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A reader asked for some advice regarding her husband. My husband never hid debts so I don’t have any experience in this area.

How would you deal with this?:

Can you provide any suggestions for someone whose spouse is still in denial about their spending addiction? My husband has been hiding his debts from me for a long time. Now, because his bills are out of control, he can’t hide it anymore & pay his share of the household bills. I have offered to help, suggested counseling…does anyone have any suggestions?


18 Comments

  • Reply jaye |

    I, like Beks, haven’t experienced this situation. I think I know how I’d handle it though.

    I think that you need to take this very seriously. If you really feel it is an addiction, I would insist on counseling, for the addiction but probably marriage counseling as well. You need to communicate honestly. I would insist that he give up his credit cards until he pays them off, but perhaps a therapist would tell you otherwise. One thing I will say is that you need to take some kind of action immediately.

    It seems you and your husband keep separate bank accounts and separate bills. While I know a lot of people do this, I think it is important to have a full-disclosure (trust) policy when it comes to money. You should be able to open his bills, as he should yours. Why is it secret?

    Best of luck and be strong!

  • Reply Dream Mom |

    Wow, this is a tough question and the answer isn’t very pretty. But here goes. I think a husband and wife need to be on the same page financially, that means each person knows the full extent of the financial situation and all of the household stuff. If they are partners in life, and want the best for each other, I don’t believe they can do that if one person does what they want and the other person has to try to hold it together. Even in this case, one person’s reckless spending can put all of the burden on the wife and then what if she can’t pick up or hold up his half of the finances…well, then you have missed payments and her credit rating suffers as well. His spending also puts her in a position as “the parent” with him as “the child” since she needs to get control of the finances so they don’t go downhill. Doesn’t sound like a fun marriage to be in when you have to play referree and do something. Also, if his spending is so out of control that it puts the household at risk, then how does he feel about her? Would you do that to someone you love?

    Financial issues are typically issues of a larger problem. I say, pick a time (usually weekend) when you know he’s relaxed and doesn’t have commitments. Make a nice dinner and talk to him about your concerns. You need to get on the same page as a couple. If the separate bank accounts aren’t working then you need to figure out a better plan. You need to have total trust where the finances are concerned and one person can’t be sabotaging the couple’s financial relationship. Good luck.

  • Reply Jin6655321 |

    I don’t necessarily agree with Jaye. While marriage is about trust and partnership I also think you need your private space. In fact, I think going through someone’s bill can be a sign of DISTRUST. My parents have completely joint finances and that seems to work fine for them but I can’t imagine doing it myself. Just because you don’t share everything it doesn’t mean your marriage isn’t as strong.

    That being said, like my parents used to tell me growing up, privacy is a privilege earned and clearly The Reader’s husband has not earned it. I imagine he’s feeling a lot of guilt and regret which is just fueling his spending spree (assuming his debt is related to spending and not like gambling or substance addiction).

    I’ve never been in this kind of situation but I am the more (financially) responsible one in the relationship. Sometimes, when I put my foot down, he complains that I am belittling him. But, overall, I think he’s happy to be not have to worry about all the money stuff and we’re both happy with what we’ve been able to accomplish.

    I would forgive him for his debts and offer to take care of the finances and put him on an allowance. At first he might be angry about losing his “freedom” but he might also be relieved to have the burden lifted.

  • Reply Jen |

    I haven’t experienced this, either. I think there’s an organization called Debtors Anonymous, like Alcoholics Anonymous. And, like AA, DA may have affiliate groups for spouses of those with heavy debt and spending issues. I would try looking them up, either Debtors Anonymous or its “helper” group. Try meeting with some its members, either separately or at a group meeting. They can give you insight into how to deal with this.

    Also, if possible, try separating your finances – separate cards, accounts, etc. It won’t protect you fully from his spending, but it could at least protect you from having your credit score affected by him and, heven forbid, him cleaning out your accounts.

  • Reply sorina |

    I have lived through this scenario and survived it. It’s been a very hard road, but we are now better than ever.

    My husband had a lot of secret debt and credit cards he hid from me. We had one checking account and it got to the point where we were always overdrawn. I tried to control the situation by insisting on counseling, getting rid of the cards, etc. He was also in denial and you can’t control someone like that. He has to decide on his own. He thought I was holding him back by making him stick to a budget and not letting him buy everything he wanted. So he left me, thinking that he could do better on his own.

