What Do You Do if You Discover Financial Infidelity in Your Marriage?

marriage and family

Financial infidelity, or lying to your spouse about financial matters, continues to wreak havoc on marriages. A recent study from Debt.com revealed the unfortunate role financial infidelity plays in divorces.

According to the study, 1 in 3 (34%) of divorcees said that credit card debt played a role in their divorce. But for many, it wasn’t just the fact they had credit card debt. It was how the debt came to be. The study revealed that 7 out of 10 who reported that credit card debt played a role in their divorce said they or their ex-spouse had hidden the credit card debt. 8 out of 10 reported that they or their spouse had hidden purchases.

What do you do if you discover that your spouse is hiding credit cards, purchases, or other financial matters from you? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Pray.

Before you do anything, seek God in prayer. As it is written in James 1:5 (NIV), "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you." He is not surprised by this. He knows and sees everything and watched your spouse do these things. Don’t hold back when praying. Express your hurt and frustration to him, but also ask for wisdom on how to proceed and the right heart to proceed in a godly manner. Though your spouse’s actions were unwise and ungodly, you want to approach the situation with godliness and wisdom. You don’t want their sin to lead to you sinning.

2. Try to stay calm.

Proverbs 14:29 (NIV) advises, "Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly." Understandably, emotions are going to be high. You may wish to immediately lash out at your spouse. While such a reaction may feel good to do so at the moment, it can lead to regretful words and actions on your part.

3. Make sure you properly categorize the act.

All financial infidelity is bad financial infidelity. However, there are varying degrees of financial infidelity. A scenario where a spouse has used a secret credit card to visit strip clubs should be approached differently than a scenario where a spouse purchased a $100 collectible that they said they would not purchase. 

4. Gather as much information as possible.

Try to collect as much information about the financial infidelity as possible. Gather documentation like credit card statements or purchase receipts. Make sure you keep copies of the information. You may need it for the next suggestion.

5. Communicate with your spouse.

Ephesians 4:15 (NIV) encourages us to "Speak the truth in love." This is not always easy, but your spouse must know that you know. You must confront them about their actions. Express your feelings and concerns about the financial deception. While you'll need to be careful not to sin in your anger, you also should be direct in your communication. And ask if any other financial matters have not been brought to light.

6. Involve a third party.

Proverbs 15:22 (NIV) says, "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers, they succeed." Financial infidelity is never just a financial matter but is symptomatic of an underlying issue in the marriage. To help unearth the issue and determine a path forward, it is best to involve a third party, like a marriage counselor or a marriage therapist. A CERTCFC® may also be a valuable resource. Find a third party you trust and can bring a biblical perspective to the situation, search out underlying issues, determine the depth of the problem, and help you figure out the next steps.

7. Adopt a system of transparency.

You will likely be suspicious of your spouse’s financial actions for a while. This is understandable. Rebuilding trust will require significant transparency and time. Therefore, create a system that provides such transparency. Make sure both spouses are on all financial accounts (joint accounts). When a joint account is not possible (like a retirement account), ensure that both spouses have the username and password to the account. Consider having weekly or biweekly finance meetings to review all spending and monetary transfers. You may even want to consider regularly reviewing one another’s credit reports to ensure no new accounts have been opened.

8. If the situation warrants it, ask that they have an accountability partner.

God did not design us to go through life alone. Depending on the situation, your spouse may need a godly accountability partner. This person is another person beyond you and the counselor. Your spouse may need someone else to ask difficult and direct questions to ensure they stay true to what they said they would do. They need someone to ensure they are not slipping back into their old ways.

9. Don’t continue to hold it over them.

Assuming they have admitted wrong, sought forgiveness, and have taken steps to demonstrate their trustworthiness, don’t constantly hold their wrong over them. Colossians 3:13 (NIV) reminds us, "Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." Avoid bringing it up in arguments that have nothing to do with the past wrong, and avoid the “You owe me” disposition. If you want to work toward a healthy marriage moving forward, you must forgive them and pursue oneness in your marriage.

God designed married couples to operate as one in all areas of their marriage, including their finances. Financial infidelity can be a serious issue for married couples. If you uncover financial infidelity in your marriage, don’t simply overlook it. Pray for wisdom, address the wrong, involve counsel, and determine how you and your spouse can rebuild your marriage.