How To Come Clean To Your Spouse About Financial Infidelity

Last month, we wrote about the Forbes survey that found that nearly one-third of of those who combined finances had admitted to lying to spouses about money. But once you’ve cheated, what’s the best way to come clean to your better half?

Over at Reuters’ Prism Money blog, they’ve talked to some experts to get a few pointers on how and when to fess up about your financial infidelity.

The three main things, according to Reuters are:

Find the right time
“Wait for a quiet, intimate moment, and then break the bad news in the most respectful and empathetic manner possible.”

Share your credit record
Don’t just tell your spouse about that ten large you lost playing Keno in Reno; bust out that credit report and let him/her know exactly where you stand financially. “Otherwise, when you’re both applying for a home or car loan, the truth could come out in shocking fashion.”

Focus on the positives
Yes, it’s not going to be pleasant to reveal your money problems to your spouse, but being proactive and coming clean now can pay dividends in the long run. “When I stopped lying about our finances, it took tons of pressure off me,” one reformed financial cheater tells Reuters. “Now we’re both involved in the decision-making, and both on the same page. There’s no more 800-pound gorilla in the room.”

If that 31% rate is accurate, then at least a few of you have had to cope with a spouse or partner lying about their finances. What did you learn and what advice would you share for others facing the same ordeal?

Liar, liar: How to come clean with your spouse about money [Reuters]


Edit Your Comment

  1. rpm773 says:

    Wait for a quiet, intimate moment…

    Wait, how intimate are we talking here?

    • deathbecomesme says:

      Right after climax is best.

    • Straspey says:

      Wait until Half Time…?

    • Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

      “Yes! God, Yes!”
      “I spent our emergency fund on a new wardrobe”
      Oh, God! Ahhh.”

      • rpm773 says:

        “Yes! God, Yes!”
        “I have a confession to make”
        “Yes! God, Yes!”
        “This ’88 Camaro whose back seat we’re in isn’t a rental”
        Oh, God! Ahhh.”

    • The cake is a lie! says:

      As intimate as you can get, I’d wager. Depending on how much you’ve spent that she doesn’t know about, this may be the last time you are in this position. So my suggestion is after the cigarette but before the cuddling.

      • Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

        No, once it’s over, all that blood from your naughty bits returns to the brain. During, when the brain is oxygen starved, is best.

    • jimmyhl says:

      I think the confessor should be wearing enough clothing to escape the house if the confession is met with physical violence.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:


  2. nbs2 says:

    I have a close friend who dealt with significant financial infidelity on the spouse’s part.

    They’re divorced now.

    • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

      I heard a financial expert say something to the extent that someone should divorce their spouse for financial infidelity. I kind of wondered what happened to the for better or for worse part. People make mistakes. People betray each other. As long as the person brings it out in the open and is willing to fix it divorce seems really extreme.

      I love how so many people bolt from relationships for just about any reason.

      • nbs2 says:

        It was the fix it part that led to the divorce. The spouse’s attempts to fix it were lip service only.

        As for the better or worse part, I think the intent is that when your partner is going through the ups and downs that the world throws at them, you stand by their side. I don’t think the expression was designed to accommodate a significant betrayal of intimate trust.

        It’s nice when couple’s can work things out, but I can’t blame folks for ending a relationship that has been constructively abandoned.

  3. Mold says:

    Earlier is better. Why wait for bankruptcy?

  4. RandomHookup says:

    “Honey, I’m having an affair…no, no, just kidding. I have run up $30k in credit card debit, but that’s all.”

    • obits3 says:

      The money thing is almost worse in my eyes because debt = I have to work more! When a spouse spends recklessly (even if both work), it shows disrespect for the hard work of the other spouse. It is like playing soccer were you run the ball all the way to the goal line, kick the ball to your teammate, and then they kick it back the other way!

      “I don’t get no respect” -Rodney Dangerfield

      • Rebecca K-S says:

        Banging someone else when you’re supposed to be in a monogamous relationship is pretty disrespectful, too.

        • obits3 says:

          True, I would be devastated. I guess I was thinking that if they bang someone else, that means breaking fidelity with you and destroying you emotionally. That said, $30K of debt = breaking fidelity with you, destroying you emotionally, AND you might have to pay some of that debt too!

          Worst case scenario = massive debt from an affair

          If that happened: Go to divorce, Go directly to divorce, do not let them pass their debt to you, do not let them collect money from you (file for fraud on the community)

  5. YokoOhNo says:

    Cue: I’m in a perfect marriage. My spouse and I never fight and we would never think of committing financial infidelity on each other. I don’t know how the rest of you do it but, to demonstrate my immense capacity for empathy, I’ll just say “different strokes for different folks”.

    We awake to rainbows and unicorns each morning as our perfect spawn sing our praises.

  6. Underpants Gnome says:

    I assume the talk goes something like this?:

    Krusty: Are you guys any good at covering up youthful and middle-aged indiscretions?

    Mr. Burns: Are these indiscretions romantic, financial, or treasonous?

    Krusty: Russian hooker. You tell me.

  7. Straspey says:

    If one reads between the lines, what’s *really* interesting here is that most of the very few comments (including my own above) are jokes and sarcasm…

    Which leads one to believe that this subject makes many people feel more than just a little uncomfortable – certainly enough so to avoid the topic completely.

    • JulesNoctambule says:

      Since my spouse and I pool our finances and are absolutely transparent about how the money is spent, jokes are all I have to offer as far as experience with ‘financial infidelity’.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        Yep. I know people make stupid mistakes like this all the time, and people end up with the wrong person or with a crappy person, but we don’t hide money from each other, and we discuss how we spend our money.

