Jolene Hammond* was the first to commit financial infidelity in her marriage. But when she found out that her husband had been siphoning money from their joint checking account into a secret account, she was livid, heartbroken, and disgusted.
“Disgusted mostly with myself,” she said. “How could I rationalize being angry with him for doing almost exactly what I’d done to him?”
Financial infidelity is not an uncommon problem. Roughly 40 percent of Americans have admitted to financial infidelity, according to a 2016 study by the National Endowment for Financial Education.
Understanding why it happens and how to deal with it can help repair the damage and foster trust in the future.
Why financial infidelity happens
In Hammond’s case, her financial infidelity was a symptom of deeper issues in her marriage.
“My career was at a high point, and my marriage [wasn’t] quite so high,” she said. Hammond was traveling 10 days per month and often worked late. She felt like she was entitled to spend her money how she wanted.
“Then the bonus checks began to roll in monthly, and that was ultimately how the dance with the devil began,” she said. When her first check arrived, she opened up a separate bank account to deposit the money.
“It was my money,” she said. “I’ve worked hard for that money, and I’m not going to be sharing the money that I’ve sacrificed so much to earn.”
The couple hardly ever talked about their problems, so “every time I deposited a bonus check into the bank account it was like getting revenge,” Hammond said.
Reading the signs
In a relationship, it’s possible that one spouse or partner does most, if not all, of the money management for the household. Here are a few warning signs that your spouse or partner could be cheating on you financially:
- Your partner refuses to talk about your finances at all.
- Your partner attempts to gain total control over accounts and passwords.
- You notice paperwork for an account you don’t recognize.
- You spot suspicious withdrawals or transfers from your joint checking account.
That last one is how Hammond caught her husband. While accompanying her son to the bank to check on the status of his recent auto loan application, she decided to check the balance on the account she shared with her husband.
She was horror-struck to find out that he’d drained it. After more research, she discovered that he’d transferred the money into a separate account he’d opened.
Dealing with the aftermath
Although Hammond felt like she was living the dream with her secret bank account, it all came crashing down during tax season.
“I failed to realize there was a section on my normal pay stub for bonuses and payouts,” she said. “I clearly couldn’t hide the bold print or suggest it was an error.”
To regain her husband’s trust, Hammond started being upfront regarding her earnings and spending. It was during this time that she discovered his financial infidelity. They both had to face the music.
“The feelings of anger, betrayal, [and] grief had to be dealt with if we were going to survive this huge violation of trust,” she said.
The couple attended relationship counseling and financial coaching sessions and ultimately decided to channel their previously selfish motives into rebuilding their relationship. They used the money they’d been hiding from each other to take a two-week, all-inclusive vacation.
“We reinvested the money in us, which seemed like the only right thing to do with it,” said Hammond.
While you can make big gestures, such as taking a vacation, as a couple, you also can take small actions together as you heal from the consequences of financial infidelity.
For example, working on your monthly budget together can help keep both parties in the know. You also can set up weekly discussions to check in and update the budget. Additionally, being more open in general (not just about money) can help rebuild broken trust.
It takes two to heal a relationship
Financial infidelity can damage a relationship, but it doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Responding with accusations and anger might be natural at first, but over time, it’s important to use honest and open communication tactics.
Here are a few ways you can get started on the path to healing from financial infidelity:
- Budget together.
- Be open and honest about all purchases you make.
- Use a password management service, such as LastPass or 1Password, where you can both access the login information for all your financial accounts.
- Consider working with a marriage counselor to resolve deeper concerns.
Rebuilding trust requires that both parties are willing to move forward. If not, you might need to take steps to separate your finances. But if you’re willing to work together, you’ll be able to overcome the betrayal and distrust that come with financial infidelity.
If your spouse or partner also has been hiding debt from you, find out how to best manage that bombshell too.
*Name has been changed.
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