Have You Committed Financial Infidelity?

by Sherrian Crumbley on April 2, 2014

in Marriage,Personal Finance

By now, we have all heard that financial issues are the most common reason for divorce, many times with underlying financial infidelity as a cause. With a society that is built on credit and sustaining debt, it isn’t surprising that the stress of this “normalcy” would affect our relationships.

I was reading a newsletter the other day and found interesting survey results by Nefe.org:

Financial infidelity can be just as significant among couples as emotional/sexual infidelity. This survey finds that one in three people who combine finances with their partner admit to committing a financial deception. The study also finds that 76 percent of these secretive behaviors are having an effect on the relationship.
I have often thought about this issue in my own life, not realizing this is a serious issue in the life of many people! So much so that Wikipedia even has a definition for financial infidelity:
Financial infidelity is the secretive act of spending money, possessing credit and credit cards, holding secret accounts or stashes of money, borrowing money, or otherwise incurring debt unknown to one’s spouse, partner, or significant other. Adding to the monetary strain commonly associated with financial infidelity in a relationship is a subsequent loss of intimacy and trust in the relationship. Financial infidelity appears to be on the rise, with a 2005 study showing that 30% of respondents had lied about financial information and 25% had withheld information,whereas a 2008 study showed that half the respondents had committed some form of financial infidelity.

Financial Infidelity

Financial Infidelity – My Story

I wish I could say I haven’t been guilty of this, but I have been. There are a couple issues I’ve had to face in figuring out how to work with my husband and our finances. One got sorted out before we got married. The other came in time, quite a bit of time 😳 .

Financial independence has been something my mother instilled in me since a young child. She would always quote my grandmother (Imagine an older Jamaican woman of Indian descent) saying something like, “Whenever you go out with a guy, make sure you have enough money to take a taxi home.”  For my mom, and later myself, the lesson was to never allow yourself to be totally dependent on anyone for anything – EVER.

I grew up being used to my mom having stashes of money kept away for emergencies. When I became an adult, she and I even opened up a savings account for her to stock pile emergency funds. My father always knew she always had some money ferreted away, but I honestly don’t know how he felt about it. I thought it was smart because she would never drown, or cause her family to drown, if she didn’t agree with some of my dad’s financial decisions.

While Khaleef and I were dating and he came to know more about my family, he let me know that ferreting away wasn’t acceptable. I remember feeling defiant, still deciding that I will always protect myself regardless of what he thought. After a lot of discussion, consideration, and prayer, I knew that behavior was dishonest and would diminish the trusting relationship we were trying to build.

The second behavior I had to curb was my “better to ask for forgiveness than permission” attitude. Anyone who knows Khaleef knows he is a very laid back guy (that is, unless he is watching a sport event or competing in one). Instead of discussing certain purchases with him and contemplating if we could afford it, I opted to buy things and just inform him afterward. There have been countless times when I have taken him for granted by purchasing items I’ve wanted, because he would never get angry with me.

I often justified my behavior by insisting it was not a big deal because I am not a big spender. I would spend a few dollars here or there, not considering how those little purchases were setting us back from our goal of getting out of debt. This only changed in my life because I came to realize how manipulative and selfish I was being, and through a lot of prayer and spiritual growth was it able to be overcome.

Although we did not deal with this together, a huge part of the change in my heart was confessing to him and asking for his forgiveness.

Steps to Recovering from Financial Infidelity

As you can see from my story and the definition, there are different ways of committing financial infidelity. As you traverse this landscape of getting your finances together, here are 3 things you should do to start mending your relationship if you have been financially unfaithful.

1. Confess – As I stated in my story, the beginning of my behavioral change was confessing and asking for forgiveness. This may be hard for many of us because our minds are great at justifying the behavior. Ask yourself, how important is your relationship? How important is your pride?

Some people keep things from their significant other, having convinced themselves that they are protecting the other person and can handle things alone. This attitude, for instance, does not build trust but tears it down. It diminishes the other person’s role and robs them of the chance of growing as a person, and as a couple, through the difficulties.

