What to Know About Financial Infidelity

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Usually when you read about new ways to cheat on a partner, it's something about social media. Financial infidelity, however, can crop up in all kinds of ways. And now that we've named it, we can start to understand it — and unspool it.

Indiana University marketing researcher Jenny Olson has, with an international team, defined and codified financial infidelity, "engaging in any financial behavior that is expected to be disapproved of by one's romantic partner and intentionally failing to disclose this behavior to them." The coverup, in other words, is an equal crime.

More than 20 percent of Americans need to be more honest with their partner about money, but to qualify as financial infidelity, a pattern of behavior needs to fall into the "FI-Scale" Olson and her colleagues developed. This includes:

  • A preference for ambiguous packaging and shopping at inconspicuous stores
  • A greater likelihood of concealing financial information from their partner in a mobile banking app
  • A stronger preference for secretive purchase options, such as using a personal credit card versus a jointly held card, and cash over credit

There's also a difference between FI-driven behaviors and normal moves like opening and using a savings account. Check in with a therapist if you're not sure about crossing the line — there are even mental health professionals who focus on finances.

"If couples seek professional financial advice, they must be willing to openly discuss their spending and savings habits, debts and financial goals," Olson said. "It is clear that financial infidelity is a barrier to effective planning, as well as to a healthy relationship."