Financial Infidelity Poses Challenge for Couples

DENVER—Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate relationships, love and commitment, but there may be a hidden issue that many couples are not aware of. The National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) reveals that financial infidelity can be just as significant among couples as emotional/sexual infidelity.

According to a January 2014 survey conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of NEFE, one in three adults who have combined their finances in a current/past relationship admit to committing financial infidelity against their partner. The survey also finds that when financial deceptions occur, 76 percent say there has been an effect on the relationship.

“People commit financial infidelity because although they are sharing everything with their partner or spouse they believe that certain parts of their financial situation still should remain private,” says Patricia Seaman, senior director with NEFE. “Additionally people are afraid of what their partner is going to say, how they will be judged, or they may be embarrassed.”

The survey finds that three in 10 adults who have combined finances have hidden either a purchase, bank account, statement, bill, or cash from their partner or spouse. And 13 percent said they have committed more severe deceptions, like lying about the amount of debt that they owe or even the amount of income that they earn.

Warning Signs—Red flags that financial infidelity may be an issue in a relationship may be as simple as coming across a receipt or a piece of paper indicating a purchase that you don’t recognize, or not seeing copies of every bill each month. “Another significant indicator may be that you partner or spouse is defensive or withdrawn when the topic of money is brought up,” adds Seaman.

Approaching your partner—Confronting your partner is a tough thing to face. According to Seaman, you must accept that it will be stressful. She says the best way to approach the situation is to first know what you want out of the conversation before you have it, and not to approach your partner by saying “we have to talk.”You also must be careful not to sabotage your partner by inviting them to a dinner or movie night and then hitting them with the topic by surprise.

Getting on the same page—Seaman says in order to rebuild trust, you must establish to your partner the following, “I’ve done some spending you don’t know about and I want to make sure we get on the same page and create goals today that we can stick to.”

Rebuilding trust after financial infidelity occurs—After you or your partner has come clean about committing financial infidelity, you must accept that it will take time to rebuild the trust you once had. “It will take sustained transparency in all communication, and it takes a commitment from both to stick to the goals that you’ve set together,” says Seaman.

For more tips on working together as a couple to handle finances and starting that awkward conversation about money that you have been avoiding, visit


Take the LifeValues Quiz

Understanding your financial values and how they differ from those of your partner is one key to success in managing money together as a couple. NEFE’s new LifeValues Quiz helps people identify the values that drive their financial decisions. To learn more and to take the quiz, visit

Survey Methodology

This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of NEFE from January 14-16, 2014, among 2,035 adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology (including weighting variables) click here.