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The heartbreaking fallout of financial infidelity

I met up with one of my best mates over the weekend who happens to be male. We’ve been buddies since high school maintaining a friendship through different careers, continents and relationships. As usual, we chatted (read: gossiped) about work, our families and mutual friends. He then shared a story that really disturbed me. A shared acquaintance of ours had won big on the pokies one night. Like, $60,000 big. Now, I’m not a fan of gambling but that’s not the disturbing part of the story. What’s disturbing is what he did with it. For context, this individual is married with three children. The family home carries a mortgage and winning that kind of money could do a lot to offer financial relief for the family in an era of soaring cost of living expenses and interest rates. Did he take the winnings and share it with his family? No. Instead, he rounded up his mates and took them on an all-expenses paid ski holiday to New Zealand. He told his wife (and coerced his mates into backing up this story) that he’d had a small win of $8,000. He gave her $3,000 and said he was going to use the remaining $5,000 to join the boys on a planned ski trip. In short, he committed financial infidelity.

What is Financial Infidelity?

Financial infidelity is where one partner lies to the other about money - whether that’s lying about spending, a secret account, hidden assets or undisclosed debts. Often financial infidelities can start out as something subtle and the offending individual may not even realise they’re doing anything wrong. Maybe you told your partner you got that designer dress on sale when in fact you paid full price or perhaps it’s a case of having a secret stash of cash to indulge in a bit of botox that your partner doesn’t know you get. Financial infidelity that impacts the household budget or undermines your joint financial goals, such as taking on debts without telling your partner or gambling away income, are when it starts to become problematic for a couple. 

Research from ING Direct found that across Australia both men and women aren’t being completely honest with their partner about money with as many as 1 in 5 admitting they have a secret financial account. Interestingly, the primary two reasons for a woman to keep a secret account was in case the relationship didn’t work out or as a safety back stop for emergencies. Men, on the other hand, cited that the top three reasons they kept secret savings was for social activities, buying items their partner might not approve of or spending more than their partner would approve of. A bit like my aforementioned acquaintance, it seems.

How can you spot Financial Infidelity in your relationship?

It’s not easy to spot a money cheater who’s actively trying to hide their behaviour from you, however there are a number of red flags that you can look out for:

  • Resistance to joint financial planning or discussions
  • Receiving bank account or credit card statements that you know nothing about
  • Financial discrepancies such as a discrepancy between their reported income and the amount of money available or transfers/withdrawals without a reasonable explanation
  • Unaccounted for expenses or spending such as purchases that don’t align with their reported income
  • Excessive defensiveness or secretiveness around financial activities or decisions
  • Drastic changes in lifestyle, financial status or spending habits

The fall out is potentially heartbreaking

Financial infidelity is as unpleasant as it sounds and, according to research by Finder, 1 in 5 Australians rate it the ultimate relationship betrayal. Lying to your partner about your finances involves deceit and secrecy which erodes trust and intimacy in the relationship leading to increased conflict and the potential for the relationship to break down. The subject of money can be a murky topic for many couples. The broad lack of financial literacy across Australia coupled with the stigma surrounding money discussions doesn’t lay strong foundations for couples to discuss money and bond as a financial team easily. Given the potentially heartbreaking fall out of failing to have financial harmony, it’s essential that couples lean into learning about money, practising healthy money conversations and aligning on joint financial goals.

Navigating the road to relationship recovery

Recovering from financial infidelity in an intimate relationship requires mutual effort, commitment and patience. It’s important to be compassionate towards each other and to remain committed to the process of healing and strengthening if you’re to truly overcome the betrayal. 

Step 1: Acknowledge and address the issue

Both partners need to acknowledge and accept that financial infidelity has occurred. Avoid things like minimising the issue as it will only prolong the healing process. Be willing to have open and honest conversations about what happened and how that impacted the relationship. Allow each partner to express their feelings and emotions regarding the financial infidelity. Create a safe space where both partners can be heard without judgement. You may wish to seek help from a third party like a couples therapist, a financial counsellor or financial coach who specialises in working with couples navigating financial issues. A trained professional can offer guidance, help facilitate productive conversations and provide tools for rebuilding trust.

Step 2:  Establish mutually agreed ground rules to move forward

Ideally, all couples would have a discussion about how they will manage their finances from the outset of a committed relationship. Regardless, when aiming to recover from financial infidelity this is an essential step. The partner who committed the financial infidelity must agree to be completely transparent about financial activities moving forward. Together establish clear financial agreement and boundaries for the relationship. This might involve creating a joint budget, discussing spending limits and defining financial goals. Agree on how you will make financial decisions to avoid conflicts and misunderstandings too.

Step 3:  Set financial goals and work as a team

Collaborate on setting financial goals as a couple. This could include saving for a specific milestone, paying off debts, or creating an emergency fund. Working together towards shared goals can help foster trust, cooperation and build intimacy.

Step 4: Rebuild communication and trust with regular check ins

Set a regular money date to check in. This helps ensure ongoing transparency, accountability and alignment between both partners. Rebuilding trust requires open and honest communication. Commit to improving communication about money matters and addressing any fears or concerns that arise. Practise active listening, empathy and understanding when discussing financial topics.

Step 5: Learn from the experience and have fun

Use the experience of financial infidelity as an opportunity for personal and relational growth. Learn from past mistakes and make a commitment to improve financial literacy, develop healthy money habits, prioritise open communication about money and…. have fun! Life is for living and having a good financial relationship will help you to live the good life together.

Financial infidelity can hurt but it doesn’t have to spell the end of a relationship if both parties are willing to heal together. Recovering from financial infidelity in a relationship requires effort, commitment, and open communication. It starts with acknowledging the issue, expressing feelings, and seeking professional help if needed. Establishing mutually agreed ground rules, setting financial goals together, and rebuilding communication and trust through regular check-ins are crucial steps. Learning from the experience and prioritising financial literacy can lead to personal and relational growth. Remember to have fun together and enjoy the benefits of a strong financial relationship. By taking these steps, couples can heal, rebuild trust, and move forward towards a healthier and more harmonious financial future.


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