When you hear the word “infidelity,” you probably think of sexual transgressions. If discovered, the affair may be fatal to the primary relationship. But another type of infidelity — financial infidelity — can be equally destructive. I speak from personal experience.
In financial infidelity, one partner in a committed relationship (where both should be transparent about their finances) hides his or her assets or debts.
Perhaps you didn’t tell your husband or wife about expensive clothing or gadgets you bought because you know your mate would be critical. Or your fiancé hasn’t revealed his pile of credit card debt because he fears you’ll dump him if you find out.
My father urged me to check the public real estate records. So I did and got the biggest shock of my life.
Worse, you could be like the victim on ABC’s new series, The Catch, who didn’t hesitate to write a personal check for $1.4 million to her conman fiancé for their new LA home just before he disappeared out of her life.
My Husband’s Money Secret
Let me tell you my story about the shocking financial secret that my husband (now, ex) kept for nearly a decade, which I describe in greater detail in my book, Gold Diggers and Deadbeat Dads: True Stories of Friends, Family, and Financial Ruin. I hope you can learn from my experience and avoid becoming a victim yourself.
My colossal error before we married in 1990 was that I hadn’t asked “Mark,” an executive at an architectural firm, about his financial past or present. I didn’t know what he owed or owned. I married for love, so details didn’t matter, right?
I was so wrong.
When we met, Mark lived in a modest condo. That didn’t matter to me, since I wasn’t a material girl. As long as the basics were covered, I was happy.
The condo was a bit crowded, so after a year, we moved to a spacious apartment. We planned to rent there for a few years until I finished law school and had a job. Meanwhile, we figured, we’d keep the condo as an investment, rent it out and later sell it to buy our house.
But you know how life goes. You set your course, and then some rogue wave comes along and upsets your little rowboat.
Sure enough, Mark lost his job at the architectural firm and our financial troubles started. We considered various options. I suggested he sell the condo, since we needed the cash, not the real estate. Mark resisted. I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t accept my reasonable solution. Keeping in mind my late mother’s advice about marriage being a partnership, however, I dropped my suggestion.
I confided in my father about our financial troubles. He suggested that perhaps Mark took out a second mortgage on the condo or had sold the place without telling me. Preposterous, I thought. Mark and I were a team. He would never keep a secret like that.
My father urged me to check the public real estate records. So I did and got the biggest shock of my life. Mark, it turned out, didn’t own the condo. Never had.
He was only a renter when we met and I moved in, even though he told me he owned the condo. Mark probably never even had my name added to the lease for the year that we lived there, I suspected.
I had so many unanswered questions: Why did Mark lie to me about his financial situation? Didn’t he know that eventually I’d find out that he never owned the condo? How were we supposed to buy our house if he had nothing to sell?
This was financial infidelity because Mark had a secret relationship with his non-condo. He deliberately lied about his assets and concocted a future plan that was impossible to carry out. For nearly 10 years, Mark encouraged me to believe that our marital balance sheet was healthy; in reality, it wasn’t.
When I saw the property records, it felt like I had walked into our bedroom and found Mark in bed with another woman. Or a man.
How I Reacted to His Financial Infidelity
My reactions to his financial infidelity? Shock. Anger. And then, a determination to accept some of the blame for the whole mess and move on with my life.
I was afraid to confront Mark initially since I had dug under his financial rocks and uncovered an ugly secret. I knew he had a temper, although he was never violent or abusive to me. But I didn’t know how he’d react to my discovery. What I did know: I had to protect my physical and emotional safety and keep myself from being talked into forgiving him and staying.
I plotted my escape for weeks while searching for an apartment and getting quotes from movers. I felt guilty about lying to Mark. How ironic.
Next, I made an appointment with a divorce attorney and had my estate lawyer chang my will. I didn’t want to get hit by a truck and let Mark inherit what little I had left.
Finally the big day came when Mark was out of town.
It was the most difficult phone call I’ve ever made. I told him I signed a lease and had moved out. To this day, I can still hear the long gasp in his voice.
The first year after I left Mark was not easy. I was strapped financially. About two years earlier in our marriage, I had gradually loaned — and lost — my entire life savings to fund Mark’s architectural consultancy startup which later went bankrupt. (That’s a story for another time.) I lived in a city with a high cost of living, but I was determined not to exist in a rat hole apartment.
It sounds trite, but I learned to appreciate the simple things. I couldn’t afford to go out often. Saturday night meant taking a warm bath with fragrant bath salts, drinking a big glass of red wine and listening to opera music.
I was in no mood to start dating. I doubted my judgment and other men’s motives.
“Rebounding” is a bit misleading. It sounds like I fixed everything quickly and simultaneously. Instead, it was a gradual, although non-linear, process.
Fortunately I had a good job at a law firm and managed to stay employed during this period of turmoil. In time, I rebuilt my life, both financially and emotionally. I even got new careers out of the whole debacle, in personal finance and writing.
A Lesson and Advice to You
And here’s the critical lesson I learned about how to avoid financial infidelity: Before you marry, move in or otherwise jump into a life together, each partner should disclose all his or her financial facts, including:
- Assets (cash, investments, real estate, retirement)
- Credit card, student loan and medical debts
- Loans to or from family members or friends
- Alimony or child support obligations from prior marriages
- Businesses (I later discovered that Mark had run a prior business into bankruptcy)
- Credit reports (get them from Annualcreditreport.com)
- Salary and deductions (or income and expenses, if self-employed)
- Savings and spending habits
- Charitable donations
- Wills, trusts and other end-of-life documents (update them regularly)
Today, I no longer consider myself a victim. I’m proud that I’m able to help many people who read my book, visit my website and hear me interviewed on podcasts.
If you’ve been down a tragic economic road like mine, I hope this article gives you hope and shows you that there is life after financial infidelity.