Cheating on your spouse isn’t always about sex. It could happen through hiding pricey purchases, creating a secret stash, or hiding debt.
The term for those behaviors is financial infidelity, and four in 10 Americans who have combined their finances in a relationship admit they’ve done it.
Money in marriage is a subject newlyweds Chelsea and Christopher LaFever want to better understand. It’s their second time taking a finance class at Central Church of Christ in Paducah.
“The first time we did it we still had separate finances, so we both had our own budgets that we were dealing with,” Chelsea says.
They hope Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University class will help them tackle more than $100,000 in combined student loans. Chelsea says they talked about that debt a couple of weeks before they got engaged.
“It was kind of scary, because, I mean, debt is scary. So, I think that, in part, delayed the conversation between us a little bit, because it was like, ‘If I tell him how much debt that I have, is he going to freak out? Is this going to wreck the relationship?’” Chelsea says.
Talking about their debt prevented them from becoming a statistic. One in 10 Americans admitted to keeping debt like student loans under wraps, according to a survey on behalf of the National Endowment for Financial Education.
Financial Advisor Dean Owen says money is a very sensitive topic for couples. “So, maybe they don’t want to bring it up, because they don’t want to introduce some possible distrust,” Owen says.
Aside from not disclosing debt, Owen says a lot of times financial infidelity can happen when one spouse handles all the money providing an opportunity to create a secret stash.
“Maybe just going through some tough times, and people think wow maybe something might happen I need to put money away, and then it just becomes a stash and then everything gets fine and they say well maybe I need to buy a boat or maybe I want to go on a shopping trip or those kinds of things,” Owen says.
Red flags to look out for are if you find a receipt with a purchase you don’t recognize, or you don’t see a copy of every bill each month, or your loved one suddenly gets touchy when you talk about money.
When a spouse discovers financial infidelity, 75 percent say it affects their relationship.
“The next step is having and honest conversation, and then the couple needs to sit down and figure out what do they want to do about that,” Owen says.
Whether that’s by meeting with a financial advisor or seeing a marriage counselor, Licensed Marriage Family Therapist Micah Thompson says you need to start rebuilding trust.
Thompson says it’s good to find out: “Where were the weak points in this relationship that this even became an issue, and how can we start to build on that and make sure this is never going to resurface or become an issue again?” Thompson says you can come back from it, but you have to want to work at it and be transparent.
“I think it takes time. For the spouse who’s been hurt by the mistrust, it’s going to take time for them to replace that trust and for them to feel safe,” Thompson says.
Thompson says it goes a long way if you’re the offending spouse to speak up first. If you’re committing financial infidelity or discover it, approach your partner when there’s enough time to talk. Don’t ambush them before an event. Honesty is the first step.
For the LaFevers, they’re newly wed and happy but know financial infidelity is a problem.
“I don’t know if financial infidelity will never happen, because it’s a series of choices that leads up to it just like it’s a series of choices that leads up to really anything,” Chelsea says.
However, they feel the effort they’re making at the start of their marriage is building a solid foundation for their future.
“I think just having that good communication is a good preventative, not to say that it couldn’t happen or anything like that. But, you know, because we are talking about our money, we are making plans with our money, and we’re open about money, I feel like it’s a good place to start,” Christopher says.
The LaFevers have knocked out $12,000 of their student loans in the last year. They credit Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University class. To find a class near you, click here.
Experts say one way to better manage money together is by understanding each other’s financial values. To take a quiz that helps identify what drives financial decisions, click here.