How couples can recover from financial infidelity

Healing the relationship takes time, effort, care ... and trust

By  |  Published: April 27, 2017

How couples can recover from financial infidelity

Talaat McNeely’s marriage almost didn’t happen because he was keeping a financial secret.

McNeely, a Gulf War veteran, failed to tell his fiancée about a $30,000 debt until three months before his wedding day. During the engagement, McNeely had lied about and concealed the debt because he was ashamed.

“I had terrible money habits,” he says. “I was reckless with my finances, and I fell in love with someone who was great with money.” His bride-to-be was an investment banker.

An estimated 12 million Americans admit to hiding accounts from their spouses, partners and romantic partners, a 2017 CreditCards.com survey found. What happens after it’s learned that one partner has been keeping financial secrets? Healing the relationship takes time, effort and care – and sometimes the help of a professional counselor.

When Tai McNeely learned of her beau’s debt, she was crushed. When he finally came clean, she almost called off the wedding. “I felt like we should put this wedding on hold because there were some trust issues,” she recalls.

Come clean. Do not try to justify or minimize past actions. Make amends with the people you have hurt.

— Addie Anderson 
Begin Within Counseling & Coaching Services

Sometimes, after such a breach of financial trust, there’s no way to heal the relationship.

Leslie Tayne called off her engagement because of money secrets. The attorney and managing director of Tayne Law Group in New York City ended a four-year relationship when her ex-fiancé refused to be transparent with his finances.

“When I started to delve into it deeper, he became more and more resistant,” she says. “That became problematic for me. It became a huge red flag.”

Keeping financial secrets can jeopardize a couple's quality of life, feelings of security and the ability to adequately plan for a future together.

Financial infidelity, though, includes more than hiding credit card and bank accounts. Withholding details about financial decisions or hiding a gambling addiction also can poison a relationship.

At its core, financial infidelity represents a breach of trust with your loved one. To rebuild that trust and maybe even forge a stronger union, money experts suggest these five steps to deal with financial infidelity:

Talaat and Tai McNeely

Talaat and Tai McNeely

1. Own up to your mistakes.
Addie Anderson, a professional counselor with Begin Within Counseling & Coaching Services, counsels those keeping financial secrets to face the problem head-on. “Come clean. Don’t try to justify or minimize past actions,” she says. Facing an angry loved one is never easy. However, the healing can begin once the problem is out in the open. Then, she says, “Make amends with the people you have hurt.”

2. Seek professional help.
Financial infidelity may be deep-seated and stem from childhood experiences. “Couples may need to seek professional help to work through it. It’s not easy,” Anderson says.“The abuser has to dig deep and try to figure out where these behaviors come from. Their attitude about money may cause them to engage in those types of behaviors,” Anderson adds. Oftentimes, an objective third party can help couples identify the underlying problems and develop a plan to address those core issues.

3. Be completely transparent.
Any area of secrecy must now be open for inspection by your loved one – at any time, says Michael Minter, managing partner of Mintco Financial and author of “I-Plan.”

Minter has had clients who’ve struggled to deal with a romantic partner’s financial distrust.

Once the infidelity happens, it’s a difficult process to rebuild trust again. ... Telling the truth will result in a better relationship where you will get a new ally to solve your financial problems.

— Michael Minter 
Managing partner of Mintco Financial

“Once the infidelity happens, it’s a difficult process to rebuild trust again,” he says. “The best thing I advise my clients is to be transparent and honest about their finances. Telling the truth will result in a better relationship where you will get a new ally to solve your financial problems.”

4. Trust but verify.
Couples can put themselves on the road to financial healing by trusting their spouse and then holding that loved one accountable for his or her financial actions. Howard Dvorkin, CPA and chairman of Debt.com, tells couples impacted by financial infidelity: “All money must be accounted for from now on.”

5. Be patient.
Healing from any breach of trust takes time, financial counselors and money experts say. The offending partner must work on changing the bad money habits which created the problem. The offended party must give the loved one an opportunity to show improvement.   

The McNeelys have been married for more than a decade since Talaat’s fiscal indiscretion came to light. Once cooler heads prevailed, they moved on with the wedding. As newlyweds, they learned how to build healthy money habits, and they hold each other accountable.

Why did Tai McNeely decide to support her husband? She says it was because he was sincere about making amends.

They paid off the entire $30,000 debt in the first year of marriage and started HisandHerMoney.com to help other couples work through financial challenges.

Through it all and over the years, she says, “We realized that we needed to work on this together. It was a team effort.”

See related: Financial infidelity: 12 million Americans admit to hidden accountHow to deal with a spouse who spends compulsively, Charged Up! podcast: How to handle love and money


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Updated: 10-23-2017

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