It’s no secret that keeping secrets can harm romantic relationships. When you share your life with someone, honesty is a major component to keeping your relationship healthy and happy. Unfortunately, many couples struggle with financial infidelity in marriage — which can cause tension, resentment and distrust to build. According to a 2021 survey by Finder, 21.7% of people admitted to “stepping out” on their significant other when it comes to money, which means about 55.3 million adults have lied to their partner about their finances. Ouch.
Why exactly is financial infidelity in marriage so common and what kind of damage can it lead to? We spoke with Dr. Dan Pallesen, Chief of Investor Behavior & Financial Advisor at Keystone Wealth Partners, about why lying to your partner about money is so damaging and how to nip financial infidelity in the bud.
Why People Lie About Their Finances
The Finder survey found that the issue of control is the leading reason for lying about finances, with 61.8% or people reporting they committed financial infidelity in marriage to “be in control of my own finances.” According to Pallesen, you can work through insecurities surrounding control by being honest with yourself about why you have a need to feel in control and why the thought of financial honesty threatens that.
“More often than not, when couples are honest about their fears of losing control, they are met with an empathic partner that is not wanting to take control, but offer support,” Pallesen said.
He explained that frequently it’s the story in our own head that is most powerful and harmful and can lead to feeling like there is a need to hide finances from our partner so we can maintain control.
Feeling embarrassed or ashamed about money was also one of the top reasons for financial infidelity in marriage, with 33.3% of respondents explaining that they lied to their partner about money because they felt embarrassed. Another 16.4% reported doing so because they didn’t trust their partners.
Trust is one of the main reasons for financial dishonesty, according to Pallesen. He explained that because most of us have had a season (when single and working to support ourselves) where we were completely independent, both financially and emotionally, that it can be quite the adjustment when we start to share finances in a relationship.
“We need to account for the needs and desires of the other person, as well as the unified vision we have with our partners,” Pallesen said, “Because we have had to trust ourselves with money, it is hard for us to be willing to trust someone else, even someone we love very much.”
What Financial Infidelity Looks Like
Financial infidelity in marriage or partnership where you’ve agreed to share your finances can be hard to spot at first. If you’re struggling to identify what financial infidelity looks like, that’s likely because it can stem from a variety of actions. According to Pallesen, financial infidelity often surrounds secrecy about spending, such as not telling your partner how much money you’ve spent on a purchase. He’s seen people go to great lengths to keep purchases private, such as having separate accounts or credit cards that their spouse doesn’t have access to so they can spend money without them finding out.
Another common form of financial infidelity in marriage includes hiding debt. This can often happen at early stages of a relationship when someone is not honest with their partner about how much debt they truly carry. Getting married and continuing to hide debt from your spouse will likely lead to problems down the road.
Sadly, keeping money secrets is often a two-way street, and about 10% of Americans said they have both lied about their finances to a partner and been lied to by a partner.
Why Lying to Your Partner About Money Is So Damaging
Pallesen feels that lying about anything in a relationship is damaging, as it breaks trust, especially if you struggle with repeated financial infidelity.
“It’s harmful to the person being lied to because they may start to question anything said by their partner and feel that the foundation of the relationship itself is now in question,” Pallesen said.
It can also be damaging to the partner who is engaging in the lying because they are creating a pattern where they are exaggerating, hiding or even just intentionally misrepresenting the truth. Pallesen acknowledged that they may even feel like they are lying to protect the relationship, but instead are creating a gap between them and true intimacy with their partner.
“Money is such a powerful force in our lives, whether we like it or not,” he said.
This is because we live in a world where we need money to meet our basic needs, but it also represents the opportunity to pursue happiness and joy in our lives.
“So when there is lying around money, it is very easy for those lies to cut deep since money is so integral with how we feel safe and secure,” Pallesen said.
Avoiding Financial Infidelity
There may come a time when you feel tempted to hide something related to money. To avoid these inclinations, Pallesen says it’s important to start by being honest with yourself.
“Why are we feeling afraid, or ashamed, or angry, or whatever it is with money? This is what I encourage partners to share with each other,” he said.
Pallesen explained that rather than getting into an argument about what to do with money, we need to be able to identify and express the emotions that are behind our desires of what to do with money.
“I do encourage people to bring up these emotional experiences with their partners as soon as they are aware of them,” he said.
Sometimes working with a third person, such as a financial therapist or couple’s counselor, can make these conversations easier. Working with a financial advisor so you and your partner are on the same page about your money, can also be helpful, as long as you don’t lean on them emotionally like you would a therapist.
Automating the management of credit card payments might also remove some of the emotional aspect of facing debt. With a clear picture of your combined financial progress and goals to work toward, you and your partner can look forward to a debt-free future.
Learn how Tally can help you tackle the debt that may be causing stress or strain in your relationship.