Updated on 09.16.14

Credit Card Debt: Marriage, Privacy and Honesty

Trent Hamm

Archie writes in:

In our marriage, my wife and I have agreed not to open financial statements addressed to each other. We supposedly did this so that we would be able to hide things like gift purchases from each other. Whenever we talked about our finances, we just talked about balances on accounts and didn’t worry about individual items on each other’s bills.

Over the last few years, I’d noticed more and more bills from various banks sent to my wife, but I hadn’t really thought too much about it. Yesterday, we received a call from someone from Citi who wanted to speak to my wife about her account and made it clear that the account was overdrawn and past due.

I was frustrated and worried, so I dug through the mail and found her most recent statement from Citi, which was unopened. I opened it. She had a balance of over $7,500 on it. I was just shocked, so I opened some of the other statements with her name on it that I could find. From just what I could gather in a few minutes, I found that she has $30,000 at least in credit card debt.

I put all of the statements in my bedside table for now. I don’t know what to do next. We certainly don’t have $30,000 to pay these off right now and even the minimum payments are difficult. It looks like my wife has been juggling accounts a lot because there aren’t many payments on our recent bank statements.

What do I do next? I don’t know what to do and I’m afraid of the big fight we’re going to have.

I originally included Archie’s note in my reader mailbag for this week, but I had enough to say about his situation (and I figured readers would, too) that I decided to devote a whole article to it.

First of all, this isn’t just about your discovery of the credit card debt. There has been a long history of dishonesty here – and that’s what I would call it, dishonesty. Marriage is a union based on trust and $30,000 in credit card debt is a pretty strong violation of that trust. It is going to take a lot of work to dig out of that debt.

In short, my suggestion would be that you seek marriage counseling, first and foremost. You’re in a situation now where you’ve both violated the trust in the marriage – your wife has been hiding tens of thousands of dollars in debt and you’ve opened up private correspondence to her. You have a perfectly good reason to feel that your trust has been violated and to feel upset. So does your wife.

This means your marriage has some very serious trust issues that you need to work through in order to be able to move forward successfully with a financial plan.

Why? A financial plan in a marriage only works if you can fully trust one another. You need to be able to trust that your partner is actually working towards the same goals with the same methods as you are and that if either of you run into trouble, you’ll work it out together. If you can’t trust each other, then a financial plan cannot work.

The first order of action, then, is to re-establish the trust.

If you’ve reached a point where you feel that you can trust each other again, then turn your eyes to your financial situation. View the past as water under the bridge; instead, focus on where you’re at now and how you can make your situation better from your current position. What-ifs don’t help with the here and now.

The first step to recovery would be a mutual commitment to spend less than you earn. Remember, of course, that part of your required spending is the debt repayment and also remember that you (as a couple) are spending far beyond your means (witness the $30,000 in credit card debts). Thus, this will be a lot harder than you might think. This step will take some serious work on its own. You’ll both have to face your spending head-on and make some difficult choices. But you have to get that spending under control.

Second, you need to create a debt repayment plan. A debt repayment plan is easy to set up and helps you develop an orderly method for paying your debts down.

Finally, and most importantly, the two of you need to discuss goals together. What do you want for your mutual future? Where do you see yourselves in five years or ten years or twenty years? What exactly will it take to get there? Obviously, getting control over your spending and getting rid of your debts are two big steps, but those are just two steps. You need to work together to figure out what comes next and how to get there.

Good luck.

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  1. Adam P says:

    I’m thinking her “violation” was a lot lot lot bigger than his in this case. He only went to the statement after getting a phone call from a collection agency about it…any rational person would do the same.

    The “not opening correspondence about finances” was set up to have romantic gifts together, not to hide MASSIVE credit card debt from another person.

    He probably should have confronted her about the call before he opened the bill but comparing that on any level to charging up $30k+ in credit card debt without telling your spouse is ludicrous in my mind.

  2. Brandon says:

    I do not understand why couples make agreements like this in the first place. Marriage means you are joining two separate lives into one, in all aspects. Both become accountable for family finances, even debts incurred before marriage. This should have been caught a long time ago!

  3. Jon says:

    I realize that hindsight is 20/20, but this couple traded not wanting to find out about the details of a few gifts each year for $30,000 in debt. Something that could have been avoided if they were more willing to share financial information. I think its ok to not want to spoil a surprise, but they still could have been sharing CC balances after bills were opened.
    This is why I think it is extremely important that finances in marriage be shared. My wife and I have a joint account that all the money goes into and then separate checking accounts for our own personal spending. We share our finances with each other at least once a month. Its not on a set schedule, but we always allow each other to see the balance of the other persons credit card and we always make sure both cards are paid in full every month.

