How to Deal With Financial Infidelity

financial infidelity
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As I discussed in the previous article (click here to read), financial infidelity is incredibly damaging to a relationship.  If you or a friend have a spouse that has committed a serious act of financial infidelity, it can be hard to describe the depth of betrayal that you feel.

In the previous article, I discussed three risk factors that leave people vulnerable to financial infidelity.

  • Lack of knowledge about your finances
  • Inadequate income relative to household expenses
  • Lack of healthy communication about money in your relationship

It’s important to address all three of those areas in order to minimize the risk of financial infidelity in your relationship.

But, how do you deal with financial infidelity if it has already taken place?

First, you need to be able to recognize it.

Warning signs that a spouse may be engaged in secret financial acts

  • You or your spouse receive credit card statements that are not from your main credit card company.
  • Your spouse spends a lot of time by themselves on the computer and doesn’t allow you to see what they’re working on.
  • You start to notice new items such as clothes or hobby items that you didn’t remember buying previously.
  • When you ask questions related to money, your spouse suddenly becomes cagey or defensive.
  • Your spouse refuses to work on a basic household budget with you.
  • Your spouse doesn’t tell you how much money they make in their job.

financial infidelityIf one or more of these is happening, it’s time for a frank conversation with your spouse.  From the previous article, you’ll remember that lack of communication is a big contributing risk factor to financial infidelity.

If you have any suspicions or concerns, it’s proper for you to bring those issues up to your spouse.  They may have a valid and satisfactory explanation for these concerns, and then you’ll feel much better.  If not, you may have just exposed an area in your relationship that needs immediate fixing.

One word of caution: be careful to do this in love.  The last thing you want to do is accuse your spouse of financial infidelity without cause.  If the problem is lack of knowledge and communication on your part, then your accusation may irreparably damage your relationship going forward.

Financial infidelity is a relationship problem, not a money problem.

Financial infidelity, like sexual infidelity, is a highly emotional problem.  It’s an act of betrayal and loss of trust.  Recognize, though, that the problem is in your relationship, not just your bank account.  When it comes to things like this, I find that generally speaking,

Money is the symptom, not the disease.

You need to fix the money aspect too, but the primary focus needs to be on your relationship and the missteps that led to the money problem.

First, deal with all of the emotions that accompany the act of financial infidelity:financial infidelity

  1. Guilt: Your spouse will likely feel guilty that they’ve betrayed you.  That often becomes an all-consuming thought that can crush their spirit and limit their desire to communicate openly with you.
  2. Fear: You are probably experiencing fear about your relationship.  “If my spouse hid this from me, what else are they hiding?”  That lack of security is devastating.  The only way to get past that emotion is complete openness and honesty in your relationship.
  3. Anger: You are rightly angry that your spouse betrayed you.  The anger is justified.  However, that anger becomes corrosive if you nurse it.  Over time, you have to find a way to let that go.  You need to let it go so it doesn’t consume you, not because your spouse necessarily deserves it.  They may deserve your anger, but the only way forward is to eventually let it go.
  4. Shame: You may be ashamed that this happened.  “How could I not have known?  I’ve been so blind!  How stupid can I be?”  It’s good to own your part that may have led to this issue, such as being uninvolved in your household’s finances.  However, you do need to forgive yourself and start to work through the problems.

Practical strategies for dealing with financial infidelity

1. Limit your spouse’s access to money

When someone has proven untrustworthy, it’s wise and appropriate to put up roadblocks to prevent it from happening again. This might seem extreme or even medieval, but it’s critical for building trust.

If the financially unfaithful spouse continues to have solo spending accounts or open access to credit cards, the other spouse may always wonder what they’re hiding.  This is especially true in the setting of online gambling or addictive spending behaviors.  Just like you need to limit an alcoholic’s access to alcohol, limit the spender’s access to money.

2. Make sure you have access to everything

If you weren’t already a signatory on every account, you need to be now!!  It’s critical that you take the time and effort to ensure you have oversight over all household spending.  Don’t let there be any secrets between you with regard to money!  This is especially true of credit cards and liquid cash accounts.  Stay on top of the money.

financial infidelity3. Counseling

This is really important!  Having worked with couples who have gone through this, I can tell you that money isn’t the main problem.  As I said before, money is the symptom!!

The real problem is the breach of trust that has taken place.  If you want your relationship to last, you need to find a way to reconcile and move forward together.  Because of the emotional nature of the subject as we discussed above, you may find it hard to do that without professional help.

A counselor can help you find ways to constructively deal with the anger, betrayal, guilt, and shame.  He/she can help you discuss the issues and get to the heart of the problem.  Use the free content on this site to help with the mechanics of budgeting together, getting on the same page with money, etc.  But, use a professional counselor to heal the relationship.

4. Start having regular money conversations

You need to build trust around money again.  The only way to do that is by having regular conversations about money so that it becomes a subject that is no longer taboo.  It need to be a subject that you don’t fear.

Start with non-financial topics like what you want your retirement years to look like or what you’ll do once you’ve paid off all of your debts.  Make it a positive experience before you start delving into hardcore financial topics.  Take baby steps here.  Keep these conversations brief and have a low threshold to put the conversation on pause if you feel things starting to get tense.  Start by making these conversations more normal for you.

You can download my free guide here which will walk you through steps to start having some of these conversations.

5. Make a plan for paying off any debts

In addition to healing the relationship and re-establishing trust, you need a plan to pay off any debts that have accrued.  There’s really no getting around this one.  If your spouse spent your family into a lot of debt, they have to live with that shame and guilt.  But, it’s the responsibility of both spouses to figure out a way to get your household finances back on track.

If you want to have financial freedom, you have to deal with past mistakes, even if you weren’t the one who made them.  Once you’ve found a way to reconcile with the one who wronged you, take action to start getting out of the financial hole you find yourself in.

Final thoughts

You might think it’s impossible to forgive someone who has seriously wronged you or betrayed your trust.  Let me encourage you that it’s imperative for you to find a way to do so.  It’s not for their sake alone.  It’s for yours!

That anger will consume you if you let it.  You need to deal with the anger and then start to move forward.  Get any help you need from a professional counselor, pastor, friend, or someone else that you trust.

It takes time, so be prepared for some tough times, hard conversations, and long nights.  In the end, it’ll be worth it.  I’ve worked with couples who didn’t think they could come through something like this, and yet they found a way.  Their marriages are stronger as a result.  It’s not easy, but it’s worth 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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