Are you the victim of your spouse's financial infidelity?

Has your partner or spouse cheated on you with money?  Financial infidelity can potentially be just as devastating as any other type of cheating, including adultery.

However, there's another layer of suffering when your partner has lied about money. Depending on the amount of money involved, it can jeopardise your emotional well-being as well as your financial security, which is even more worrisome if you have children.

Clearly, I'm not qualified to give you financial advice. But in this article, I'm going to help you understand the emotional impact of your partner cheating on you with money. I'm also aiming to help you to get back some control over the situation, because I so understand how out of control, scared and angry you must feel.

So, why am I interested in financial infidelity?

How finances are linked to other aspects of your relationship

I know that money, sex and control are linked, from my professional experience. All too often I've noticed that when a couple is experiencing problems with money, they also have issues with their sexual relationship. Frequently these are connected to a lack of boundaries around excessive behaviours of various kinds: addictions, abuse or disagreements on how to discipline the children, for example.

So, let's first see how serious the problem with money is...

What are the signs of financial infidelity?

Answer these questions to discover the extent of your partner or spouse's financial dishonesty:

9 Signs of financial infidelity

  1. Has your partner or spouse applied for loans in your name, without your knowledge?
  2. Have you discovered evidence of a secret joint loan, from which they've siphoned off money?
  3. Have you discovered 'secret' credit card accounts?
  4. Have they opened credit card accounts in your name, without your knowledge
  5. Has he or she made 'secret' purchases on credit cards?
  6. Have they failed to pay bills as agreed?
  7. Have they been saving money without your knowledge? (This is often done in preparation for ending the marriage.)
  8. Have they been dishonest about existing assets?
  9. Has your partner or spouse been 'borrowing' from savings?
Crumpled brown paper with quote: Trust is like a piece of papaer. Once it's crumpled, it can't be perfect again.

Do you recognise these further signs of financial dishonesty?

There are other types of misdemeanours that can lead to a loss of trust. Here are another few examples which perhaps cannot be strictly classed as financial infidelity, but can nevertheless challenge clarity, honesty and transparency:

  • keeping you short of money if you're a stay-at-home mum or dad or a low earner, but spending liberally themselves
  • secretly spending more than their fair share
  • not allowing you an insight into his/her finances, either tacitly or overtly not disclosing their income

Did you play a role in your financial difficulties?

To what extent these loose boundaries are a problem depends somewhat on:

  • your attitude towards money
  • your values and beliefs
  • your expectations based on your implicit (asking for trouble!) and overt agreements
Glass jar with dollar bills, labelled 'Finance'

Maybe you're only too happy for your partner to deal with all your finances because you don't want to be involved. I can totally understand that, if money and numbers are just 'not your thing'. You may not have had any reason to mistrust your partner and/or the two of you may have made what you thought were solid agreements.

There is an inherent problem with this attitude, though.

What if there's a calamity, such as your partner falling ill and becoming unable to attend to the finances; a relationship break-up; heaven-forbid: a death; or one (or both) of you becoming unemployed, etc.?

Under those kinds of unfortunate circumstances you'll probably find it hard to catch up and get a grip of the situation, particularly because your emotions will be all over the place.

What are both your attitudes towards money?

To begin to deal with financial infidelity in your marriage, you need to figure out a baseline. What is your - and what is your spouse's - attitude towards money?

  • You're financially intelligent, you make money work for you. You plan to make as much money as you can.
  • You have back-up plans, savings and/or investments. You're on top of your spending. You get stressed if you receive unexpected bills.
  • You live for today... you manage, but you worry about the future and there isn't much money left (if any) by the end of the month.
  • Your 'pink' zone covers the bills, you spend as you like, you have no sight of your overall financial status and you don't want to know. You borrow from Peter to pay Paul.

There's only one way to begin to deal with the differences - you need to talk! Only by openly and honestly communicating about your joint and individual financial needs and wants will you manage to avoid the divorce courts. That is, if you actually want to save your marriage.

How are you feeling?

