Money and Relationships

Financial Infidelity Can Be Just As Devastating as Sexual Infidelity

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financial infidelity

In the wake of the Ashley Madison hack, we explore another kind of infidelity, financial infidelity, which can be just as devastating as sexual infidelity.

I hope none of you found your partner’s name on the list of cheating website Ashley Madison’s clients or were on the list yourselves. Unless you’re a moralizing Duggar. Then I’m glad you got stone cold busted. But sexual infidelity isn’t the only type of infidelity that can destroy a relationship.

What Is Financial Infidelity?

Plainly defined, it’s doing things with finances that you keep a secret from your partner. It could be hiding cash, taking out loans, opening credit cards, or making large purchases. Fighting about money is one of the biggest reasons for arguments in a relationship and a leading cause of divorce.

Sneaking around with money is not so different from sneaking around with another person or sneaking around to hide a drug or alcohol problem. It’s deceptive and destructive.

Why It Happens

Now, you might have just hooked up with an out and out grifter. Someone who was planning to do this all along and you might be nothing more to them than another social security number they can use to open new credit cards and loans.

That’s pretty rare though. What usually happens is one partner somehow gets in over their heads and doesn’t want to upset the other person, so starts hiding things. Things like overdue bills, new credit cards, threatening letters from creditors.

Financial infidelity can also be caused by a spending addiction. It might go from hiding purchases to hiding credit card bills when the spending is so out of control, there is no way to pay for it all.

It might also be caused by a lack of communication about finances. Some people just let their partner handle everything money related and have no idea what the financial picture is until one day they answer a call or open a letter from a debt collector.

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What Are The Signs?

Is your partner seemingly intercepting mail and phone calls? Are you noticing they are buying a lot of stuff? Is money being transferred between accounts for reasons they haven’t told you? Has your partner started opening new credit cards or asked for your signature of financial documents?

The signs are pretty hard to miss unless you are completely uninvolved in the family finances. Of course, you might just be sticking your head in the sand because you don’t want or don’t know how to deal with the situation either.

Now You Know

You’ve found out that your partner has been hiding financial information from you. I hope they came clean and told you rather than finding out only because all of your utilities have been shut off for non-payment.

How you react may be the difference between staying together and calling it quits. If the two of you aren’t married, don’t have kids, and don’t have joint assets, I understand that calling it quits will immediately solve your problems and might be the best solution.

But if your finances are bound through marriage or joint property or you have kids together, it may be easier to work it out together than to work it out through the courts. And going through the courts won’t be free either and you’re already in financial trouble.

Before you do anything, go through all of the documentation and see how bad things are. No amount of debt is fun to deal with but a few thousand is less daunting than a few hundred thousand.

Also assess how bad the deception is. Did your partner take out a few credit cards you didn’t know about or did they forge your name on legal, financial documents? Assessing the level of the betrayal is as important as the level of debt.

How To Start Fixing It

Once you know how bad the situation is, you can start working to fix things, both financially and emotionally. And there is a lot of help available to address both things.

Ready For Zero can help you to organize, track, and pay off your debt. If the debt is high interest, like credit card debt, you may be able to get a lower interest rate loan through your bank or a service like Lending Club. 

How Exactly Does Peer to Peer Lending Work?

How Exactly Does Peer to Peer Lending Work?

The money situation is clearly the emergency but it’s not the only thing that needs attention and fixing. You could do traditional couples counseling but it may be more helpful to get couples financial counseling.

How To Prevent It Going Forward

The most important thing you can do to make sure this situation isn’t repeated is to communicate about money. Just like Chicago voters used to be encouraged to vote early and often, that’s how you have to approach communicating about money.

LMM encourages people not to obsessively check accounts and endlessly discuss money but in this case, those are the things you must do. In the early stages of recovering from this, you should schedule a weekly meeting between the two of you.

Talking about finances more often will leave no room for surprises or for things to spin out of control.

If you have been the partner who delegated everything money related to the other, than you have to be involved. That might mean you have to spend some time educating yourself about finances, but frankly, you should have done that already. It’s unfair to expect something so important to be solely the responsibility of one person.

If you’re the partner who got the two of you into this mess, you are going to have to give up some financial autonomy. No one likes having to answer to another person for every decision they make, but if your carelessness led to this, you have no other choice. At least until the situation has stabilized.

You Might Have To Leave

Love should conquer all but sometimes it doesn’t. Everyone makes mistakes and in most cases, should get a second chance. But that depends on the reasons the infidelity happened and how willing your partner is to fix the situation and make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

You know your partner better than anyone. You know if they’re capable of making the changes necessary and if they aren’t, or worse, won’t. If they can but refuse, it might be time to head for the hills. And next time, get a pre-nup.

Featured Image Photo Credit: “08 july 31” by Ann on Flickr

Candice Elliott - Editor-in-Chief Candice Elliott is a substantial contributor to Listen Money Matters. She has been a personal finance writer since 2013 and has written extensively on student loan debt, investing, and credit. She has successfully navigated these areas in her own life and knows how to help others do the same. Candice has answered thousands of questions from the LMM community and spent countless hours doing research for hundreds of personal finance articles. She happily calls New Orleans, Louisiana home-the most fun city in the world.

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