Let's Have A Money Talk About Financial Infidelity

Aug 29, 2022

Reading this blog post will not be the easiest thing to read. You will likely start to squirm in your chair, and maybe your palms will even get sweaty. But if you stick with me, this will be worth your time. 


The reality of financial infidelity and secrecy is a significant warning sign that your intimate relationship is in distress. Yes, I know that financial infidelity and secret-keeping are “normal,” but that does not mean it is healthy. Financial infidelity is metaphorically more than mild indigestion; it is a sign that you might have colon cancer. 


Talking with your partner about money is challenging to say the least. My friends at The National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) researched financial infidelity to get a state of the union of how couples are doing in the financial transparency department. Let’s start by saying the statistics confirm what most people already know. 


Starting With A Confession

Before you jump to conclusions, accusations, or mental health diagnoses, let me share a small part of my story. 


I was starting my counseling practice, my wife was growing her dental practice, and we were stuck in child-rearing and conceiving purgatory (infertility was kicking our butt). The fear, anxiety, and shame were running high, and talking about our financial realities was the last thing either of us wanted to do. We had sunk to ever lower levels of relational connection. 


It hadn’t always been that way. We had previously talked openly and collaboratively about our shared financial life. But in this season of life, it was a non-starter. One of the big problems was my counseling practice was floundering to start, which meant no income was coming in, and the credit card debt was stacking. I was lost, depressed, scared, and resentful. There was no easy out. 


My wife Ann found out about the debt. She was crushed and felt betrayed. I knew it was terrible and I couldn’t figure my way out. It was a dark season in our marriage, and I ultimately shared our story with NPR.


Questions Asked

NEFE was able to ask eight questions in their research to better understand the different ways couples may be hiding parts of their financial life from each other. 


  1. Hide cash from my partner or spouse
  2. Hide a minor purchase from my partner or spouse
  3. Hide a statement or bill from my partner or spouse
  4. Hide a bank account from my partner or spouse
  5. Hide a major purchase from my partner or spouse
  6. Lied to my partner or spouse about something related to finances
  7. Lied to my partner or spouse about the amount of debt I owe(d)
  8. Lied to my partner or spouse about how much money I earn(ed)


What Do The Numbers Say

Of those that participated in this research, 43% admitted to committing some form of financial deception, with 83% of those people saying it harmed their relationship. What strikes me about these numbers is that I imagine the number may be higher. The psychological defenses of denial, rationalization and minimization can protect people from answering yes to questions about financial infidelity and deception. 


What’s even more interesting is that across different demographic characteristics, there is not one group of people that significantly struggles with the issue of financial transparency more than another. If you are reading this, then you are impacted by financial infidelity. Either on the side of committing or experiencing and, more than likely, both. So much for it not being your type of person.   


These findings raise other important questions about why people struggle to be transparent financially with their partners and spouses. NEFE’s research highlights three explanations I have heard and seen in my practice with couples in financial therapy. 

  1. 38% believe some aspects of their finances should remain private
  2. 34% fear disapproval where financial discussions have already happened
  3. 33% admitted being embarrassed or fearful about their finances and didn’t want their partner to know. 


We are all humans with a need for love, safety, acceptance, and connection and this extends into our financial lives. These psychological necessities are like food, air, and water of the mind. Without them, we start to starve and struggle to live. 


What to Do If You’re Trapped in Financial Infidelity

By now, I am trusting you realize you are not alone in the reality of financial infidelity. As cliche as it might sound, admitting there is a problem can be a first step in overcoming financial deception. The shame that I am the only one struggling with something stops many people dead in their tracks from bringing resolution into their lives. 


I would encourage you to take a realistic look at your finances. What amount of debt and assets have you hidden? How long have you been doing it? What items or experiences do you hide from your partner or spouse? 


If your financial hiding is also connected with a failing/struggling business, financial crimes, or relational/sexual infidelity, ADHD/ADD, Depression/Anxiety, PTSD, Bi Polar Disorder, Addiction or other other overwhelming and challenging life realities know that seeking professional help is strongly advised. Many more layers need to be worked with to help you on the road to restoration. 


We are working towards honesty with yourself about what is going on within you, your partner and your finances. It is not uncommon for people with patterns of hiding parts of their lives to not even recognize how many aspects of their life they are hiding. The old saying that one lie leads to another proves true in this case. 


Most clients I have worked with around financial infidelity also have family histories where parents and stepparents would hide, control, manipulate, and withhold money and financial information to manage an insecure and dysfunctional relationship. These patterns leave a legacy of psychological pain that needs to be worked through as you address developing or returning to financial integrity with yourself and your partner. 


Living Life Financially Intimate

I would like to invite you on a journey towards financial intimacy. In this type of intimate relationship, there is mutual and reciprocal sharing of financial information and resources. There is a deep sense of mutual trust and respect for each person. Couples that experience financial intimacy have both shared goals and dreams and independent goals and dreams. Let’s remember that pursuing any goal or dream has many direct and indirect financial realities tied to it. 


Couples that experience financial intimacy have learned and developed the capacity to work through their differences on how to navigate money. They understand that each person’s relationship with money is long, deep, and at least semi-fixed. They know that their family’s patterns around money formed the first impressions of what love and money are like. Using this information to help them identify patterns they do not want to repeat and times when they are swinging the pendulum too far the other way, trying to correct their parent’s errant ways. 


A life of financial intimacy is not perfect. Still, it is one in which both people love, care for, and are open to continually exploring, healing, and growing their relationship with each other and money. If you are ready to take your next steps on the journey toward financial intimacy, I invite you to read or listen to a copy of my award-winning book, The Healthy Love & Money Way: How The Four Attachment Styles Impact Your Financial Well-Being


To Your Financial Intimacy Journey,

Ed Coambs

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