Financial Infidelity – The Leading Cause of Divorce?

I was doing my regular web money reading and came across an interesting article on MSN Money Central about marriage infidelity.  No, not that kind of infidelity, I'm talking about financial infidelity

What is financial infidelity? 

This is where one spouse in the relationship overspends without the other spouse knowing.  I can see this being a major problem if it happens often, especially if money is already tight.  According to divorce lawyers interviewed by MSN, they see more divorce cases lead by financial rather than sexual infidelity.

Some marriages never recover from that breach of trust, says Brandt, the lawyer. That's when they come to see her. "I get people at the end of the marriage when it's too late," says Brandt. "You have to start talking about these things before you even get into a marriage."

What's the solution? 

I believe that the key to avoid money related issues is through open communication about money.  Even with our most trusted partners, some of us still treat money as a taboo subject.

Here is what the MSN article suggests:

Brandt and others advise that the best way for couples to avoid this problem is for both partners to get actively involved in the finances. You don't both have to pay bills, but both partners must be aware of how much money they have and where it's going.

Couples should also have an agreement about how much they can spend using joint funds before they need to clear it with the spouse. Online banking makes it simple to periodically check for unusual withdrawals or changes in financial position. Don't leave financial management all up to one person, especially if that person has had spending problems in the past.

Money may seem like a secretly understood topic, but everyone has their own opinions/views.  In addition to the above, David Bach from Smart Couples Finish Rich teaches that the key to financial success between couples is to determine a common ground with regards to money.  He suggests to base family financial goals around values instead of monetary goals.

How do we handle purchases in our family?  I have to admit that I'm the family chief financial officer but all bigger purchases need to be agreed upon.  To give ourselves a little freedom, we each get some discretionary cash at the beginning of each month to spend on whatever we please without question. 

If you're in a relationship, how do you deal with purchases? Are you guilty of hiding purchases from your partner?

Photo Credit: hypertypos

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11 years ago


I am sorry to hear that things are so difficult for you and that part of the issue is that you and your spouse aren’t pulling together. You can’t, and shouldn’t, take this burden on by yourself. Your spouse needs to get engaged and that may need you to sit him down and explain quite strongly that this isn’t just about money – it is about the future of your marriage.

Do either of your employers offer counselling services as part of your benefits package? It may be prudent to get some professional assistance to help you cope with your spouse’s ignorance of his responsibilities to your marriage. A 3rd party might finally get the message through by articulating the situation without being confrontational and emotional.

Good luck with this…

Hopefully Kathryn reads your post – she will have many pearls of wisdom to add, I’m sure.

11 years ago

I’ve been married for 6 months and we’ve had major fights about money. I’ve got good credit (spouse does not) and therefore I have high credit card limits, which we’ve had to use since both of us own property that has fallen underwater and we’ve struggled to make payments. However, when I do the budget every month, I see at least $500 overflow, but I have no idea where this money goes each month. My husband simply refuses to get a joint checking account with me. He is always coming up with excuses. I tried dragging him to Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace classes, he only went to one. It gets so tiresome fighting about it all the time. He just makes up excuse after excuse. I don’t have any savings anymore (I have drained it all to keep us afloat on his mortgage, which is where we live). I am close to my credit card limits, and I don’t have enough money to pay all my bills. I’m at the point where I just want to walk away from my property in order to get rid of that payment even though it will damage my credit. I don’t live at my property, I rent it out, and take quite a loss each month. The property is losing money every day. That’s another story. The bottom line is I almost feel like I want to ruin my finances so that my husband will stop turning to me for money all the time. I really don’t know what to do anymore. The more we talk about money, the more we fight.

12 years ago


I’m not an expert, but would there not be lawyers who would work on a contingency basis for your case? I know that many of them will have an opening consultation (1 hour) for free.

I hope that you get the money that you rightly deserve.

12 years ago

I think this blog should be reserved for spouses who have been ripped financially by other. Financially infidelity should be grounds for divorce as it is often more devestating than other abuses.My strange estranged spouse removed $1000,000 out of joint account. Perfectly legal as he did not try to close acct. Afer 20 years of working in home, volunteer cook driver, business builder etc. I am royally screwed. IWANT MY MONEY BACK. No legal recourse. So if you’re out there and have any info, please respond. Will be pursuing civil action. with no $ I cannnot hire atty to file for divorce. Considering ending my life

12 years ago

I believe financial infidelity is conceived when one partner EVEN MAKES PLANS for spending unknown to his/her supposedly significant other. Once you enter into a life together, there should be no need for financial secrecy of any kind (barring the situation of a surprise gift for each other).

