Financial infidelity: The toxic trait that can tank your relationship

Written and accurate as at: 12 March 2024

It’s not the end of the world if you and your partner aren’t totally compatible when it comes to money. But things can get particularly messy when one partner feels the need to lie to the other. 

If you haven’t been up front with your partner about aspects of your finances, or you’re secretly spending money in ways they’d disapprove of, you might be committing what’s known as financial infidelity.

What is financial infidelity?

Like regular infidelity, financial infidelity involves a betrayal of trust. Couples with joint finances owe it to each other to be honest when it comes to matters like debt, spending and earnings, and when one partner falls short of the standards expected of them it can cause cracks in the relationship.

These are just a few ways that financial infidelity can present itself:

  • Lying to your partner about how much you earn 
  • Not disclosing to your partner how much debt you have
  • Spending large sums of money without notifying your partner
  • Lying when your partner confronts you about your spending habits
  • Having accounts or cards that your partner doesn’t know about
  • Hiding purchases that you suspect your partner will disapprove of
  • Withdrawing money from joint accounts and keeping the reasons private
  • Stonewalling when the topic of money comes up
  • Hiding bills from your partner

What ties all of these together is a deliberate choice to lie or withhold the truth from your partner on matters relating to your finances. And it can be more common than you think. A 2022 survey by US News found that nearly one in three couples had experienced financial infidelity in their relationship.1 

The most common type of deceit was making secret purchases, with 31.4% of respondents admitting this was something they had dealt with in their relationship. Next were hiding debts or accounts (28.7%), lying about income (22.6%), draining money from savings (10.4%), and lending money without consent (6.9%).

In some cases, these behaviours might point to serious personal problems, like a gambling addiction, lack of trust, or a desire to keep one’s partner out of the financial decision-making process. 

But often the reason is simply embarrassment about how money has been handled (or mishandled). The offender might know an argument will ensue if their partner finds out about their behaviour so they do everything they can to sweep it under the rug.

While this reason might be less sinister than having a secret financial life or wanting to disempower a partner, it can still erode trust in a relationship. And if the offender isn’t willing or able to make amends, it can potentially cause the relationship to break down over time. 

What can couples do about it?

Letting things go unaddressed is rarely a good idea, especially if there’s debt involved. So if you were the one who committed financial infidelity, try not to become defensive or deny that there’s any reason for your partner to be concerned. 

Regaining their trust begins with owning up to your mistakes and making some commitment to change. Along with stopping the behaviour, you might consider setting aside time each week to talk about your finances and make sure you’re both on the same page. 

These weekly check-ins can cover household finances, where money has been spent, and how both partners are feeling about upcoming expenses.

It might also be helpful for couples to create a monthly budget or start tracking their spending together. The goal here is to make sure there’s enough money to cover expenses while also giving each person some room to indulge in a bit of shopping. This way, one partner hopefully won’t feel the need to hide purchases from the other.

For some couples, however, budgets and weekly check-ins might not be enough to set things right. Depending on the seriousness of the financial infidelity (and each person’s willingness to work on things), you might find that speaking to a counsellor can help.



1 US News