  4. Deborah says:

    To Archie – I’ve BEEN there, on your wife’s side. She WANTS to tell you, I know she does, there’s nothing more that would make her feel better, but she’s afraid you are going to freak out. She already feels terrible and is trying to manage things herself the best way she can. You’ve probably noticed she’s become more withdrawn, snappy or stressed, this is why.

    When my husband found out about the debt I’d been hiding it came as a huge relief. He was upset and pissed off, but it was a huge step in our marriage and to have things out in the open was like a weight off my shoulders.

    You’re lucky that you have some time to gather your thoughts before confronting her. You need to do that, but I guess my only advice would be to stay calm and reassure her that you still love her and although you’re upset, that you will figure it out together.

    I don’t think she wants to hide this and lie to you, which makes me tend to disagree with Trent. There’s not some insidious underlying dishonesty, it’s just plain scary and easier to just avoid. Now if there’s dishonesty in other area’s of your marriage, then maybe he has a point, but I truly think, having done this same thing myself that there’s nothing that she wants less.

    Be prepared that initially she will yell at you for opening the statements, but give her time, because that’s really just her way of detracting from the fact that she’s not the only bad guy. She should get over it quickly and realise that it’s a blessing that you now know and she’ll be relieved.

    Best of luck. Mail me if either of you want to chat, we’ve been there done that and come out much stronger because of it.


  5. J says:

    I really feel for you, Archie, but I agree with Trent that you likely have deeper marital issues than the financial ones. I am picking up that your wife is likely rather dominant and you want to say “yes” to her. So you are hiding the “evidence” in your bedside drawer and not telling her for fear of the repercussions of having a fight. Well, keeping the problem in the bedside drawer isn’t going to make it go away, it’s only going to make it worse. You need to confront her. Now. There’s nothing you can do that will make this problem better, and step one is bringing the problem out into the light. Step two is likely cutting up all the credit cards in the house, and step three is likely to be hard and unpleasant, since you are likely to be enduring a significant lifestyle change that will likely involve draining savings accounts, selling off major assets (cars, house, jewelery, electronics, boats, ATVs), not taking vacations and so on.

    If you want a framework to work through this financially, I highly recommend “The Total Money Makeover”. As for the marriage side, find a counselor or if you are religious, your place of worship might be able to help, too.

  6. Johanna says:

    Seems to me like there’s a step missing here. From his letter, it sounds like Archie hasn’t even spoken to his wife about the debts yet, and she doesn’t even know that he knows about them. Nor does he know how she came to run up the debt. The first step is how to broach the subject.

    My guess is that Archie’s wife already feels embarrassed and afraid about the debts, so approaching her with accusations (“You violated my trust!” “You’ve ruined our finances!”) aren’t going to do anything right now but make the situation worse. And Archie says he doesn’t want a big fight.

    I’m the last person who should be giving marital advice, but maybe he could try something like this: “I got a call the other day from Citi that made me worry, so I opened some of your mail. So now I know. And we are going to get through this, and it’s going to be OK.” Then take it from there.

  7. Nicole says:

    Start with, “I love you. I am here for you. I want you to feel like you can talk with me. We can get through everything together.” Then… “I got a call from Citibank…” Listen, don’t blame. Remind her you love her. Talk about goals and solutions as a team.

  8. J says:

    I can also tell you from personal experience that my wife and I no longer argue about money. I think the biggest contributor to this is that we are on the same financial page, so we have a common vision. The second reason is that we have a monthly budget meeting where we are forced to review all of our spending and account balances, and to talk about how we are spending money for the next month. I think this works like a “safety valve” since we don’t let financial issues pile up month after month or year after year, so there are no nasty surprises.

    I do concur with Jon that in a marriage all finances should be shared and open to both partners. Note that I’m not saying “you need to have a joint account” — that’s just logistics. But the gift thing is really a lame reason to keep accounts private, as there are many ways to hide a gift purchase from your spouse. You can pay in cash, agree not to look at the bill until after the occasion, etc.

  9. Shannon says:

    Divorce her and get out. Her debts are not your debts.

  10. Nicole says:

    It’s also ok to say that you feel hurt that she didn’t feel that she could confide in you when she was having trouble. That’s what marriage is about (and you love her).

    Focus on what can WE do. Not what can she do.

