Picture this. Your spouse is in graduate school, and you’re supporting them financially while they earn their degree. You have a happy, supportive relationship, and you’re planning to buy a house together. The mortgage broker mentions the need to run a routine credit check.
Your spouse loses it.
Turns out they’ve been taking out credit cards on the sly—spending thousands of dollars they don't have while you put them through school. They’ve racked up serious debt and put your financial future in jeopardy. And they’ve kept it all a secret.
Very few things can damage a relationship like infidelity. And we’re not just talking sexual infidelity here. Financial cheating can be just as devastating, and often involves significant cover-ups and serious consequences for the non-cheating spouse.
If you suspect your partner is financially cheating on you, here are a few things you can do.
Trust your instincts
Does your spouse get defensive whenever you bring up money? Do you fight about it a lot? Have their spending habits suddenly changed? Are you always discovering mysterious charges that your spouse insists are “mistakes”?
Trust your gut here. You’re not wrong to suspect you have a problem.
It’s not unusual for financially cheating spouses to gaslight the non-cheating spouse—by insisting that they’re being crazy or controlling, or brushing off or explaining away mysterious charges. But trust your instincts.
Document each time you suspect something is off. Over time, you may spot a pattern that will help you get at the truth.
Look at your accounts
Sometimes, financially cheating spouses set it up so they handle all the money—keeping you from catching them in the act.
Go through all your accounts and take stock of the damage. Find out how long it’s been happening. Get a sense of the amount of money involved.
Your spouse may have opened bank accounts or lines of credit that you have no idea about. But at least this will give you a start.
Have a frank discussion with your spouse
And be forewarned—this could be difficult.
Cheating spouses often get defensive and try to deflect blame when caught in the act—and this is true for financial infidelity, too. But it’s essential to be open and honest about the situation.
And it’s equally important to be honest about your feelings. Your spouse needs to know the way this issue affects you. Once you’ve gotten it all out in the open, you can start containing the damage.
Determine next steps
The next steps will depend on a lot of factors—the scope of the deception, the amount of money involved, whether your spouse continues their secret spending habit even after swearing they wouldn’t, and how much this has damaged your finances as well as theirs.
For some couples, therapy may help. In very serious cases, a breakup may be the only option. For some people, secret spending is an addiction—and it’s very unlikely the spender will stop without treatment.
Regardless of the next steps you agree on, it’s a good idea to separate your finances from theirs as much as possible for the time being. If you share bank accounts now, transition to separate accounts—and make sure your spouse doesn’t have access to yours.
This might feel like doing the same thing to them that they’ve done to you, but in your case it’s self-defense. A financially cheating spouse can wreck your credit, drain your bank account, and put your financial life in jeopardy. You need to protect yourself.
It’s also a very good idea to keep track of your own credit. You’re entitled to a free report from each of the three major credit bureaus each year, and if you pull one every four months, you can keep consistent track year-long.
Beyond that, consider putting a freeze on your credit. It’s possible for your spouse to open lines of credit under your name without your permission, and if you have the better credit score, they may be tempted to.
Keep the conversation about finances going. Spending addiction is serious, and may require counseling. Even if you clear the air, your spouse may continue to spend—so keep a careful eye on the situation. Trust, but always verify.
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