounts: It’s perfectly normal, healthy, and acceptable to maintain separate bank accounts from your partner, even as a married couple. However, if you or your spouse purposefully maintains secret bank, savings or credit card accounts, there’s reason to believe that financial infidelity has taken place.
  • Intentionally hiding purchases: We all have our guilty pleasures, but when that escalates into intentionally hiding things we’ve bought, it’s time to take a deeper look and ask whether that secrecy is an act of financial infidelity.
  • Secretly hiding money: There’s nothing sinister about two people wanting to maintain their financial identities within a relationship. But that relationship should be built on trust. If one party has a source of income that’s completely hidden from the other person, it’s fair to say that financial infidelity has taken place.

How to cope with financial infidelity?

Relationships are built on trust, so any type of infidelity can be devasting. Knowing that your partner has hidden money from you, lied or been deliberately deceptive about their spending habits can be devastating. The key to coping with financial infidelity is to mutually agree on a way forward, where both parties are open and honest about their financial means and spending habits. That could look like:

  • Budgeting: It’s very easy to fall out of sync when it comes to money matters. Setting a budget means both parties are clear on financial responsibilities and goals. This is an easy way to find common ground and set expectations around spending.
  • Communication: For many people, talking about money can feel taboo. But in a relationship, it’s the only way to be sure that you’re both clear on what is and isn’t acceptable. That doesn’t mean that you need to report every takeaway coffee you purchase, but it does mean that the bigger ticket items are jointly considered.
  • Transparency: Infidelity happens because one person doesn’t want to tell the truth. To deal with financial infidelity and move past it, both parties need to be transparent about their financial situation and how they choose to spend money.

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Shaoli has been a solicitor at NLS for over two years, transitioning from a background in criminal law to full-time family law. Her experience as a Criminal Duty Solicitor has equipped her with unique skills that are invaluable in her current role.
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