The Impact of Financial Infidelity Asymmetry on Couples’ Financial and Relationship Well-Being

Hristina Nikolova, Boston College
Jenny Olson, Indiana University
Joe Gladstone, University of Colorado Boulder

Award Amount: $2,500


Financial infidelity (FI)—engaging in and concealing financial behavior expected to elicit spousal disapproval—is common within marriage. How do couple-level dynamics in the propensity to commit FI (FI-proneness) influence couples’ financial and relationship well-being? Across three studies, including real bank account data from a mobile application, we demonstrate that couples with greater FI asymmetry (i.e., greater divergence in the two partners’ FI-proneness) report having misaligned financial goals, which predicts negative financial communication and, ultimately, lower financial and relationship well-being. The effects are robust across different operationalizations of FI asymmetry (i.e., self-reported scores, proportion of hidden bank accounts) and different operationalizations of financial well-being (i.e., total assets, subjective financial well-being). Building upon prior work on FI at the individual level, our research represents the first investigation of FI dynamics within marriage and highlights that it is not just the presence of FI, per se, but the differential levels of partners’ FI-proneness that pose harm to the couple.


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