    A year goes by living apart and he bottomed out. Truck repossessed, rented furniture taken back, kicked out of his apartment, arrested for bad checks. Bottom. We ended up getting a divorce. All this time we still kept in close contact and he started realizing what a dollar meant and that he had a problem. He finally agreed to counseling and we went for several months.

    That was three years ago and I’m happy to say now he is doing much better and we are back together and our finances are getting back on track. One big difference is now we keep separate checking accounts and split up the bills. This just works best for us. We won’t get married again until he is completely financially stable.

    Hopefully you won’t have to go through all that I went through. But that’s what it took for us to get to this point. I managed to still end up with good credit after all of this, so my #1 suggestion is to protect yourself. Get your own checking account, put a fraud protection alert on your credit (they call me every time my credit is pulled), and quit bailing him out. I had just rolled about $9,000 onto my credit card with a low APR offer about a month before he left – oh, what you do for love and to keep a marriage afloat.

    I wish you the best of luck in your journey! We still take things day by day and nothing is taken for granted.

  • Reply Starr |

    We don’t have “his” bills and “her” bills in our household. When you’re married in the same household, your liability is joined in insurance, and creditors can go after the spouse for non-payment, so it doesn’t make sense for us at least to keep it all separate. We both have separate savings accounts, but our spending is combined. I think financial privacy within a marriage is strange. It’s fine to keep separate accounts, but there should be absolute transparency.

    You must be a very kind person to still be suggesting things to your husband. I’d be past that point by now. We had a few blow-ups in this household, and I had to lay down the law about us getting on the same page financially. Luckily, this happened right before our wedding, and I told him outright I wouldn’t marry him unless he changed his ways. I know it’s harder to deal with once the vows are exchanged, though. My husband did go to counseling and then put his finances in my hands–I did not demand the latter, but it’s been working for us very well. We have meetings every paycheck to talk about where our money is going, so it’s still a team effort.

    We put all of our bills and debts up on a white board on the wall. It’s removable if we’re having guests, but otherwise, we keep it up all the time so there is nothing we can hide from. We’ve been celebrating our wins, and just recently, we paid off our last credit card. It was vital, though, for him to be reminded of our debt burden–when we met he told me he had a few thousand in CC debt and that was it. Turns out he had more like 20k in debt.

    I think if nothing else, you should go to counseling yourself. It might help you figure out some strategies for dealing with this problem. Best wishes to you.

  • Reply Nichole@40daysof |

    1. They shouldn’t be his and hers bills. All bills should belong to the family as should all pay checks.

    2. You need to explain to your husband in very clear terms how his over spending makes you feel. Eg.: “I feel like our life and our marriage are on the edge of a cliff and about to go over because of this. It must stop now. The conditions for us remaining happily married are: Talk about all bills calmly right now, no more hiding. Go to counseling together immediately. Work on a budget together every month and have a budget meeting every week. I want to be your wife and partner, not your mother or some kind of spending cop. Man up, so I can have the respect for you that a wife should have for her husband.”

    3. Be prepared to find out something worse is going on, like an addiction to gambling, porn, alcohol, etc… If there is an addiction, keep the money to run the household in an account that he does not have access to. Right now, if he’s an addict, he’s also a liar and cannot be trusted.

    4. Do not let him use the cop out of a “spending addiction” unless he can be diagnosed. A VERY MINISCULE percentage of people actually have a spending addiction. Most people who claim to are just immature. And people who do have it usually have a diagnosable mental illness such as bi-polar.

    5. I know my advice sounds harsh. But you have to be willing to calmly have these tough conversations now, so that you don’t end up a divorce statistic.

    Good luck.

  • Reply James Hess |

    You have to confront him about this situation sooner rather then later. THe problem is only going to get worse unless your husband just got a raise or has done a 180 and is spilling the beans to you. This obviously this is your future too we are talking about you have to be straight with him and find out how bad things. He has to get control of his spending sprees and think more about you guys as a team rather then just himself. He is only coming to you now that he needs help , did he ask your opinion before he spent his money?

  • Reply Jeff |

    Unfortunately they need marriage counseling. When you get married everything should become one. Including income and bills. They treat their financial and their marriage like they are roommates. Until then they will forever be in this boat. Marriage counseling is needed here.

  • Reply David - Debt Free Marriage |

    When I was younger.. I WAS this man.

    I didn’t hide the the credit card from my wife because I was a closet spender though; I did it because I didn’t want my wife to know how BAD things were financially.

