DENVER—February is a time to celebrate love and commitment, but many couples face a hidden challenge that could place their relationships in peril. According to a new survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of the National Endowment for Financial Education® (NEFE®), two in five Americans who have combined their finances in a current/past relationship admit to committing financial infidelity against their partner. Comparatively, the problem is growing. Among U.S. adults, 42 percent admit to financial infidelity compared to 33 percent just two years ago. The survey also finds that when financial deceptions occur, 75 percent say there is an effect on the relationship.
“When you agree to combine finances in a relationship, you’re also agreeing to a certain degree of cooperation and transparency in your money management. It’s easier to achieve joint financial goals when your money is pooled and working together. Yet we’re seeing the implicit promise of collaboration destroyed by financial game-playing,” says Ted Beck, president and CEO of NEFE. “Financial infidelity hurts regardless of its scale. Hiding or lying about small amounts of money can damage a relationship just as effectively as a high-dollar deceit. In fact, in all cases of this deception, people affected say it impacted their relationship in some way–almost always negatively. It causes arguments, erosion of trust, separation or even divorce.”
Among those surveyed, over one third (39 percent) hid a purchase, bank account, statement, bill or cash from their partner or spouse. Additionally, 16 percent say they have committed more severe deceptions, like lying about the amount of debt that they owe or even the amount of income that they earn. Among those who have committed financial deceptions, nearly one third (32 percent) say they believe some aspects of their finances should remain private, even from their spouse/partner; three in 10 (30 percent) say they had discussed finances with their spouse/partner and they knew they would disapprove; and 25 percent were embarrassed/fearful about their finances and didn’t want their spouse/partner to find out.
Red flags that financial infidelity may be an issue in a relationship may be as simple as coming across a receipt or a piece of paper indicating a purchase that you don’t recognize, or not seeing copies of every bill each month. “Another significant indicator may be that you partner or spouse is defensive or withdrawn when the topic of money is brought up,” adds Beck.
Approaching Your Partner
Confronting your partner is a tough thing to face. According to Beck, you must accept that it will be stressful. He says the best way to approach the situation is to first know what you want out of the conversation before you have it, and not to approach your partner by saying “we have to talk.” You also must be careful not to sabotage your partner by inviting them to a dinner or movie night and then hitting them with the topic by surprise.
Getting On the Same Page
Beck says in order to rebuild trust, you must establish to your partner the following, “I’ve done some spending you don’t know about and I want to make sure we get on the same page and create goals today that we can stick to.”
Rebuilding Trust after Financial Infidelity Occurs
After you or your partner has come clean about committing financial infidelity, you must accept that it will take time to rebuild the trust you once had. “It will take sustained transparency in all communication, and it takes a commitment from both to stick to the goals that you’ve set together,” says Beck.
For more tips on working together as a couple to handle finances and starting that awkward conversation about money that you have been avoiding, visit www.smartaboutmoney.org.
Take the LifeValues Quiz
Understanding your financial values and how they differ from those of your partner is one key to success in managing money together as a couple. NEFE’s LifeValues Quiz helps people identify the values that drive their financial decisions. To learn more and to take the quiz, visit www.smartaboutmoney.org/lifevaluesquiz.
This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of NEFE from January 19-21, 2016, among 2,057 adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. Please contact for complete survey methodology (including weighting variables).