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Relationships

Financial Infidelity in Romantic Relationships

How partners cheat on each other financially.

Key points

  • Research finds that people often cheat on their partners financially.
  • Financial infidelity involves hiding savings, debts, and spending from your partner.
  • Keeping money-related secrets in relationships is the number-one financial deal breaker.

Imagine that you have been dating someone for several years. You have gone out to lavish sushi restaurants for dinner, flown to Miami for a beach trip together, and gone to a Rolling Stones concert where the tickets were front and center. Your partner always wears nice clothes, recently got a new car, and even brought home a thoroughbred dog. Life is good, and you and your partner are planning to tie the knot. As you discuss finances, a taboo topic you have tactfully avoided discussing throughout your relationship, you learn that your partner has saddled themselves with thousands of dollars in debt! How would you feel in this situation?

Finances are one of the most taboo conversation topics within relationships.

It feels awkward or uncomfortable to discuss finances with our friends or colleagues, and this feeling carries over when discussing finances within our romantic relationships. Earning a salary you are not proud of, investing in a company or venture that flopped, or carrying debt in your name can be embarrassing and can often be difficult to admit to your partner with full transparency. Due to the uncomfortable nature of personal finances, romantic partners may resort to financial infidelity.

Financial infidelity is defined as any financial behavior expected to be disapproved of by one’s romantic partner and purposefully not mentioning this behavior to them. Common examples of financial infidelity include hiding excess income or secret savings accounts, lying about how much debt is in your name, or making expensive purchases that you do not tell your partner about. Money is the most common source of tension between romantic partners, and sexual infidelity (i.e., cheating) is a well-known recipe for disaster in romantic relationships. This research bridges these two concepts, defining and exploring how often financial infidelity occurs between partners.

Types of financial infidelity

Sampling a large group of participants, the researchers discovered that financial infidelity tends to fall into six categories: spending, saving, debts, gift-giving, gambling, and income. Three common behaviors participants admitted to were:

  • If I really wanted to purchase something, but my partner did not approve of the price, I would consider buying it anyway and not telling him/her. (Spending)
  • I would hide a bill from my partner to avoid upsetting him/her. (Debts)
  • Sometimes I avoid telling my partner how much money I spend on gifts to avoid confrontation. (Gift Giving)

The researchers found that 85 percent of participants in romantic relationships had hidden or lied about spending at least once before, 59 percent had hidden or lied about savings, and 40 percent had taken on debt and not told their partner about it. As you might imagine, financial infidelity is detrimental to supporting healthy, transparent relationships.

Opening up and being honest with your partner about personal finances is not easy, but it is vital. Telling your partner about every little purchase or gift you buy isn’t necessary, but mentioning the big stuff is. Even though it feels easier in the moment to lie or withhold the truth about a financial decision your partner may not be happy to hear, being honest will pay dividends on the trust you feel for your partner, leading to an ultimately stronger and healthier relationship.

References

Garbinsky, E. N., Gladstone, J. J., Nikolova, H., & Olson, J. G. (2020). Love, lies, and money: Financial infidelity in romantic relationships. Journal of Consumer Research, 47(1), 1-24.

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