    I was the one who controlled the money, and she was content to let me do that.

    I didn’t want to let her down, so anytime she wanted something, I could never say “no” to her.

    Once she found out though. She confronted me about it and I spilled my guts. Truth be told, it was one of the best she could have ever done.

    Once all the cards were on the table. I now had a partner and could BE a partner, and together we paid off ALL the debt and have remained debt free since.

    Today, we are happier then ever because we’re on the same page, and we are HONEST with each other.

    A confrontation is definitely needed. However, if he stays in denial, you are going to want to escalate things and may even need to use an ultimatum as a last resort. If he’s going to fall, you can’t sink with him.

  • Reply emmi |

    Seems like your options are 1) become his mom and in-house debt recovery agency and take over all his bills and his paychecks and give him an allowance every week. or 2) sit down and put every last financial document on the table between the two of you (both of your accounts, bills, etc, so that it doesn’t seem like you are only picking on him, per se), come up with a plan and *every night* empty wallets, login to accounts and go over every purchase both of you made. Jointly work out plans to cut costs and let transparency create some teamwork.

  • Reply Jen |

    It is funny because there are really two lines of thinking here: 1. Joint account 2. Separate accounts.

    The one with experience said separate yourself from him to protect yourself. Others who haven’t experienced are saying make everything joint.

    In my HUMBLE opinion, since they are not joint now, she should protect herself. They should have started joint to begin with and then there possibly wouldn’t be this mess. If he is still in denial, she needs to make sure he can not take her down. Besides when he hit bottom, she can be there to keep the family feed, clothed and sheltered. After things are worked out, go joint to keep accountability. You don’t hand an alcoholic 1/2 a bottle of alcohol and say here is your half, don’t drink it. Keep accounts separate and you are putting him in a spot where he is weak.

  • Reply Krystal |

    In all things acknowledge God and he will direct your path. I encourage you to seek both spiritual and professional guidance, as your situation is not a carbon copy of anyone else’s relationship or previous experience. Be cautious about placing a label on your spouse; for example, a spending addict. If you judge his indiscretions he will most likely become confrontational or defensive. Instead, I recommend that you remind him that God put the two of you together, so that together you two can accomplish the most difficult hurdles. I support several of the suggestions from the other bloggers, that you should take advantage of some form of professional counseling – maybe you go initially by yourself and eventually ask him to accompany you. Best of luck.

  • Reply Bella |

    I would get a copies of both of your credit reports as soon as possible to see where you stand. Sit down together and set up a Debt Repayment Plan. Consider suggesting your husband go to consumer credit counseling for his debt.

    I am in CCC through Clear Point Financial and here is the breakdown: it DOES NOT hurt your credit score, it helps it because all of your payments are on-time and all of your accounts are in good standing. They have special relationships with the credit card companies and can negotiate significantly lower interest rates than you will be able to on your own (at least 5% less). Finally, Bank of America was the only card that reported it on my credit report as a notation (still reported me in good standing), so just don’t roll any Bank of America cards into your Debt Repayment Plan.

    Other services they provide that are helpful: they get REAL about your budget and spending, nicely. They help break down the bad habits that got you into this mess in the first place. And, your husband may need a third party to tell him what you have been telling him. He may think you are bias, and will only listen to someone outside the relationship.

    Good luck!

  • Reply Cecelia |

    Thanks everyone for their input. Believe me, it does help to finally hear comments of others who have gone through this. We have had counseling, but he didn’t like either counselor. We always had separate and 1 joint account, and he agreed to remove himself from the joint account, (broken trust). All I have asked of him is to sit down together and plan how to pay OUR bills. He is not interested in sharing/ still in denial. I know he has shared a sob story with other family members, so they can continue to enable him (feed him $$). I feel like shedding some light on his problem to them, but not sure if this would create more problems. We do have a counseling session with a minister, but I think I need to continue with my plan to ensure kids get fed, house note is paid,etc. until I can trust him again.

  • Reply jaye |

    Wow. I’m sorry things are so difficult.
    I think you should absolutely tell other family members. That money they are lending? giving? to your husband is their hard-earned cash. They should know the truth, because by keeping quiet you’re also enabling him, and furthermore allowing him to defraud them. Perhaps you could enlist their help in confronting him and the problem. A little family/peer pressure/embarrassment might be just the thing to get him to face reality.
    Good luck. I really feel for you. Be strong!

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