The extent of the emotional impact of your partner's financial infidelity depends to a large degree on what state your relationship is in. Here are just a few different scenarios:

  • you met, fell in love (at least you did) and you were happy to help your new beau out with some debts
  • you're suddenly deeply in debt, with outgoings outweighing income due to unemployment, retirement or death
  • you're slowly slipping into debt, even though you appear to have a reasonable income
  • you at least don't have joint financial obligations such as a mortgage, loan or investment
  • you've been together for a long time, you have children, a mortgage, loans or run a business together
  • you've brought up a family and have finished paying your mortgage
  • you've headed for the divorce courts

You can see how the discovery of financial infidelity would affect you completely differently in each of these situations.

The emotional fall-out is, however, much the same as if your partner had cheated on you with your best friend (see Related Articles) - or anyone else for that matter.

Have you 'helped' your partner to settle their debts?

Financial infidelity may feel even more devastating if you trustingly helped to pay off your partner or spouse's pre-existing debts.

So many people end up feeling ashamed for having allowed themselves to be 'tricked'. They feel 'stupid' and on discovery are often reluctant to seek help from advisers, professional or otherwise.

However, there really is no need for you to beat yourself up. Here's how it might have happened:

  • You fell in love and only when you were smitten and deeply 'into the relationship' did your partner reveal (or you discovered) that they were in debt.
  • Possibly you were already contemplating a future with your partner, and you didn't want the debts to stand in the way of your setting up home together.
  • You decided to clear debts so that you could start with a 'clean slate', perhaps oblivious to the fact that he/she has never been 'good with money'.
  • You were happy enough to 'help out' with big purchases, when your partner actually contributed very little.
  • You may be the victim of a scam

What is your reaction to adversity?

How you actually deal with the discovery, depending on the level deceit and the resultant debt, also depends on how you generally tackle problems in life.

  • Do you tend to blame yourself for everything?
  • Do you feel that everybody is out to get you, and you can't trust anyone?
  • Do you tend to become depressed and anxious under the weight of life's inevitable blows?


  • Do you accept you mistakes and 'mess ups', act naively at times, neglect to inform yourself fully of all the facts, but then you just learn and move on?
  • Do you simply expect that you're going to survive, however miserable you feel and however hard life feels at the moment?
  • When you look back, are you able to see the positives in adverse situations?

Whatever your usual response to adverse circumstances, it all becomes more complicated when your financial security - and perhaps that of your children - is compromised.

On top of that, you're having to deal with the shock of being so let down by someone you trusted and believed in. The financial infidelity may go hand-in-hand with your partner's adultery, and the knowledge that the other man or woman has had your money spent on them, by the very person you were supposed to be able to trust, can make the emotional turmoil even worse.

All of this is really tough on you and it's completely understandable that life feels pretty rough right now.

So, here is my advice...

5 steps to getting over the shock of discovering your partner has cheated on you with money

  1. Accept that you're going to be in shock - I promise you it won't last. Give it 10 - 14 days and you'll begin to feel a little more in control again of your emotions.
  2. Get help! Speak to someone at your bank, a debt counsellor or a financial adviser. Don't forget to ask for names and keep a record of who you spoke to, together with dates, what was said and what action was to be taken.
  3. Accept that your partner will also have an emotional fall-out on account of the discovery. Be aware, though, that you may be on different time scales in terms of responding to the crisis. However, you need to communicate. Arguing in itself is not a problem, as long as you come to some understanding and agreement of how to move forward. Have a look at my page on anger management counselling to learn what kinds of responses will impede your ability to have a decent conversation.
  4. Take action - the sooner the better - taking into account the time needed to get over the initial shock. Debts only accumulate, with potentially huge consequences for your emotional and marital stability too.
  5. Keep going forward by taking steps to actively deal with the situation. It's the only way that you'll gain a measure of control (I don't mean abusively 'controlling'!). Having a sense of control over your destiny is an essential emotional need. It is vital for your emotional well-being.

Related Articles


"Find out Your Attitude towards Money." University of York, n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2014.

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