    • Rebecca K-S says:

      Well, I mean, “intimate moment.” Come on.

      Or for a lot of people, there’s not much to add. My husband and I are transparent with each other about our finances, and I’ve never been attracted to people who routinely make poor financial decisions, so this kind of problem just doesn’t even exist in my immediate world. All I can really do is giggle at “intimate moment.”

  8. MercuryPDX says:

    Most of the time people are “blinded by love” and ignore obvious the signs. Pay attention to how the person you’re involved with handles their money BEFORE you “sign up for a joint checking account”.

    Do they put everything on a credit card?
    Do they get a lot of “wrong number” (aka collections dept.) calls on their phone?
    Do they get a lot of those ominous “final notice” letters in the mail?
    Do they spend a lot of money on “useless crap”?
    Do they talk about saving at all? Are they looking out for their future with a 401k or IRA?

    Taken alone these may not mean much, but together they should be a huge red flag.

    After you’re married may be too late but you should still be actively involved in the household finances… even if it’s just to check over the other person’s math or know your account balances. Don’t be sneaky about it, be up front. Poor money management is one of those things that needs to be dealt with right away.

    Had the wife in the article been more involved, her husband would never had been able to lie to her about the “precarious state of their finances” for five years.

    • Brie says:

      I know two women (actually more, but…):

      Wife A has been married 40 years and has always been “taken care of” financially. Has never had to work. Could spend as needed. Husband has it all set up so that mortgage got paid, kids’ colleges got paid, they all have life insurance and have money after he dies.

      Wife B has been married 20 years and while her husband hasn’t necessarily “taken care of” her, he constantly tells her he’ll take care of it on financial matters, which has led to collections, evictions, and foreclosures. Both have jobs and she can spend as needed, but she’s gone to pay for groceries only to find their card overdrawn.

      They don’t know each other, but it’s interesting to me that “don’t worry honey, I’LL take care of it” is a common thread in their marriages.

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      One thing is before you marry you can offer to help them learn how to handle it. Their reaction can tell you a lot. Not everyone is good with money, numbers or budgeting. Maybe they got hit with unexpected bills (for most people, it’s medical) and it threw them off so much they don’t know how to get back on track.

      The thing is, you can’t offer in a condescending, impatient or power-play kind of way. It has to be a genuine offer of help. The person struggling doesn’t need emotional blackmail on top of financial problems.

      Obviously, if the person is an I-don’t-care-throw-money-around type, that could be a problem.

    • katstermonster says:

      Do they use a lot of “unnecessary quotes?”

      I kid, I kid. But more seriously…these are very good guidelines, but what about the person with stellar finances who later develops a gambling habit? Or the one who doesn’t always make the best decisions, but has always managed to stay just barely out of the red? In general, your rules are good ones, but there are plenty of sneaky people in this world, and there are also lots of honest people who screw up with no warning.

  9. ooeygooey says:

    We know a guy who once cashed out some of his 401k to pay off the fees for the fantasy football league that he plays in with my husband. He had collected all the fees from all the players and taken the money to a casino, you know, to use it as a spot to make more. But he lost it all and didn’t want to explain to his wife why he needed about $1500 to pay off the winners at the end of season. I’m pretty sure he has no intention of ever “coming clean,” mid-coitus or not.

  10. Feral Ginger says:

    I’ve been in this situation in the past, as the guilty one. Although we weren’t married, our finances were combined and I got irresponsible. My finances were an issue long before we were together, but I didn’t warn him about my credit score or horrible habits. By the time I came clean, I was in collections with several credit cards.

    My keeping it a secret was a symptom of a general lack to openness on my part. That relationship ended, for many reasons not limited to the financial problems.

    I’m in a much better relationship now, and I’ve been honest about my finances from the very, very beginning. Word of wisdom to financial adulterers everywhere: It is much, much easier to be open about your problems from the beginning than to come clean to a partner you’ve been deceiving for who knows how long. I promise.

  11. LoneHighlander says:

    The best time to tell them is before they find unknown numbers on the caller ID and trace them back to debt collectors using Google magic. You don’t want to be busted before you’ve come clean because telling the truth only after you’ve been caught is lame. Really lame.

    Betrayal is a good word for it. It’s an emotional blow and it’s very difficult to build up trust again afterward. It’s difficult to even begin to heal the damage with your spouse until you’ve cleaned up your financial mess, which can take years.

  12. goodfellow_puck says:

    Yeah…the worst financial “secret” my husband has ever had was “I stopped balancing my checkbook properly again.” It wasn’t much of a secret since I could tell, and the backlash for it would be somewhat minimal, so it’s not near what some of these stories are. We don’t buy a whole lot, and there’s no place to hide it if we do. We both hate gambling (went to Vegas on a business trip and didn’t gamble at all, or leave each other’s side, for example). The worst things we want to buy are minor…too many books or CDs, not cars and wardrobes. That being said, I’m sure there’s plenty of time for either of us to get coy with the money, and that’s why we still have separate bank accounts, haha.

  13. jason in boston says:

    Date her hotter, younger sister? amirite?

  14. sweetgreenthing says:

    When I have overspent or bought something without running it by my husband (which we both do occasionally but really try not to) I usually just burst into tears and all is forgiven- but I’m talking about $100, not $30,000.

  15. bananaboat says:

    Have two kids in college! We’re unable to be unfaithful with a dollar bill.