Even though it may not be easy, convenient, or comfortable – by confessing, you are able to clear the air and make decisions based on truth, not deception.

2. Commit – After confessing, all is not well because you got it off your chest. The next step is committing to your partner to strive toward a new direction. My pastor always says “it’s not the perfection of your life, it’s the direction of your life” and I think it’s very poignant in this scenario.

You are not promising to be perfect, because we do make mistakes. What you are doing, is guaranteeing that your mind and convictions have changed about your behavior. You will no longer just settled for the way things were before.

3. Cooperate – Many times, financial infidelity occurs  because someone is leaving another person out of some financial details, or neither person knows how to have a discourse about the issues. Even though this may also be difficult, it is important that both parties be involved in what’s happening in your financial life. Even if one person handles the finances, it would be a worthy goal to ensure the other person is involved and equally able to identify and articulate the nuances of your finances.

As in other areas of relationships, there is always hope. Trust can be rebuilt, and in time (sometimes A LOT of time) broken situations can be healed. Identifying financial infidelity doesn’t have to be the end, it can be the building of a stronger relationship than ever before!

Have you committed financial infidelity? Are you the recipient of someone else’s financial dishonesty? How have you overcome these behaviors?


© 2014, Sherrian Crumbley. All rights reserved.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Money Saving

There’s a guy at work I know that keeps a separate account of money that his wife doesn’t know about. My jaw practically dropped to the floor when he admitted this.

I can’t even fathom keeping financial secrets from my wife… it’s just such a total breakdown in trust…


2 Sherrian Crumbley

It’s amazing how we can justify ANY behavior. I am sure he has a ‘good reason’ for the separate account, and doesn’t consider the hurt to his wife is she knew about it.


3 Carlos @ TheFrugalWeds

This is such an important topic, thank you for bringing this up. We had a couple of minor offenses early on, but I think that was more so because we never really laid out guidelines yet. We have been okay with money since then (at least as far as I know haha).


4 Sherrian Crumbley

Haha :-). I think it’s easy to do something like this, especially thinking about two people with two different value systems coming together. It’s one of the reasons I think pre-marital counseling is a good idea, so there’ll be conversations about issues like this that may not be considered until conflict arises.


5 Peter

My wife and I have everything combined, and I will admit that a time or two in our marriagte we’ve run into issues like this as well. Where one spouse thinks spending money on something isn’t a big deal, while the other wants to focus on some other long term goal. If you’re not on the same page, and you start hiding things from each other, it can lead to a huge mess. Deception in marriage, no matter what the deception is about, can be a big problem.


6 Sherrian Crumbley

I totally agree, Peter, deception is the main problem. I pray daily that I will continue to see, and through God’s help, improve on areas like this where my perspective is selfishly narrow.


7 Jason@LiveRealNow

My wife has tried to hide shopping from me in the past, but since I pay all of the bills–including the credit cards–it was never a long-term strategy.

I, however, have all sorts of money tucked away. This actually works out well for us. She operates under “out of sight, out of mind” so if she doesn’t know about the money, she isn’t tempted to spend it. She has asked me not to talk to her about our savings balances.


8 Sherrian Crumbley

Yay Jason!!! :-)… okay, so I am just happy you left a comment. I think that your “tucking” is fine, because that’s what works for you both and you have acknowledged. I don’t think that hard and fast rules work for every individual or every couple. The problems come, as Peter said, when there is true deception involved.


9 Brian @ Luke1428

Thanks for sharing your story Sherrian. I think financial infidelity would be much easier to commit for couples who insist on having separate bank accounts for “their” money. Even if goals were shared and who pays what was agreed upon, I can’t see how there could be the necessary accountability under that scenario. My wife and I have everything combined with total access granted for all accounts to each of us.


10 Sherrian Crumbley

Thanks for you comment, Brian. Some couples have made separate accounts work, but I agree that it leaves a lot more opportunity for things to be hidden. That openness and honesty you describe ultimately begins as a heart decision, because we always find ways to accomplish what we want.


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