  11. Amanda B. says:

    This has a name: Financial Infidelity(however, her debts are your debts, so the divorce idea is not only cold, but poorly founded). I also have a hard time believing that your “priviate correspondence” rule was not a premeditation for this exact situation. Given that, I think you have much more ground for anger than your wife. It is like having a “we don’t check each other’s voicemail” rule because your spouse KNOWS their boyfriend is going to leave a message. Having said that, I agree that you need to seek counseling first. Your wife may need counseling on her own as well because her spending sounds like it may be an addiction (out of control, keeping secrets, etc.). I know that this seems very difficult, but people do get through this. I would set up your appointment with the counselor and then tell your wife exactly what you told Trent. By setting up the appointment first you set the tone that this is a VERY big deal, but that you have already committed to staying with her and working on your marriage. I am sure she will be embarrassed, so (if you feel this way at all) be sure to stress that you are really hurt that she would hid this from you.

    Some time in the future, you should look into selling (at a loss) anything you guys have that is part of that debt. It is important to note that some of that stuff may have been for you (gifts, surprises). By being willing to relinquish you part of the ill-be-gotten wares, you are taking your share of the responsibility. Good luck and hang in there. Remember: this has the potential to be one of those moments where your marriage is truly fortified. 

  12. Laura says:

    Why do I get the feeling that it was the wife’s idea to keep the bills private from each other?

    It sounds like she has been hiding things from Archie for a long time, and the weak excuse of “I don’t want to spoil gift surprises for you” sounds secretive, even manipulative. This sounds like a woman who is well-practiced in hiding her tracks and lying to others. It may even be bringing her satisfaction or pumping up her ego to know that she is hiding things from you.

    I think Archie needs bring this up directly with his wife ASAP. He needs to tell her everything he knows. She could have emotional or self esteem issues that are making her spend out of control and manipulate you. Ask her what she’s feeling. Why is she doing this? Find out what’s wrong.

  13. J says:

    Tagging onto Amanda’s comment, remember that this is “only money”. Given enough time and patience, you can likely work though this and get a stronger marriage out of the bargain. If your wife had developed an illness and taking care of it put her $30K in the hole, it would be viewed in a totally different light.

    I’m guessing that with her trying to shuffle the bills around she was trying to make things better, so it’s entirely possible that she already is trying to work it out somehow. But if you work on it as a team you are likely to have better results.

    As for the divorce idea, it’s highly likely that her debts are indeed his debts since it sounds like they were run up during the marriage. There are plenty of reasons that Arthur’s wife could have been running up these debts out of being “good” to others — buying people lunch/dinner/gifts, etc. Of course, it could all be blown on designer handbags and other stuff, but at this point it really doesn’t matter, they need to concentrate on the now and the future, since concentrating on the past isn’t going to make things happen quick.

    And since there is no mention of kids, it’s entirely possible that they both could take on extra part time jobs and bang this thing out in a year or two, maybe faster if they can sell off material stuff they don’t need. $30K is indeed a pile of debt, but I’m betting that no one here thinks twice and develops a serious state of envy when they see a Camry, Accord, Malibu or Taurus drive by on the road — and that’s pretty much what they have to pay off.

  14. Dinky says:

    This kind of financially infidelity is grounds for a divorce. Find a good lawyer and you won’t have to pay that debt. From your letter, you sound scared of your wife. Do you really love her or are you just with her because of inertia or the fear of change?

    If you truly are in love with her, work it out and be honest with her and yourself. If not, get out and don’t get remarried.

  15. Joanna says:

    The whole keeping gifts secret argument is a LAME, though common, excuse for living separate financial lives.

    At my house, we routinely open each others mail. Not because we want to see what deep dark secret is being kept, but just b/c we don’t pay that much attention to the addressee. My husband already knows my ugly secrets and I his. He is, as he should be, privy to all the small details of my life. It’s the sharing of little things that build our intimacy.

    And that gets to the heart of the issue here. There is a lack of intimacy as well as (or perhaps due to) the lack of trust. They need to work on both fronts to repair their marriage.

  16. Joanna says:

    Oh, and I agree with Johanna’s comment that a calm, respectful approach is the better one. It’s so easy to use anger as a mask to how we truly feel (hurt, shut out, maybe betrayed) Oftentimes you can choose to confront in anger, which simply obscures the true feelings (and limits intimacy) and makes the resolution of the problem take that much longer. A better way is to wait until he is able to get the anger out of it, then confront her with his hurt. Might be scary to be vulnerable, but that’s what marriage is.

  17. Shannon says:

    Amanda B. – check the law – debts of a spouse are not debts of the other spouse no matter what state the couple lives in. Even in community property states (which is what I believe you’re referring to), there is a defense if one spouse wasn’t aware of the debts of the other, as obviously seems to be the case here.

    For me financial infidelity of this magnitude is as bad as infidelity generally and is certainly a reason to get out.

