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3 Horrible Outcomes of Financial Dishonesty in Marriage
Updated: January 09, 2021

The Terrible Consequences of Financial Dishonesty in Marriage

My mother loves to tell stories about how precocious I was as a child. I often pushed the boundaries just to make sure they’d hold up.

A favorite story my mom likes to tell occurred when I was three years old visiting a cousin who lived on a small lake. After we arrived and hugged every relative, Mom told me, “Megan, no swimming.”

From a young age, I loved the water. I loved the feeling of it on my skin, the way it effortlessly bounced me about, all of it!

Does that mean when mom returned from filling her lunch plate and found me soaked and splashing away in the lake—not swimming—that I was unfaithful? Or did we not really discuss the exact boundaries?

I know what you’re thinking. I knew better. Yep. I’m fairly certain I understood the entirety of her request and I’m pretty sure I knew my choice was wrong. But I couldn’t help it (did I mention I LOVED the water?).

Sometimes it feels that way with our spouse and money. We agree on a budget, but spending just feels so good! Or, we guard a secret stash of cash because saving feels comforting. Does that mean we’re financially unfaithful?

Are you honest about money in your relationship or are you “swimming” without a lifeguard?

Like my former soggy self, are there times when we have a vague understanding that our behavior isn’t right but the lines seem fuzzy enough that we ignore them?

Taylor and I use the term “financial infidelity” to refer to a host of troubling, money-related behaviors: lying, hiding, hoarding, controlling money, or anything that involves one spouse being less than honest with the other.

We know “fibbing” about money is not 100% right—but did you know it’s ruining your marriage in these 3 ways?

1. Money lies erode trust.

The foundation of a solid relationship is trust. If you lie or “bend the truth” you harm not only your relationship now, but also going forward.

If you can’t trust what’s coming out of your spouse’s mouth, where does it end? Do you have to pick and choose which statements are real and which aren’t? A solid commitment is based on the ability to believe what they say is true. A solid relationship commits to trust there will be no financial dishonesty.

In a CreditCards.com survey, only 52% of couples believe “their significant other is honest with them when it comes to money.” HALF of couples? Fifty-two percent is a failing grade!

If you think they won’t find out, you’re wrong. They will uncover the lies. Especially with today’s technology, your spouse will uncover your dishonesty and the results could be worse than a slap on the wrist. You may have ruined your finances and your marriage.

Trust your spouse enough, to be honest.

2. Lying about money leads to low self-esteem.

Not to go all Dr. Phil on you, but lies are an indication of low self-esteem. A person who lies runs the risk of not only eroding their relationship but their own sense of self.

Experts say, “low self-esteem invites and promotes dishonesty. When self-esteem is low, it feels necessary to lie at times—to ourselves, others, or both—in order to avoid painful consequences.”

So a spouse with low self-esteem lies to avoid confrontation. Those individuals with healthy self-esteem know that the truth may hurt, but they are big enough to state the facts and handle the outcome.

3. Little money lies lead to big money lies (and big money issues).

The reality is that even little lies about money eventually lead to larger money lies. So if you’re justifying your “fibs” right now because you don’t see it as a huge amount of money, it’s a slippery slope. You start by saying “it costs $50” (when it really costs $80), which may lead to opening a secret store credit card to cover up the next big purchase you don’t want to admit.

When people get away with little lies about money, it opens the door for them to be convinced that it won’t hurt for the lies to get a tad bigger each time. The financial dishonesty grows.

Twelve million Americans admit to having a secret “source of money.” That “secret” can be a stash of cash, a secret credit card, or even loans from friends. Don’t be fooled into thinking the Spenders and Risk-Takers are the only people who are lying to their spouses about money; Savers often lie about the amounts they have squirreled away.

Any dishonesty with a spouse about your spending or saving is called “financial infidelity.” Sound bad? Yep. That’s because it is.

In fact, 31% of survey respondents said keeping credit cards and other accounts from a partner is worse than physical infidelity. WORSE than!

In which case, just like cheating physically on your spouse is dishonest and destructive, so is cheating with your finances.

Years ago we met with a couple for a financial planning session where a $34,000 credit card debt came to light that the wife had no knowledge of. The discovery caused way more damage to their relationship and their finances than any credit card purchases will ever add up to.

There is never a time when lying is right. We teach our kids that. And it definitely doesn’t change after you get married.

We understand you don’t always agree on how to approach money; it isn’t a fun topic for most couples. But we encourage you to learn more about how you approach money individually.

Odds are you don’t view it identically. In fact, we’ve found 70% of people are married to someone who approaches money completely differently than they do. If you understand and value your differences, then you can honor them and create a strategy that works for both of you to avoid financial dishonesty.

Honesty and planning sure beat eroding trust, being less than honest, or butting heads the rest of your marriage.

We’ve created a Financial Infidelity Scale that can help you get on the path to recovery, and heal from the wounds of financial infidelity.

If you are not being honest with your spouse, please stop. It leads nowhere positive. You owe each other the truth.

Taylor & Megan Kovar

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