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Would You Rather: Financial Conflict or Financial Deception?

Why does financial deception plague 75% of romantic relationships?[1]

Research suggests it is because people would rather hide the truth from their partner than start a financial argument.[2] Deceptive financial behavior might include things like hiding cash, purchases, and bills, or being dishonest about income or debt. While financial conflict can lead to divorce and lower marital satisfaction,[3] financial deception is not a good alternative.

money in a wallet

The top deal breaker for young adults’ romantic relationships is keeping financial secrets,[4] yet 41%–58% of people report deceiving their partner financially on an annual basis.[5] So, what seems to prompt financial deception?

Research shows that partners may be less than fully honest with each other about money if they have different financial beliefs. For example, a person may hide their debt-creating purchases to avoid financial conflict with their partner, who might treat debt like the plague. Preliminary evidence suggests that financial deception like this, as you might expect, is not good for a marriage.[6]

Despite this preliminary evidence, however, researchers have not explored the impact that financial deception might have in young adults’ romantic relationships—married or not married. To further understand the impact of financial deception in young adult romantic relationships, Dr. Ashley LeBaron-Black and her colleagues asked 1,950 young adults in romantic relationships about the role of financial deception in their relationship.

Matthew Saxey (lead author), LeBaron-Black, and their associates found a very strong connection between couples consistently communicating about finances together and the quality of their romantic relationship. Financial deception partially explained this association. This means that consistent financial communication might benefit young adults’ romantic relationships because it lessens the tendency for them to financially deceive each other.

The authors were also interested in whether how young adults were taught about money while growing up played a role in later financial deception in their romantic relationships. Surprisingly, they found that the better young adults were taught about money in their childhood and teenage years, the more often they financially deceived their romantic partner later. Essentially, the way young adults were taught about money growing up, especially if they were taught well about money, can have negative impacts on their romantic relationships, depending on how they used their financial knowledge and skills.

couple arguing

Saxey, LeBaron-Black, and their colleagues were also interested in how financial values between partners might play a role in financial deception. Financial values have been shown to benefit romantic relationships, but that also means that dissimilar financial values between partners can translate to lower-quality relationships.[7] In the study, they found that financial deception fully explained this connection. That is, when young adult romantic partners have similar values about money and how money should be spent, they financially deceive each other less, which benefits their romantic relationship. However, when young adult romantic partners do not have similar values about money, they financially deceive each other more, which negatively impacts their relationship.

Finally, the authors considered the impact that financial deception had on the quality of young adults’ romantic relationships. After accounting for several related factors, financial deception still predicted a lower quality romantic relationship. In essence, if young adult romantic partners deceive each other about finances, it is likely to harm their relationship.


1. Communicate about finances. When young adult couples have regular, open, and intentional discussions about their finances, it is very likely that they will enjoy a higher quality romantic relationship. Consistency in financial communication is the key. To facilitate consistency, young adult couples should set a time each week to discuss their budget, upcoming expenses, their financial goals, how much they are saving each month for these financial goals, etc. If couples have a hard time communicating consistently about money, they may need to seek help from a marriage and family therapist or financial therapist. This study suggests that any effort to make consistent financial communication happen would be worth it.

2. Use your financial knowledge and skills for good. This study showed that better financial education young adults received while growing up was connected to more financial deception within romantic relationships. While this is surprising, it illuminates that many emerging adults use their financial knowledge and skills to deceive their romantic partner—but they do not have to. Indeed, financial knowledge and skills present an opportunity for young adults to use their financial knowledge and skills to help their partner and others. Young adult couples can teach each other financial skills, which could help the relationship become more financially savvy, instead of using these skills for their own benefit.

3. Align your financial values with your partner. Although it might take some time to reconcile financial differences through open communication and compromise, the result may be a better relationship with less financial conflict. That is, emerging adult partners should collectively discuss (and agree upon) their financial goals and create and subscribe to financial values in line with these goals, which could lessen financial conflict in the relationship. In aligning financial values, compromise is needed. For example, couples might consider allowing each partner a certain amount of money each month that they are not accountable to their partner in spending.

4. Be honest with your partner—including about money. Young adult couples should avoid falling into the trap of financially deceiving their partner because the result is expensive: a strained relationship. Instead, couples should be transparent about all things in their relationships, including about money—and even previous money mistakes. Honest, and consistent, financial conversations can strengthen the relationship and keep both partners financially accountable.


These results suggest that financial deception is not good for young adult romantic relationships. Through frequent, transparent conversations about money, couples can be better equipped to reconcile money differences and strengthen their relationship.

[1]National Endowment for Financial Education (2018). Celebrate relationships, but beware of financial infidelity.

[2]Garbinsky, E. N., Gladstone, J. J., Nikolova, H., & Olson, J. G. (2020). Love, lies, and money: Financial infidelity in romantic relationships. Journal of Consumer Research, 47(1), 1–24.

Jeanfreau, M. M., Holden, C., & Brazeal, M. (2020). Our money, my secrets: Why married individuals commit financial infidelity. Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal, 42(1), 46–54.

[3]Britt, S. L., & Huston, S. J. (2012). The role of money arguments in marriage. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 33(4), 464–476.

Dew, J., Britt, S., & Huston, S. (2012). Examining the relationship between financial issues and divorce. Family Relations, 61(4), 615–628.

LeBaron, A. B., Holmes, E. K., Yorgason, J. B., Hill, E. J., & Allsop, D. B. (2019). Feminism and couple finance: Power as a mediator between financial processes and relationship outcomes. Sex Roles, 81(3), 140–156.

[4]Huddleston, C. (2019). This one money habit can ruin your relationship, survey finds. Nasdaq.

[5]National Endowment for Financial Education (2018). Celebrate relationships, but beware of financial infidelity.

Trujillo, S., Erickson, J., & Dew, J. (2019). Does financial deception in marriage affect relationship quality? Institute for Family Studies.

[6]Jeanfreau, M. M., Noguchi, K., Mong, M. D., Stadthagen-Gonzalez, H. (2018). Financial infidelity in couple relationships. Journal of Financial Therapy, 9(1), 1–20.

[7]Totenhagen, C. J., Wilmarth, M. J., Serido, J., Curran, M. A., & Shim, S. (2019). Pathways from financial knowledge to relationship satisfaction: The roles of financial behaviors, perceived shared financial values with the romantic partner, and debt. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 40(3), 423–437.

Mao, D. M., Danes, S. M., Serido, J., & Shim, S. (2017). Financial influences impacting young adults’ relationship satisfaction: Personal management quality, perceived partner behavior, and perceived financial mutuality. Journal of Financial Therapy, 8(2), 24–41.