At a Glance

Cheating in a relationship can take different forms. You’ve probably heard of emotional affairs. But how much do you know about financial infidelity? It happens frequently – nearly a third of couples have experienced it, according to a study from the U.S. News World Report.

What is financial infidelity?

Financial infidelity can involve a range of behaviors, but most of them have a common denominator: Being dishonest about money. For example, a Credello survey revealed that 35% of respondents have hidden debt and/or a large purchase from a romantic partner.

Hiding existing or new debt and concealing a high-ticket purchase are examples of financial infidelity. Having a secret savings account that your partner is not aware of is also a betrayal that falls into that category.

This lack of transparency is harmful because it breaks trust. It’s especially problematic if you and your partner share finances and have agreed to work towards certain financial goals together. When a partner breaches financial commitments and keeps secrets, it can have the same devastating consequences as an affair – the betrayed partner is left feeling hurt, angry and confused.

“Cheating is really anything that violates the boundaries of your romantic relationship and results in a breach of trust between its members,”shares relationship therapist Jeanae M. Hopgood, LMFT, M.Ed., PMH-C in a MindBodyGreen article.

The reasons for financial infidelity are as varied as the reasons people end up stepping out on their relationship. Some people violate financial boundaries because they’re embarrassed about their debt. Others have a gambling or shopping addiction. Regardless of the intention behind the dishonesty, it’s still a transgression that can destroy your relationship.

Warning signs of financial infidelity

Financial infidelity can easily go undetected because of online banking. Someone could take out a loan or have a secret credit card or bank account without the knowledge of their partner. The warning signs of financial infidelity can be subtle, so look out for the following red flags if you suspect something is off in your relationship.

First, watch out for maxed out credit cards and depleted bank accounts with vague explanations around where the money went.

Also, it’s easy to joke about things like an Amazon or Sephora addiction, but constant packages on your doorstep can be a sign that your partner is crossing the financial boundaries of your relationship.

Avoiding conversations about money is another indicator that something may be off. “If they don’t want to have those discussions, that’s a telling sign that something is different,” shared CPA Michael Deepwell, principal of Lamp Financial Inc., in a CPA Canada article.

According to Deepwell, if your partner starts to withdraw, avoid the topic of finances or get nervous when you bring it up, it’s a sign that they may be withholding information and engaging in financial infidelity.

Overcoming financial infidelity

The sooner you can confront your issues, the better your chances of rebuilding trust and creating a healthier financial foundation as a couple.

Addressing the reasons behind financial infidelity can help create a game plan to avoid it moving forward. Discuss your different views on money and work with a counselor to find a middle ground if needed. For example, if you discover that your partner feels resentful about being on a strict budget, you can include more flexibility and personal allowances in your financial planning.

Transparency is essential. Dominique Broadway, a financial literacy advocate and founder of Finances Demystified, told CNBC that having regular money talks helps rebuild trust. She recommends a “show and tell” approach: “This can be as simple as opening your bills together or putting all of your finances on one Google sheet and reviewing together.”

The bottom line

Financial infidelity can be as destructive as an affair – it’s a betrayal, after all. But with lots of honesty and consistent efforts, it can be used as an opportunity to build trust and healthy habits around shared finances.