The signs of financial infidelity in your relationship - and how to move past it

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Infidelity, at its core, refers to when trust is broken within a relationship, and it doesn’t matter what form it takes — be it physical, emotional, or financial, it’s one of the most challenging experiences a couple can go through.

If your partner has a physical affair, the relationship may end and you can start fresh; in some situations, the couple is able to reconcile and stay together, if they so choose.

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However, if there has been financial infidelity in a marriage or partnership, you could walk away with a financial mess that could take years to clean up, particularly if you live in a place where it’s not illegal to create debt without telling your partner. And if you decide to stay together, there’s still a lot of cleanup to be done, both practically and emotionally.

The signs of financial infidelity in your relationship - and how to move past it
© Getty Images/iStockphoto ‘There’s still a lot of cleanup to be done, both practically and emotionally.’

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Financial infidelity can take several forms: it often takes the shape of taking out credit cards or loans without one partner’s awareness, developing a secret shopping problem, or borrowing money from friends or family in confidence. Money matters should, ideally, be completely transparent within a committed relationship; and when it’s not, it really does become an issue of true infidelity.

If this issue does arise and the couple is committed to staying together, it’s crucial that both people agree to the following tenets moving forward:

1. Be open, honest, and empathetic

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Share openly with one another about your respective money histories so you can develop a deeper understanding around your partner’s financial patterns, and be clear on the “why” behind their behaviors.

While it won’t make past missteps go away, this creates a sense of security in knowing you can talk to your partner about anything, even if it’s something that involves feelings of shame. Working with a financial coach to help understand both people’s history and subconscious money behaviors can be a great starting point cultivating reciprocal empathy around money.

2. Be committed to change

The person who has committed infidelity knows they have extra work to do in order to regain the trust of their partner. There can be no more secrets if the relationship is to recover. If that person is willing to be completely transparent and communicative, over time, they will hopefully regain their partner’s trust.

“There can be no more secrets if the relationship is to recover.”

This process, however, can be extremely emotional for couples, particularly if they don’t agree on financial priorities. Both parties may have to make sacrifices to get out of a situation caused by one person, and that can be a difficult situation to navigate. In these situations, tapping a neutral, third-party advisor or coach can be instrumental in moving forward.

 3. Be consistent

A weekly financial meeting can be overwhelming, so I like couples to plan a “money date” once each month. I find the best time to do this is when the bank statements, and credit card statements come in. Together (and perhaps with a glass of wine in hand) you can go over everything and make sure you both are being honest about spending, sticking to your budgets and are on track as a couple.

The signs of financial infidelity in your relationship - and how to move past it
© Getty Images/iStockphoto Both parties may have to make sacrifices to get out of a situation caused by one person, and that can be a difficult situation to navigate.

This is the time to really be aware of your tone and intentions before you sit down. This is also the time to discuss what is working and what is not, so modifications can be made that both parties agree to.

Use a budgeting or tracking app so all account transactions are automatically uploaded. These tools allow both people to have access to their shared financial data and ensures you’re on track to meet your joint budgeting goals.

4. Be patient

While it is not possible to change the past, you can make the choice to move forward together and work toward a more trusting future, but it will take time. Remember that the financial piece of a marriage is just that — a piece of the great big collective puzzle of your relationship. We are all humans with strengths and weaknesses, and a successful couple is one that acknowledges the flaws present and takes steps every day to be stronger and better for one another.

If there is love there, I believe a couple can recover from financial infidelity and live many more years together in a happy and trusting marriage. By becoming more financially literate and aware together, you’re actually eliminating opportunities for mistrust, because knowledge is power.

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