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Are you guilty of financial infidelity?

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Can cheaters be forgiven?
Once financial infidelity is discovered, can trust be restored to a relationship? Hayden and Stern agree that it depends on the underlying reasons for the cheating.

"The deeper issue is, what's the health of your relationship? Is your relationship one where lying is no big deal, or is it a big deal?" says Stern. "In any great relationship, lying is likely to happen once in a while. But if it becomes a core dynamic and you find yourself hiding money, then what's next? If somebody can lie to you about money, who draws the line on what else is OK to lie about?"

Hayden uses what she calls the four cornerstones of a relationship -- commitment, respect, trust and compromise -- to show why cheating of any kind damages relationships over the long term.

"Cheating may be the presenting issue, but underneath it, it usually has something to do with ongoing lack of trust, lack of respect or one of us doesn't have commitment. Can we find a middle ground and not lose ourselves? Because if we can't find a middle ground -- if it's going to be your way or my way -- it's not going to work."

Open, honest communication about all things financial, including the couple's money agreements, can help two people rebuild their relationship together. It's in the dark places, from secret spending to hidden account balances, that doubt and suspicion take root and grow.

Unilaterally taking steps toward some secret money goal can erode trust in your relationship and deprive you of the opportunity to work together and develop problem-solving skills, an important tool for a long-lasting union.

While damage caused by deceit can be repaired in any relationship, Hayden says "gaslighted" couples may have a better chance of weathering financial infidelity than those where one party didn't see it coming.

"If somebody finds out something that is a secret, truly, truly a secret, then I worry," she says. "Then it's more than an illusion of control or safety or personality or style. Then it's something bigger."

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Posted: Jan. 4, 2007
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