Help & advice
Could you spot financial infidelity?
4 min | 25 September 2023
With nearly two in five people in relationships admitting to financial infidelity, we explore what it is, how it happens and how you could spot it in your own relationships.
“I still don’t understand how someone can have five credit cards with over £40,000 debt split between them and not tell their wife,” Sundari tells me as she reflects on her recent divorce. Part of the divorce process includes financial disclosure, when the former couple share their individual finances. In this process, Sundari learned about her ex-husband's financial situation.
“We were married for two years and hardly went on holiday,” she says. “I wish I knew what he spent the money on, but he wouldn’t disclose what the debt was for.”
What is financial infidelity?
Sundari experienced financial infidelity, defined as “an act of dishonesty relating to personal finance between two people in a relationship.”
There's a difference between saving money in a secret account to surprise a partner for a large birthday or to take the family away for a holiday, for example, compared to running up debts or not equally contributing to household expenses. There are many legitimate reasons why someone might keep their money situation secret, from having a splurge fund so you have options if you want to buy something for yourself to keeping money away from an abusive partner.
Financial infidelity, however, can happen to anyone in a relationship, for any number of reasons, and is not specific to any one gender. Because it surfaces with dishonesty and deception, it can be just as painful as other types of affairs and can include:
- gambling secretly
- having secret savings accounts
- having hidden debts
- contributing less
- hiding excessive out-of-budget spending
- lying about income
Unfortunately, this sort of financial infidelity isn’t unique to Sundari. According to Aviva, nearly two in five people in relationships in the UK have admitted to financial infidelity. One red flag can be having a lot of money stashed away in secret accounts. People who hide savings like this might be worried about the financial impact of a relationship breakdown. Sometimes, people set up secret accounts because they’re trying to pay off hidden debts. It can be a vicious cycle, as you expand the infidelity to cover things up.
When Grace was 18, she moved in with her partner. While they were living together, he constantly lost his bank card, so Grace had to pay their rent and living expenses. “He always told me he had money but just made himself out to be forgetful,” she tells me. “We worked for the same company, so I knew we earned the same amount.” The 'forgetfulness' continued for some time, and when they eventually parted ways, his financial decisions continued to haunt Grace. “Long after we moved out and cut contact, I would receive calls from companies chasing him up on payments," she said. “It turns out, he'd given them my number instead of his.”
How to spot financial infidelity
Financial infidelity happens in many ways. If you’re worried about your partner, look out for some of these signs:
This could be anything from your partner refusing to open letters in front of you to refusing to talk about money. If your partner seems to be dodging important conversations about money and actively concealing their money habits from you, it could reflect wider issues.
2. Financial history
If your partner has a history of debt, keeps several credit cards and has shown erratic financial behaviours, it could be worth having a candid conversation about their financial situation.
3. Changes in behaviour
Keeping up a secret financial situation can be mentally taxing. If your partner is suddenly facing sleepless nights, has become secretive or suddenly wants to take over the household finances, it could be a sign of financial infidelity.
4. New spending habits
If your partner is suddenly overspending or living beyond their means, it could be a red flag. If you have a shared account with them and they make sudden, unexplained withdrawals from it, this could also indicate potential financial issues.
Talking about money can be a sensitive topic in a relationship, but having open and honest conversations can go a long way towards helping prevent financial infidelity.
- Step Change (Opens in new window) debt charity
- National Debtline (Opens in new window)
- Citizens Advice (Opens in new window) for family and relationships help
- Understanding why we spend
- The real issue with the stay-at-home girlfriend trend
- What do do if your credit score is affected by fraud
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