3 Harmful Relationship Issues that Leave Physicians Vulnerable to Financial Infidelity

financial infidelity
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Relationships move at the speed of trust.  If you don’t trust your partner at a deep, visceral level, your relationship is at risk.  It’s easier than you think to experience financial infidelity in your relationship.

Having done financial coaching for many years, I have definitely seen a lot of cases of what we call financial infidelity.  It’s incredibly damaging to the trust in a relationship.

In many ways, the hurt and guilt associated with financial infidelity mirror the feelings you have when you learn that your spouse has had an affair.  It’s destructive to your trust and it can take years to build that trust back.

What is financial infidelity?

Financial infidelity means any situation when someone does something with money that is directly counter to the wishes of their spouse or does it without their spouse’s knowledge.  

This can range from a few dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.  The dollar amount of the act isn’t the damaging part, it’s the betrayal that one feels.  Whether it’s $100 or $100,000, you still feel like someone cheated on you. 

Here are some concrete examples of financial infidelity:

  • Opening up a credit card without your spouse’s knowledge and using it for personal purchases.
  • Engaging in online gambling surreptitiously.
  • Buying an item on Amazon and shipping it to your office so your spouse doesn’t know you bought it.
  • Purchasing something big “for the family” without consulting your spouse first to learn their feelings about it.
  • Borrowing on your spouse’s 401(k) without them knowing.

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Why is financial infidelity so damaging?

Whether it’s small like an Amazon purchase or big like an online gambling debt, it’s important to recognize that financial infidelity represents a breach of trust.  That’s the part that most people don’t recognize.

I’ve heard this from couples that I’ve done financial coaching with.  “What’s the big deal?  It’s just a (fill in the blank)!  It only cost $50!  Who cares?”


It’s not about the money!  It’s about trust!  

When you go behind someone’s back to make a purchase, you are telling them that you don’t trust them.  You don’t trust them to agree with your purchase.  And, it says you don’t respect their opinion enough to consider not buying the item if they think it’s a bad idea.  

Financial infidelityThree relationship red flags that can lead to financial infidelity 

I think of this as a three legged stool.  If any of the three legs on the stool is short, your stool will topple over.  All three of these factors MUST be strong or you run the risk of collapse.  

Any one of these factors opens up the door for opportunities for financial infidelity.  If you have all three, your risk increases exponentially.

1. Lack of knowledge

When I’m doing financial coaching, I spend a lot of time helping people understand what their money is actually doing.  Lack of knowledge is a recipe for financial disaster in any number of ways, especially in relationships.

One thing I spend a lot of time on is budgeting.  Many physicians balk at the idea of doing a budget initially, but studies show that people who budget are overall more likely to become wealthy.

Additionally, the more you know about where your money is and what your money is doing for you, the less you’ll be able to be surprised about an account you didn’t know existed.  

It’s not acceptable to just say, “My spouse deals with all of that stuff because I just don’t want to mess with it.”  You HAVE to be more aware of what’s going on with your money.  It’s not because you don’t trust them, it’s because that teamwork fosters a better understanding of money on the part of both spouses.  That is more likely to lead to longterm financial success.Financial infidelity

At a minimum, both spouses need to know:

  • Where your money is invested (which company, and what type of account)
  • What your total household income is
  • How much you pay in taxes each year
  • What credit cards you have
  • Where you keep your finance records

Don’t just put your head in the sand.  You need to know what’s going on with your money.  The greater your knowledge, the fewer the opportunities for financial infidelity.

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2. Lack of money

This one might be a bit surprising.  If you don’t have much money, aren’t there fewer opportunities to cheat on someone (financially speaking)?  

Actually, no.

When you have less money but still have bad spending habits, the tendency is for someone to open a line of credit to fulfill their financial desires.  This is one of the most dangerous situations for couples.  When your spouse has an opportunity to open a credit card without you knowing it, they can rack up huge bills without you realizing it.

I’ve seen couples where one person opened up several credit cards in their name and charged tens of thousands of dollars in purchases and online gambling debts.  When the spouse finds out, it’s absolutely devastating.  

Two remedies to this problem

  1. Be content with less.  

If you can learn to be content with less money, fewer items, cheaper stuff, fewer vacations, etc, you’ll be less apt to want to go spend money you don’t have.

  1. Make more money

This sounds obvious, but it’s reality.  When you’re starting out in life, your income is low and you’re not able to enjoy as many purchases or experiences.  As your income increases, you’ll be able to take advantage of opportunities to enjoy certain things.  That will lessen the temptation for you or your spouse to go seek financial consolation elsewhere.

financial infidelity3. Lack of communication

This is probably the biggest factor that can lead to problems with financial infidelity.  When you and your spouse don’t have open lines of communication related to your money issues, you are setting yourself up for failure.  When you establish a trend of not discussing finances openly, it tends to validate clandestine behavior.

One spouse may think, “I’ll just buy this little thing.  He/she won’t mind.  It’s small, so who cares?”  That escalates over time to bigger and bigger purchases.  It’s corrosive, and it happens slowly.  

No one gets to a weight of 400lbs in a month. 

It happens slowly over time.  Similarly, large amounts of debt and big secret purchases are often just the tip of the iceberg.  It happens slowly over time as you justify gradually larger financial decisions.  Then, it gets harder to own up to it because it’s a bigger deal.  

The way to prevent this is to have regular open discussions about your finances.  Money fights are the most common cause of divorce in the U.S.  If you and your spouse budget together, plan your financial goals together, and make money decisions together, your chances at staying together long term go way up. The odds of financial infidelity taking place also go way down.  

Final thoughts

Financial infidelity is corrosive and destroys relationships.  But, it doesn’t happen in the dark.  It doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  In most cases, the time that you catch the act isn’t the first time that it has happened.

It’s so harmful to have this happen in your relationship.  But, if you can maintain adequate knowledge about your finances, live below your means, and keep the lines of communication open, the chances of this happening go way down.  

To help you do that, I recommend downloading my free guide, “5 Financial Conversations All Couples Should Have.”  It’s a great way for you to start having some of these all-important money conversations with your spouse.  Open up those lines of communication, and you’ll find it’s one of the best protective measures you could take.  

Also, what if you’ve already experienced problems with financial infidelity in your relationship?  If you’ve had to go through that, I’m sorry. 

Take a look at this next article to get some strategies for dealing with it. 

Further Reading


Please leave a comment below!  Have you ever encountered instances of financial infidelity in a relationship?  How did you deal with it?


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financial independence, financial infidelity, marriage, personal finance, relationships

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