Financial Cheating in Marriage

Couple counting cash
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images

A stash of money in the bottom of a cookie jar probably isn't going to destroy your marriage. But realizing that your spouse cheats on you financially could be the beginning of the end of your marriage. In an already troubled marriage, financial infidelity could be what makes you decide to call it quits.

One of the common warning signs or red flags in a marriage is lying about money. Even though one in three Americans admits to lying about money to their spouse, the issue is too important to avoid. Small lies about finances can lead to even more damaging behaviors in your marriage.

According to a survey described in a 2011 article, Is Your Partner Cheating on You Financially? 31% Admit Money Deception by Jenna Goudreau... "Over half of all financial cheaters admitted hiding cash (58%) or minor purchases (54%).

Of the offenders, 30% have hidden a bill, 16% have hidden a major purchase, 15% had a secret bank account, 11% lied about their debts and another 11% lied about the amount of money they earned."

"Boston-based family therapist Carleton Kendrick has been counseling couples for over 30 years and says money deception has become a huge issue in the last decade. Kendrick says the chief reasons people lie about money to their partners are pragmatism, control, guilt, and fear. The pragmatic lie may result from planning an eventual split and not wanting the other to know how much money is available.

Financial infidelity for control may include revenge spending, as one partner overspends to prove their independence or to get back at the other for something lacking in the relationship. Knowingly irresponsible behavior may cause guilt and embarrassment, so the person attempts to cover it up. Deceit may also occur because they fear their partner’s reaction to the truth." 

A Few Financial Cheating Red Flags

These are some things to watch out for if you suspect your spouse may be financially deceiving you.

  • Controlling behavior: Your spouse handles all the responsibility of paying bills and doesn't want you to know anything about the family finances.
  • Defensiveness: When you want to talk with your spouse about money, he or she becomes defensive or refuses to discuss finances.
  • Distrust: You don't trust your spouse.
  • Financial arguments: The two of you argue about money more often.
  • History: Your spouse has lied to you before about money.
  • Intuition: You just have a gut feeling that your spouse is hiding something from you concerning your finances.
  • Lying: Your spouse lies to other people about expenditures or income.
  • Revenge: One or both of you begin revenge spending.
  • Secrets: You discover secret bank accounts or secret debts.
  • Sudden changes: Your spouse's spending habits change suddenly.

What to Do About Financial Infidelity in Your Marriage

Here are some ways to work on fixing this issue with your spouse.

Create an Open Dialogue

Don't bury your head in the sand. It's time to have a difficult and serious talk about your finances with your spouse. Tell your spouse about any feelings you have about lying or being lied to about your finances. Your concerns, guilt, anger, panic, sense of being betrayed, embarrassment, helplessness, etc. You need to be heard by your spouse. 

Have a weekly discussion about the state of your finances. It doesn't have to be long, but make time to check on your accounts together and talk about upcoming bills, issues, goals, hopes, etc.

Move Forward With Positive Changes

If you are the cheater, admit you made a mistake, stop lying about your finances. Make a decision to be honest, open, and to keep your promises. Accept your responsibility for bringing financial infidelity into your marriage. And sincerely apologize.

Be realistic about what can and can't be done to salvage your financial situation. Set up separate checking accounts along with a joint account. Decide together how much you can each deposit in the personal accounts and a joint account. It is important that you both agree that those funds are yours individually to do with what you want. 

If these suggestions don't help, seek financial and/or marriage counseling. Lying, hiding or being secretive about money is a big marriage "no-no." If there is a problem in regard to this, it is time to fix it with respect and integrity. 

Article updated by Marni Feuerman

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Goudreau, J. Is your partner cheating on you financially? 31% admit money deception. 2011.

  2. Jeanfreau, M., Noguchi, K., Mong, M. D., & Stadthagen, H. (2018). Financial Infidelity in Couple Relationships. Journal of Financial Therapy, 2018;9(1):2. doi:10.4148/1944-9771.1159 

  3. Junare, SO, Patel, FM. Financial infidelity - Secret saving behavior of the individual. Journal of Business Management & Social Sciences Research. 2012;1(2).40-44.

By Sheri Stritof
Sheri Stritof has written about marriage and relationships for 20+ years. She's the co-author of The Everything Great Marriage Book.