When Your Partner Cheats On You...Financially

It can seem worse than if they'd cheated with another person.


When I was married to my ex-husband, every couple of months he would pull out a cloth Crown Royal Whisky bag he kept in his nightstand full of pocket change, lay the coins out in neat stacks, and roll them to take to the bank and be cashed.

The act seemed so cutely childish, like he was a 10-year-old rolling up coins from his piggy bank to try to buy a candy bar or comic book.

As a couple, our money was joint except for “fun money,” which we’d each take out once a month. We could spend our “fun money” however we wished, and the coins he’d roll and turn into the bank would go toward that.

It wasn’t until much later that I learned my then husband had been lying to me about money: about how much he had, where he was getting it, and what he was doing with it.

He wasn’t buying candy bars or comic books with his. He was buying the drugs he was also secretly using.

There were other things too he did to get money without my knowledge. He collected metal and took it to the scrap yard to get pennies on the dollar. He sold things on eBay, packaging and mailing them off from his work, so I wouldn’t see.

Then there were the other things he bought: the antiques and other collectibles to decorate his “man cave” that he ran up on a secret credit card.

My ex-husband had a problem, a big one: He was financially unfaithful.


The term “financially unfaithful” sounds so silly.

Being “unfaithful” conjures up images of lipsticked collars, the trace scent of another woman’s perfume, or the phone number on a napkin left carelessly in a pant’s pocket.

Not someone lying about how much money they make or having a secret credit card or bank account.

But money, like sex, is about our security.

We feel secure when we know what money is coming in and what’s coming out, that we can cover bills or emergencies. That isn’t all that different from feeling secure that our partner is with us, and us alone.

When we discover that our spouse has been lying to us about something that directly affects our security, it’s a big deal. A big fucking one.

One in three people admit to lying about money to their spouse.

Like anything, small lies can lead to bigger lies.

The casual flirtation at the office that you feel like you can’t tell your spouse about that eventually turns into a full-blown affair. The “minor” drug purchases that turned into my ex-husband embezzling from his job.

You or your partner may be financially unfaithful if you:

  • hide cash

  • hide a bill

  • hide minor or major purchases

  • have a secret bank account or credit card

  • lie about debts

  • lie about the money you earn

These, again, may seem small things to lie about.

But imagine if you discovered that your partner has been stuffing extra cash — hundreds or even thousands of dollars — into a box in his or her closet.

How would you feel? What would you think?

Imagine too if you’d needed that money, and it’d been there the whole time.

Would finding out something like that feel like a betrayal as extreme as if you’d found a dirty text message on your spouse’s phone from someone other than you? For some people, (20% of people surveyed) it would feel even worse than a physical affair.

I’m in that 20%.

Unlike a moment of weakness with a stranger, my ex-husband’s financial infidelity was premeditated and deliberate. It was an ongoing series of choices that all led to him being dishonest over a span of years.


People cheat financially for different reasons, but mostly to avoid conflict.

They hide bills or statements because they know their partners wouldn’t like how they were choosing to spend money. They might be hiding current or past debts, compulsive spending, or maybe even gambling.

Some people also hang onto money that they put into a secret account “just in case” they get divorced, so they know they’ll be okay if that ever happens.

Money is often the number one thing couples fight about. Creating a healthy financial future is a way to solidify a “we” over a “you” and “I.”

Emily N. Garbinsky, assistant professor of marketing at Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame says, “…a couple’s sense of financial togetherness — the degree to which the couple feels their possessions and financial goals are shared — directly affects satisfaction with their relationship.”

Money is also the number one reason why marriages fail.

If a couple can’t work on positive conflict-resolutions strategies around money, they aren’t likely to last.

In successful relationships, both partners have a clear understanding of their financial picture, including the mortgage and tax returns.

It’s important that couples talk about these things. If it’s difficult, it may be time to meet with a financial planner to work on agreeing. A financial planner can act as an impartial third party and help you pull together all the necessary account information.

Your first and biggest conversations should be on agreeing how you want money to work for you as a couple. What do we want to save for? What are our big or long-term goals? How can we still have fun now?

My current husband and I talk frequently about money.

“Too frequently,” he’s told me before, but I know today how important it is to be on the same page around money.


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