Is Having A Secret Bank Account Financial Infidelity?

Illustrated by Tristan Offit
Talking about money can be really uncomfortable — so much so that many of our money anxieties can spill into our romantic relationships. In fact, keeping a money secret (also known as financial infidelity) is one of the biggest threats to a relationship. Shockingly, a whopping 41% of American couples who share money are keeping a secret from each other. And 75% of couples say financial deceit has had an impact on their relationships.

But what exactly is financial infidelity?

It’s described as the act of hiding or lying about your finances (whether that’s assets or debts) from your significant other. It can start small, like hiding receipts or squirreling away some extra cash, but can grow into larger discretions like concealing accounts or lying about credit card debt. What’s most worrisome is that financial infidelity is actually on the rise, according to the National Endowment for Financial Education.
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So why are couples keeping money secrets?

Most of the time, this behavior stems from fear. We’re scared of being judged by our partners, ashamed of our spending habits, or terrified that our partner may break up with us. And yet the very act of keeping a financial secret may be even more damaging. According to a survey by TD Bank, while few millennial couples would break up with their partner over student or credit card debt, 28 percent would do so over money secrets. The numbers show us that it’s better to be honest and tackle the problem as a team rather than hide things from our partners.
To better understand how these situations arise in relationships, below are three stories from real-life couples who have experienced financial infidelity in their relationships:
My Partner Isn't Capable Of Handling Wealth
I’ve avoided telling my partner how much money I have because I don’t think he is responsible with money. I’ve done well for myself (through hard work and discipline!), and I’m worried that showing him what I’ve got will lead to more arguments — specifically him wanting to spend more and me wanting to save. He also has a stepdaughter whom he spends lavishly on, and I don’t feel comfortable subsidizing. I really do love him, but I just can’t trust him to handle wealth in the same way that I do.
I Love Her But I Also Want My Own Money
I’m a happily married man with two toddlers who are incredible. I recently got a raise and was asked by my wife to deposit my full salary into our joint account. Because I didn’t want her to think we’re anything less than a team, I told her that I’m earning less than I actually am, and I’m secretly putting the extra cash in a separate account. The thing is, she’s eventually going to find out when we do our taxes (we file jointly), but I can’t stand to be questioned for every little thing I buy! I know I’m screwed, but I just can’t find another way out.
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We Didn't Even Know It Was Happening
My husband and I are happily married and pretty open about our finances. Yet I was shocked to find out that he’d actually forgotten about one of his student loans and missed payments on it for a while. He didn’t mean to hide it from me, but his mistake has cost us big time — we are paying crazy-high interest rates for his debt and have to buy everything on my credit since his score is in the dumps. It came up most recently when we were trying to buy a house, and I couldn’t rely on his credit score or income to help us secure a mortgage!
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Some of these stories aren’t far away from the experiences we’ve seen with our own friends and family — it’s not surprising to want some financial independence or be concerned about your partner’s spending habits. At the end of the day, we’re all human and may find ourselves in these scenarios without ever intending to get here.

How do you avoid financial infidelity?

First, start by talking about money. Even though it can be hard or even anxiety-inducing, couples in the healthiest relationships have regular, open and honest conversations about money. Secondly, be up front about your money needs. Women especially tend to avoid asking for what we want, turning to our male partners to make money decisions for us. And if you find yourself already in a situation where your partner has been hiding a money secret, start by facing the issue head-on. Remind yourselves that the behavior usually stems from fear. Many couples have reported feeling stronger after overcoming an issue of financial infidelity rather than avoiding it.
So the next time you hear about a money secret or find yourself keeping one, ask yourself what emotions are behind these actions. In the pursuit of love, we all make mistakes. But it’s how we deal with these mistakes and learn from them that helps us move forward in a productive way and enables our relationships to thrive.
Aditi Shekar is the founder and CEO of Zeta, where she’s on a mission to help couples master their money. She dreams of one day being the Indian Oprah and keeps her skills sharp on The Money Date, a podcast she co-hosts with her husband where they interview couples about love and money.
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