The husband should be able to trust his wife not to jeopardize the trust in their relationship with a purchase of (or plans to buy) things which may cripple their finances (be that a dishcloth, or a new car). The wife should have the same tranquility regarding her husband’s purchases (or plans to purchase).

The bottom line is that each should be able to believe that the preservation of their marriage (and the trust they each need) is more important than ANY financial selfishness one may entertain. It’s pretty simple…either bring trust to nurture & honor the marriage in a responsible way or tear apart the trust and the marriage when you insist on individual wants (akin to stomping your feet in a childish display of selfishness). And it all begins at which point one partner makes plans without the other.

I choose to nurture and honor my partner and my marriage. Once the necessities of providing for our food, etc., and paying our bills is accomplished, savings are in order. Beyond that, we feel no need to talk about responsible small purchases. We trust ourselves (and the other) to BE RESPONSIBLE. For non-necessary items, we will BOTH know of the planning before the purchase. If not, the purchase simply is not made. There are no hidden agendas. It’s far better to share and anticipate wishes (leading to support or a discussion) than planning or spending selfishly. This sharing shows respect for your originial, and continuing union.

If there are differences and an ensuing discussion, often one partner can bring insight to the other regarding the pros and cons of the plans and/or purchase. In the end, both should understand fully any detractions of the plan (or purchase), and each should then trust the other to honor the outcome of the discussion. Making the decision together brings support and trust to the marriage. Conversely, if your plans can’t stand the light of day (cannot be shared with your life partner), it’s a foregone conclusion that selfishness on your part will erode trust and happiness in the maggiage. Grow up and smell the coffee, folks!

If you are making plans or purchases without your partner’s knowledge or support, you forfeit trust, respect, and joy in your relationship. For if one can’t trust the other to care for and nurture the relationship, respect is lost, and joy in the marriage becomes a very remote possibility.

P. S. This year marks the 40th year of our union. We have always had
a joint checking account. There is no he or she separation. This is a
marriage and partnership…plain and simple.

12 years ago

Mrs. T,

To paraphrase Shakespeare: “Get thee to a Marriage / Debt Counselor.”

Until your husband comes to understand how destructive his behaviours are, they will continue. As unpalatable as it may seem, you and he may have to take some draconian measures to address this financial infidelity.

Best wishes on getting things straightened out.


Mrs. Trusing
12 years ago

Financial infidelity is as destructive to trust in the relationship as sexual cheating is, I think. Especially if it happens more than once. My husband brought credit card debt into our marriage without telling me (I didn’t run a check on him), then cried when he had to tell me. Years later we had started a family and were living beyond our means, so we ran up a bit more consumer debt. When I suggested we get organized and pay it off, we got our credit reports and guess what? You guessed it-we had almost triple what I thought in debt! He cried, we filed bankruptcy. I went back to school, sacrificing a lot on the motherhood front, so we might have a financial future. Husband and I discussed that NO new accounts would be opened without us agreeing. And we lived debt free. I was so proud! I finished my training and have a good career. I doubled our income, but now I work nights and still feel I’m neglecting my kids. But it’s worth it to me, ’cause I’m making a future for us. Well, that’s how I felt until I put away the laundry and found more credit card statements the other day (plus a new twist: phone sex numbers and names of extensions he likes!). How can he keep doing this? How can I keep being so trusting (i.e., stupid)? I don’t want a divorce because it will screw up my kids too bad and he is a good “coworker” sharing the childcare and household, but I don’t love him anymore and it is really down to all this. No matter what I do, I’m responsible for his debt, and I can’t stop him. I could monitor him, but why should I have to police my spouse? I keep trying to dig us out and create a future, and he just throws dirt back on top of me.

12 years ago

The term is “financial infidelity” which is what happened to me in my first marriage. My college educated/degree now ex-wife had a MLM business that wasn’t working and she was leveraging bills through credit cards without telling me. Hidden credit cards, past due phone accounts, potential car repos, going behind my back to get a loan from her parents to attend a sales event, stealing the tax return check to get the past due car loan up to date, owing money to a friend, purchasing new contact lenses versus using the vision plan I had from my job, etc. Every issue was always a “small finacial mistake” in her words- “nothing to get worked up about- everyone makes them.”

