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Are You Guilty of Financial Infidelity?

By Hanna Morrell February 21, 2024 Managing Money

A 2023 survey done by found that nearly 40% of respondents are committing some kind of financial infidelity on their partners. And although the younger generations seem to have a higher incidence of this, no generation is immune. More on the survey here.

Why Is Financial Infidelity So Common?

When we are stressed out, we tend to deploy a weird kind of optimism, which can sound like:

“I’ll tell my wife about this loan next month after I’ve already started paying.”

“He’s had a hard day, I don’t want to start an argument, I’ll just tell him later.”

This kind of avoidance is not a personality defect, but a protective strategy. Rarely have I worked with someone who’s engaging in financial infidelity to be intentionally malicious.

Most often the early stages of financial infidelity are motivated by wanting to keep the peace, not wanting to burden or worry our partners, or trying to protect ourselves. All too quickly there’s inertia in keeping that secret… it just gets bigger and bigger the more we try to hide it.

The guilt and shame applies even more pressure, and of course we don’t have good tools on HOW to tell our partners when things didn’t quite go the way we thought they would.

Financial Infidelity Can Damage an Otherwise Healthy Relationship

Wherever you draw the line on acceptable secret keeping vs unacceptable secret keeping, financial infidelity can be destructive to a relationship and the individuals in that relationship.

Of course it’s a breach of trust… “If I didn’t know this about you, what ELSE don’t I know about you?!”

We choose our partners (hopefully) because we feel safe and seen with them. That connection is deeply important to us humans. Financial infidelity can be interpreted as “I don’t know you” which means “You don’t know me,” which translates pretty quickly to “We’re disconnected” and then “I don’t feel safe.” Trust = connection and intimacy = safety.

Can Financial Infidelity Impact Other Kinds of Intimacy?

OOOoooh ya. I’ve seen this in my practice many times. As couples spiral in their financial conversations, their sexual intimacy can take a hit too.

This is a reflection of intimacy and connection. Think of how vulnerable we are during sex… we’re naked, in close proximity to another human, and for a time in a physical/emotional state that makes us less aware of our surroundings.

Our finances are very much the same. To reveal our true finances to anyone, but especially the person most important to us in the world, we have to get pretty financially naked. In both cases we’re highly concerned about criticism or judgment (from ourselves and our partners). We want to know we’re doing things the “right” way. We want to feel connected and safe in both of these high-pressure domains.

If you feel like you have to protect yourself or your partner from a hidden financial truth, you’ll automatically be more guarded in all your interactions, even if you try not to. That guard prevents intimacy in other parts of our lives, especially sex.

On the plus side of things, as a couple grows their connection and communication in one part of their lives (finances), it almost always translates into deeper intimacy in the bedroom too!

How to Handle That Fear of Criticism and Judgment

This might sound a bit counterintuitive, but I recommend NOT coming clean all at once. Ripping off that band aid might feel cathartic and resolving for you, but it may be devastating to your partner.

My recommendation is to first learn or relearn how to trust yourself. This resilience means you can take risks, like disclosing something potentially devastating to your partner. This means being patient with yourself AND your partner.

I recommend NonViolent Communication (Marshall Rosenberg) as a way to both recover from and then to prevent things like financial infidelity.

Couples therapy, of course, is not a bad idea, particularly if the therapist is EFT certified.

Working with a trauma-informed financial coach who’s experienced with this topic is great too. (Full disclosure, I’m a trauma-informed financial coach with experience working with couples with financial infidelity.) If those resources aren’t available, finding a neutral third-party who can listen and help you strategize on how to tell your partner may help!


Let’s Have a Conversation:

What areas of life does financial infidelity damage most often, in your opinion? What signs of financial infidelity might clue a person in? Do you think this is a reversible situation?

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Eleanor Murphy

I recently had a lot of credit card debt and decided to use the National Debit Program. So far, I have to say that it is a legal way of getting out of debt.

The Author

Hanna Morrell is a holistic, trauma-informed financial coach who helps people trust themselves with their money. Her adaptive curriculum respects that every decision we make is either directly or indirectly a financial decision. Hanna delights in teaching her clients how they can build and customize their own money systems.

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