You can cheat on a spouse or partner without so much as flirting with someone else. And the impact can be just as couple-crushing.
Experts call it “financial infidelity” and a recent U.S. News & World Report survey found nearly a third of couples have experienced it.
“Financial infidelity covers a wide range of behaviors, including having secret credit cards or even lying about income. The element they all have in common is that one partner hides or withholds information about a money-related decision. When the victim uncovers the truth, there’s often a feeling of betrayal. In a way, it’s similar to the fallout from romantic infidelity,” wrote Beverly Harzog.
- Here’s how financial cheating played out and how many survey respondents say they’ve experienced it:
Being secretive about purchases: 31.4%
- Hiding debt or accounts: 28.7%
- Lying about income: 22.6%
- Siphoning money from savings: 10.4%
- Making someone a loan without partner’s agreement: 6.9%
The survey found nearly 1 in 5 couples separated, while 3 in 10 have divorced their finances, maintaining separate accounts. Others agreed to be more open about finances and to share budgets and goals. About 16% went into counseling.
The BBC reported recently that financial infidelity is becoming more common — and the impact can be terrible for couples. “A 2018 study showed 76% of married couples involved in financial infidelity say the experience negatively impacted their relationship and 10% got divorced over it.”
U.S. News recommended couples agree to honesty, budgeting together, meeting weekly about money, and giving each person some financial independence. Harzog also recommends “refraining from assigning blame.”
Experts say broad reluctance to talk about money is a major part of the problem — especially if there’s bad news, like an individual in a couple having accrued large debts before the couple started dating.
Conversations about money should start with parents talking to kids and continue through other relationships as time passes.
“Parents who hope their children will grow up to have a flourishing romantic relationship can lay the groundwork in a perhaps unexpected way,” the Deseret News recently reported. “They can teach their children sound financial principles and behaviors.”
That’s based on a study from Brigham Young University that shows those who learn tips like saving and budgeting as kids are more likely to have successful, happy romantic relationships later. That study was published in the Journal of Family Issues.
BYU study co-author Ashley LeBaron-Black said parents should:
- Model good money principles, not just talk about them.
- Be sure to have the conversations, too, on topics like paying on time and saving and budgeting.
- Give children experiences where they make financial decisions and form good habits.
As for relationships, if you blow it financially, come clean.
“We’re all human and mistakes happen. But credit-compatible couples communicate and take ownership of what they did,” wrote Harzog, a U.S. News staffer who’s written books on personal finance. “This keeps an incident from becoming an act of financial infidelity. I’ll let you wait until your next weekly money meeting to confess, but don’t let it go beyond that.”