6 Signs of Financial Infidelity…and 5 Ways to Work It Out

August 18, 2017

There’s something funky going on with your finances. You can’t seem to balance the checkbook. Or your budget unexpectedly stops working. Or maybe your savings aren’t building as quickly as you’d planned.

Any of these things could mean that your spouse is committing financial infidelity.

That sounds really bad – and it is – but it doesn’t always start out that way. Sometimes the problem is simple overspending, and being embarrassed (or afraid) for their partner to find out. In many cases, financial secrets start out with good intentions, such as lending money to parents or siblings, or propping up a floundering business. Then one money secret turns into ten, and the secrets start snowballing.

Unfortunately, financial secrets are extremely common. In fact, a recent survey found that around 12 million Americans have secret bank accounts or credit cards that their spouses don’t know about. And nearly 20% revealed they’d spent more than $500 without telling their partner. Another survey showed that 42% of people admitted to financial infidelity, including hiding debt or lying about their income.

If you suspect your spouse is lying to you about money, it’s worth starting a conversation, because financial infidelity can take a huge toll on your relationship if you don’t address it head on. But this doesn’t have to mean the end of your marriage. In fact, working through this together can make your relationship stronger than ever before. But first, you have to know what’s going on.

So how can you tell if your spouse is keeping money secrets from you? These six signs might indicate financial infidelity, and need to be brought out in the open right away.

  1. The sign: You get a credit card bill or find credit card statements that you don’t recognize. That may mean your spouse got a card and didn’t tell you about it, and has been hiding some spending.
     
    The problem: The money to pay that extra bill comes straight out of the household budget, and if it hasn't been accounted for, you may not have enough money to cover all of your other bills and expenses.
  2. The sign: There’s less cash in your checking or savings account than you expected. If you saw a lot more ATM withdrawals on your bank statement than you expected, your spouse may be pulling cash from the account without telling you.
     
    The problem: You’re paying bills with money that isn’t in your checking account, and that can lead to overdraft fees, low balance charges, and other bank fees that eat away at your balance even more. And if it’s your savings that’s taking a hit, your financial goals won’t be funded when you need them to be.
  3. The sign: Your spouse insists on always getting the mail. That could be an indicator that there are bills he or she doesn’t want you to see.
     
    The problem: You don’t know your family’s full financial picture, and that negatively affects your budget, debt, and savings.
  4. The sign: Your spouse suddenly has a lot of new stuff. If your partner comes home with new clothes or gadgets, or starts eating at fancy restaurants but you’re not seeing this show up on bills, it could indicate a secret credit card.
     
    The problem: You and your spouse may not be on the same page when it comes to finances and budgeting. And if one of you is hiding spending, it can derail your family finances.
  5. The sign: Your spouse suddenly starts buying you a lot of stuff. This can indicate feelings of guilt about financial infidelity, and being extra generous with you can help your partner rationalize their deception.
     
    The problem: Unusual spending almost always signals some kind of problem that will only get worse if you don’t talk about it.
  6. The sign: When money issues come up, your spouse gets highly emotional. If your husband or wife starts crying, shouting, or avoiding you whenever the conversation turns toward money, he or she may be hiding something from you.
     
    The problem: Avoiding financial conversations only makes the problems bigger. The sooner the two of you start talking and working together, the easier it will be to sort out all of the money issues.

So how do you start that conversation? And how can you start to rebuild trust if your spouse has been lying to you about money?

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution here. Every couple’s experience is different, and part of the solution depends on your family’s current financial situation. The important thing is to get started, and here are five tips to help you start working things out.

  1. Professional NOT emotional: You’re suspicious and feeling hurt, and your spouse is probably overwhelmed by emotions, too. But this conversation is better had like a business meeting, with a pre-set agenda to keep things on track. Remember, you’re trying to work together to get a better handle on your joint finances, including any new debt.
  2. Conversation NOT confrontation: Financial infidelity often comes up when couples don’t talk about how they want to handle their finances – it’s an uncomfortable topic that can lead to fights. Getting to the underlying problem, which can be as simple as contrasting money mindsets (you like to save, your spouse likes to spend), can help you compromise on a financial plan that works for both of you. Rather than accusing or going on the attack, talk about your financial goals, and how your partner’s financial style is sending your goals backward.
  3. Everything on the table: Be 100% open and honest with your spouse about your spending and saving habits, how you feel about money, and what your biggest money fears are. Your openness will encourage theirs. Yes, this might feel uncomfortable – a lot of people feel weird talking about money, even to their husband or wife. But if you want honesty, you need to be honest, even if it’s awkward.
  4. Full financial workup: This is the perfect time to create a new family money plan. Now that both of your cards are on the table, you can begin to make a more realistic budget, based on shared and individual goals the two of you set. Using your goals as a starting point can help the money matters fall more easily into place. You may have to revise your income (selling old stuff online or starting a side hustle) and expenses (cut out cable and pizza night, at least for a while) to deal with any debt that’s been run up. Now, though, you’ll be back on the same page and working together.
  5. Financial couples counseling: If the two of you are having trouble making your finances work or getting through this painful conversation to a constructive end, get professional help. Your accountant or other financial professional can help you navigate these treacherous waters and help you come up with solutions that work for both of you.

Bottom line: Talking is the best solution. Not the easiest, but the best way to begin rebuilding trust and a solid financial foundation for your family.

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