Two Ways To Re-Build Trust After Financial Infidelity

by Travis Pizel · 4 comments

holding hands
I racked up over $109,000 of credit card debt during the first thirteen years of marriage, my wife. I place much of the blame for that on myself, as I hid the totality of our debt from her. I spent nights after she had gone to bed applying for credit cards with low promotional interest rates and shifting balances from one account to another to reduce our payments. Whenever we ran out of money, I would use credit cards to supplement our income. She knew we had credit card debt, but she didn’t know how much. We didn’t talk about finances, and we didn’t have a budget.

I committed financial infidelity.

When it all came crashing down, I was afraid she was going to leave me. I wouldn’t have blamed her if she had walked out the door. Thankfully, she didn’t, and we spent nearly five years paying off that credit card debt.

There are many ways in which someone can be financially unfaithful, here are a few of the most common:

Hiding Pre-Existing Debt

It’s important for people entering a long term relationship together to be honest about their past. Whether it’s consumer debt, auto loan debt, mortgage debt, or student loans, these are details that can affect their future together. If one person enters such a relationship without fully disclosing their debt, that may affect the couple’s ability to invest and plan for the future, make a budget together, and may result in some unpleasant phone calls from debt collectors looking for payment.

Hiding Accumulation Of Debt

This is the kind of financial infidelity that I engaged in. We spent the money together, but since I was solely responsible for the finances I hid the severity of debt from my wife. Another variation of this debt is someone in a committed relationship getting credit in their own name, or in the name of their significant other and then racking up debt without the knowledge of the other person.

Hiding Accumulation of Funds

Financial infidelity also occurs in the case of one person in the relationship accumulating funds without the knowledge of the other. Some people justify this behavior as creating a fund that can be drawn upon in case they need to end the relationship and support themselves.

All of these examples of financial infidelity come down to issues of trust. Trust of being fully honest of their past, or of their current behavior. Any long term relationship requires trust to survive, and when that trust is broken the other person feels betrayed and a sense of lack of worth. If financial infidelity occurs, and both parties agree to attempt to save the relationship, they must be actively engaged with each other to rebuild that foundation of trust.

Budget Together

To get our finances back on track my wife and I began a regular cadence of going over our finances twice a week. We both know what’s coming in for income, and what’s going out for bills. We decide how much we save and how we’re going to spend what’s left.

Some people prefer to keep their finances separate. If that works, more power to them. However, people in a committed relationship should feel comfortable sharing with the other how they are handling their finances, especially what they have for debt and what they’re doing about it.

Review Credit Reports Together

Everyone should periodically review their credit report. Those in committed relationships can build and reinforce their foundation of trust by reviewing their credit reports together. Not only will they ensure that there isn’t any fraud occurring, but it can help keep both parties on the same page with their finances as they build a future together.

Financial infidelity comes in many forms and can be a relationship ending event. But if the relationship is to be saved, there must be a new level of active information sharing in order to rebuild their connection and move forward towards a happy and successful future.

Have you ever been on either side of the equation of financial infidelity? Do you think people in a committed relationship should share all the details of their finances?

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  • Caroline G says:

    It happened to us. I noticed an awful lot of nice merchandise coming in to the house, so I started opening my husbands credit card statements and wanted to throw up-$67,000 on credit cards. It was as bad as if he had slept with someone else. I made a plan to separate from my beloved husband. Trust was shattered. My greatest fear is being poor as I was as a child. But he was truly remorseful and paid it off over years. Those years were Hell but now I am glad we stuck with the marriage. The trust will never be 100% again but We are working on it. We love each other.

    • Travis @enemyofdebt says:

      I’m glad to hear you and your husband were able to work through it and are trying to make it work. Thanks for sharing your story!

  • Money Beagle says:

    You’re very lucky. That would probably break most marriages. I’m glad that you came clean and were able to work it out together, and realizing that you’re lucky in ways that many are not. Thanks for sharing.

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