A recent study published in Frontiers in Psychology sought to unravel how individual behaviors and beliefs about marriage are related to marital financial deception and extramarital affairs. The study provides evidence that moral commitment, personal dedication, and engaging in flirtatious behavior with someone besides one’s spouse are important predictors of these two types of marital deception.
Lying about financial matters in marriage and cheating on a partner are two common types of marital deception, but they have often been studied independently. Survey results suggest 40% to 60% of couples may engage in financial deception. Meanwhile, studies on extramarital affairs tend to indicate that factors such as prior sexual promiscuity, dissatisfaction in the relationship, and lower commitment to the marriage are key predictors. However, little is known about the potential link between the two kinds of betrayal.
Understanding the predictors of these actions is essential since financial deception and sexual infidelity can be damaging to the relationship, and Jeffrey P. Dew and colleagues hypothesized that researching them together may reveal unknown connections between the two. Moreover, having a deeper understanding of financial deception and sexual infidelity can help practitioners when working with married couples who could face these issues in counseling sessions.
“I have been doing research on the role money plays in adult romantic relationships since the beginning of my academic career,” explained Dew, a professor at Brigham Young University. “After my conference presentations, practitioners (e.g., marriage and family therapists, financial advisors/counselors) would approach me and ask whether I had studied relational financial deception. This was often a problem for their clients.”
“I always responded that I had not researched the topic and as far as I was aware, not many people had. Because this seemed so relevant to practice, this has always been something that I have wanted to study. Adding the construct of extramarital infidelity seemed a natural fit.”
Dew and his colleagues recruited 2,000 married couples in the United States to explore what factors may lead to financial deception and extramarital infidelity. Social Exchange Theory was used as the theoretical framework for the research. The theory “suggests that relationship rewards, costs, expectations, and alternatives interact to entice individuals to remain in, modify, or leave their relationships (Thibault & Kelley, 1959).”
Participants completed assessments of relationship satisfaction, moral commitment to their marriage, personal dedication commitment to their marriage, flirting with someone other than their spouse, marital financial deception, extramarital infidelity, and the importance of religion.
Examples of martial financial deception include behaviors such as hiding a bank account from one’s spouse or lying to one’s spouse about the cost of a purchase. Extramarital infidelity was defined as having “anal, oral, or vaginal sex with someone other than their spouse and without their spouse’s knowledge and approval.”
The participants were categorized into four groups: those who had engaged in financial deception but not extramarital infidelity, those who had engaged in extramarital infidelity but not financial deception, those who had engaged in both financial deception and extramarital infidelity, and those who had engaged in neither.
The researchers found that heightened relationship satisfaction predicted lower odds of having engaged in financial deception. But relationship satisfaction was unrelated to extramarital infidelity.
Having flirted with someone other than one’s spouse predicted a 49% higher likelihood of being in the financial deception but not extramarital infidelity group, a 219% higher likelihood of being in the extramarital infidelity but not financial deception group, and a 458% higher likelihood of being in the financial deception and extramarital infidelity group.
Heightened moral commitment predicted lower odds of financial deception, while greater personal dedication commitment was associated with lower odds of extramarital infidelity. Participants were considered to have a high moral commitment to their marriage if they disapproved of actions such as “following an old flame online.” They were considered to have a high personal dedication commitment if they agreed with statements such as “I want this relationship to stay strong no matter what rough times we may encounter.”
The findings indicate “that being committed to one’s marriage was negatively associated with any type of marital deception,” Dew told PsyPost.
Interestingly, there was no association between personal religious importance and either extramarital infidelity or financial deception. In other words, those who considered religion to be highly important were no more or less likely to have engaged in either form of deception compared to those who considered religion to be of little importance.
“We were somewhat surprised that religiosity was not related to any type of marital deception once other variables were in the model,” Dew said. “Historically religiosity has been a strong (negative) predictor of extramarital infidelity.”
But the findings, like all research, include some caveats.
“The data are only cross-sectional,” Dew explained. “As a result, we can’t be sure of the direction of the associations. For example, marital financial deception might actually weak personal commitment to one’s marriage rather than personal commitment to marriage decreasing the likelihood of marital financial deception. These associations need to be tested using longitudinal data.”
Despite these limitations, the research adds to the existing body of knowledge by offering fresh perspectives on what predicts marital deception. According to the research team, “in addition to generating new knowledge, our study has identified new questions regarding the phenomena of ‘money lies’ and ‘extramarital ties.’ The association between sex and money in adult romantic relationships remains an important topic of study.”
The study, “Money lies and extramarital ties: Predicting separate and joint occurrences of financial deception and extramarital infidelity“, was authored by Jeffrey P. Dew, Matthew T. Saxey, and Alison Mettmann.