How To Re-Build Trust After Financial Infidelity

by Travis Pizel · 5 comments

holding hands
My wife and I racked up over $109,000 of credit card debt during the first thirteen years of marriage. I place much of the blame for that on myself, as I hid the totality of our debt from her. After she had gone to bed, I spent nights 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 the hole was that deep. We didn’t talk about finances and we never had 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 what we owe from my wife. Another variation of this debt is someone in a committed relationship getting credit in their own name, or the name of their significant other and then racking up debt without the other person’s knowledge.

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. 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 to 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 half 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 to rebuild their connection and move forward towards a happy and successful future.

We luckily kept it together and stayed as a couple. In fact, we did one better by taking the time to really have that money talk. Are you struggling financially as a couple and don’t know where to start? Here are a few things you need to be open with your significant other about:

How Much Do You Make?

Many new couples find it difficult to ask about their partner’s salary because they don’t want it to seem like they are judging them. Why else would they want to know, right? Wrong. If you’re in a committed relationship, you have to understand how much income you’re bringing in your relationship. This will allow you to plan for your life goals together.

How Much Debt Do You Have?

Debt is an ugly monster and it’s one thing that can drive couples apart. We were the perfect example of a couple who didn’t know exactly how much debt each partner had until years into the relationship. If you have debt (especially if it’s a considerable amount), be open and honest about the situation. Your partner can help you figure out how to pay it off but both parties have to know what they are getting themselves into.

How Much Do You Have in Savings?

Talking about savings is just as important as talking about debt. Most people bring at least some sort of savings or assets into a relationship. But is it something you plan on sharing? Especially if you plan to get married, talk to your partner about your plans for your savings and whether you will combine your finances or keep them separated.

Where Do You Want to Live?

Where you live now might not necessarily be where you want to live in the future. Does your partner feel the same way? Deciding where you live also has key implications for your careers and your cost of living. Make sure you are both on the same page before you move to a brand new city.

When Do You Want to Retire?

As a couple, you will ideally spend retirement together. Even though that can be years down the line, talk about that now. Do you know when your partner wants to retire? Understanding this as a couple will help you determine how much you need to save together and how you will be spending your latter years.

Talking about finances is not always fun and in many cases has led to numerous fights and breakups. But if you plan on spending the rest of your life with someone, you should feel comfortable talking to them about money too. Your finances play a huge part in your life and you should be able to talk openly about it with your partner in life.

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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  • Beau W. says:

    I’ll agree with Money Beagle Travis. You have a great woman there. I never got to ask you if you paid off your debt completely yet. Miss your writing on EOD. Hope your doing well in your newest endeavors.

  • 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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