What Is Financial Infidelity?

money that is on fire
Image by Purple Slog / CC BY

While sexual infidelity gets most of the heat these days, it turns out there’s another form of infidelity that’s markedly more common: Financial infidelity.

Studies show that as many as 41% of Americans say they have hidden secret debts, accounts, or purchases from their partner or spouse.

These sorts of behaviors are known as financial infidelity. While people¬†don’t seem to get nearly as outraged or as sanctimonious about their partner being dishonest about money as they do about sexual encounters outside of the marriage (indeed, people often possess negative attitudes about people having sex outside of a relationship, even when their partner knows about it and consents to the activity), financial infidelity can sometimes have dire real-world consequences, particularly in situations where partners manage their money jointly.

In my time, I’ve actually seen people lose their housing situation when a partner secretly spends the rent money on frivolous diversions or been in a place where their credit was badly damaged because of secret purchases or gambling debts.

Financial Infidelity Was Modeled for Me All the Time as Normal When I Was Growing Up

It’s particularly interesting for me as I watched my mother secretly spend money all the time when I was growing up. My father worked long hours and was frequently away from home at job sites, so this was typically fairly easy. But when he was home, she often had to involve us in her efforts. She liked to go the mall, walk around, and buy new clothes (for herself or her children; it didn’t really matter).

Afterwards, we’d invariably hit McDonald’s to pick up some form of snack. Mom loved McDonald’s, as to her it represented a luxury that she couldn’t afford growing up (her father was physically and emotionally disabled from being in the war, and her mother worked at a time when women generally didn’t and raised four kids essentially on her own, while also tending to her husband, who used a wheelchair).

Anyway, if my Dad were there when we got home from one of our many, many trips to the mall and fast food, she’d usually ask one of us to sneak out to the dumpster (which was set quite a ways away from our house next to the road) and dispose of the fast food trash. She’d also have us stash whatever clothing we’d picked up in our bookbags to smuggle it into the house.

“Shhh,” she’d say. “Don’t tell your father.”

I did what she said but always felt a little weird and guilty about it.

My Childhood Was Marked By Sexual Fidelity With Financial Infidelity

My mother, incidentally, was also an extremely jealous woman. She once famously yelled at my father and left the house for two days after finding a Hooters receipt in his jacket. It didn’t matter that he’d gone there with coworkers for dinner on a work trip. Or that Hooters isn’t actually all that racy.

My mother was furious, and to her, it was a form of betrayal.

She also was known to walk up and cover naked women whenever they appeared in movies that she and Dad were watching (yes, apparently even when they were watching them alone).

It’s kind of weird, given this childhood environment, that I grew up to be consensually non-monogamous, but it is what it is, I suppose.

Anyway, it’s funny with how incensed my mother was by any glint of sexual infidelity (even the possibility that my father could be fleetingly attracted to another woman) that she was arguably committing infidelity to him the entire time, albeit a different form.

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Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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