She was always after the “big sale” versus working diligently to make money. I had to threaten her with divorce for her to get even a temp job. Funny thing was that the first temp placement she had was at a bank call center calling people who had just missed their first auto loan payment!!!

I threatened to kick her out a second time when I found yet another hidden credit card with $1300 on it. The time when we should have been DINKs- double income no kids- we were OINKs- one income no kids- because her employment was going to pay off credit bills only.

She always wanted to live beyond our means. I wrangled the new SUV for her in late 2001, I wrangled the 80% loan /20%ARM for a home for us, I wrangled the refinance to get out of the 20% ARM, but it was never enough.

The pressure built over the years even after we had paid off the debt she incurred. I nearly went crazy over time. I was misdiagnosed as being depressed and perscribed anti-depressants. The meds assisted me to commit physical adultrey when I had been faithful for over 8 years even when all the credit debt craziness was going on. The only reason I tell you this is that when I was in the “exit phase” of the marriage, the ex-wife went and bought $8,000 to $11,000 worth of brand new furniture for what would become “her house” (no equity of course due to the two financings within three years). She said she got the new furniture because I had kept her “down” financialy and had us using old hand-me-down furniture gifts from various family members. While that new furniture was solely her debt, it was the marriage’s final indication that she had no concept of financial management. Neither of us had that type of money nor did her parents pay for it.

Even after the divorce, she is all about the money and lack of foresite. We had two children together. I am happy to pay the child support but when I was laid off and looking for new work, she sued me for almost a full years amount of child support. This was even though she had garnished my meggar temp job wages and I was paying support when I fixed up and sold old cars. The court granted her a sum under $100 (yes one hundred as in between 99 and 101) in back support and required us to each pay our own lawyer fees.

I live under my means. I have a new spouse (unrelated to the prior marriage adultrey) who has the same financial values as I do. I am currently planning that I will have to pay my childrens entire college even though my ex and I are supposed to pay 50% each as I figure my ex will be bankrupt by that time.

It is “financial infidelity”. I almost could have dealt with it easier if the ex-wife had gotten a boyfriend behind my back. I would have just kicked her out and been done with it rather than try to be the “good husband” and kept the coupleship together by fighting her and the debt…

13 years ago


Barring all cases of bipolar psychological disorders or extreme domestic abuse, HIDING DEBT from your spouse is in the SAME category as CHEATING! It is a deception, a breach of trust on the same scale. No, your spouse does not run the risk of bringing home cooties, or getting some bimbo knocked-up as in the case of an adulterous affair. However, your spouse will most likely bring home hardship, disgrace, instability, struggle, distrust, great expense, and the ringing of bill collectors all day and all night. Oh yeah, and don’t forget all of the missed opportunities that go by while your working two jobs to pay back credit card companies at 29% interest. Worth it? C’mon people, has the collective character of our great country stooped so low in recent times? Are unnecessary goods, services, and keeping up with the Jones of more importance than the psychological, financial, and emotional stability within your very home?

I am what you would call a saver. This is the fashionable distinction to make these days; either you’re a SPENDER or a SAVER…whatever. Let me just say that I think this distinction is a load of crap. Either you are a responsible adult accountable for your actions, or you are behaving like an out of control child. The laws of money are based on simple mathematics that you learned in grade school. Apply them and you will reap success, forgo them and you will suffer more or less like those other fools out there right now getting foreclosed on. The banks and credit card companies don’t care how emotionally needy you were while you drank your $6 latte’s, bought a hummer, or just had to impress the neighbors with this, that, and the other thing. Unless you file for bankruptcy, you are basically on the hook, a slave to the lender. And another thing, the banks and lenders are smarter than you, they hire finance MBAs and PhDs who will work 80hrs per week figuring out how to get you in debt and keep you there.

How do I know this – EXPERIENCE. I was married to just such a person; she duped me three times in our 8yr marriage. Each time with a promise to change and that it would never happen again. I bailed us out of it each time, and when enough time went by and I let my guard down, she did it again. This third and final time I am forced to file bankruptcy, attempt to sell my house in a down market (all offers have been less than I paid for the home), my credit is ruined because she put my name on some of the cards which she never intended to pay, and to forfeit all of the sweat equity that I put into this home over the past four years of back breaking renovations that were done on nights and weekends after my 60 hour work week.

13 years ago

I think that “him constantly getting on my case about it” and “without having him harp on me about it” are HUGE clues. I’m not saying he’s to blame, but I would start my search for truth with these sentiments.