  18. Sherry says:

    Whoaaaa!! This comment:

    “First of all, this isn’t just about your discovery of the credit card debt. There has been a long history of dishonesty here – and that’s what I would call it, dishonesty.”

    is rather far reaching!! Dishonesty as in lying about relatioships with others, etc? Do you know that? What I do know is that Archie’s wife has not been financially honest over a period of time. Is her spending out of control? Absolutely!! Did she hide it from her husband? MAYBE!! We have heard Archie’s side, but not his wife’s. There are always 2 involved in the dance of marriage.

    I think your advice is sound & worthy. As posted by others, Archie turned to the computer 1st & not his wife…is that a form of “dishonesty?” Yes, because when we turn AWAY from our spouse & to someone or something else for support, comfort or answers, then we are being dishonest.

    I don’t agree with his wife’s spending & I don’t agree with hiding it, but they had some form of agreement which precipatating into this mess. There is clearly a need for communication.

    All I’m saying is there is more to this situation than has been presented & to broadly state there has been long term dishonesty without additional fact is a stretch.

    I feel bad for Archie & having to deal with all this “unexpected” debt. But did Archie faciliate monthly meetings with his wife to discuss finances? Did they discuss goals as a couple? Sounds like they did not do this… Sounds like they both had their heads in the sand for a variety of reasons, none of which we are privy to at this point…

  19. Suzie Bee says:

    I imagine Archie’s wife feels terribly guilty, which is why she’s been hiding it for so long. I agree with Johanna and Nicole that the first thing to do is let her know that you love her and won’t judge her.

  20. Larabara says:

    Archie doesn’t say whether he knew his wife’s credit history before they married, or what his wife was buying to the tune of $30,000 worth of debt.
    I can’t help but wonder if he noticed any high-end items in the house, or other evidence of her spending during their marriage. And I also can’t help but wonder if it was his wife’s idea to keep the financial statements secret–she may have already been aware of her runaway spending habit and successfully hid it until now.

    In hindsight, these may have been clues that something was financially amiss, but in Archie’s defense, I know that love can make people overlook even the most obvious clues, and not just about finances. Love truly is blind.

    On another note, some psychologists think that people can compensate for a basic need is being unfulfilled by engaging in some kind of destructive behavior, like overspending.

    A good marriage counselor is definitely in order here. I wish you the best, Archie.

  21. partgypsy says:

    The wife was lying (or keeping secrets) Archie:

    “Whenever we talked about our finances, we just talked about balances on accounts and didn’t worry about individual items on each other’s bills.” If she was being honest then he would have known about the balances on the accounts. He didn’t even seem aware of the number of accounts she had open, let alone the balances on them.

  22. Kevin says:

    The way I see it, there are 2 main ways this could have happened.

    First, Archie’s wife may have originally stuck by their agreement and only used her card to buy gifts. Then maybe one day she needed an afternoon at the spa and put it on the card. Then maybe she was surprised by a request from a relative for some cash. Figuring she could pay this all back, she didn’t see the need to burden Archie with this information. Maybe a couple more “emergencies” cropped up unexpectedly, and the debt got out of control. By the time she realized she was in trouble, maybe she was too embarassed to admit she needed help, and it just spiraled from there.

    If that’s the case, then I think they can recover. As Trent said, they need to reestablish trust and reconnect as a couple. They need to be 100% on the same team.

    However, there is another possibility. How was Archie’s wife able to rack up so much debt without catching Archie’s attention? She must not have been spending it on tangible things, or Archie would have noticed. Thus, it’s possible the money has been going to support a drug or gambling addiction, or marital infidelity. In any of those cases, I don’t see much hope for saving the marriage.

  23. Amanda B. says:

    “If you apply for a credit card without your spouse’s consent, then rack up serious charges and fail to pay it back, your spouse becomes responsible.” -Associated Content

    “However, in most community property states, both spouses are equally responsible for the repayment of debt incurred during the marriage, even if only one spouse enjoyed the benefit.” –Free Advice dot com
    There are others, but I don’t know what counts as a reliable source for legal advise on the internet. Speaking from my own divorce experience and that of my husband (one in TX and on in SC), any debt accrued durning the marriage prior to legal separation is considered marital debt. Further more, unless he can prove he knew nothing about it and didn’t benefit from anything purchased, he is still responsible. So unless she bought big ticket items specifically and solely for her own use, he is also responsible. If you have a better source for me to look into, I would be happy to check it out(I don’t like being factually wrong, so if I can “upgraded” I will)

  24. Sherry says:

    @partgyspy: You are right, she did withhold information i.e. lied to Archie. I’m not excusing her behavior, all I’m saying it the “agreement” they had i.e. not discussing specific items, not opening mail, etc. may have helped her to feel like she was justified in lying about her spending. I agree with Larabee, did Archie not notice various items she had purchased.

    Again, I’m not excusing her behavior, all I’m saying is there is more to this situation than just her running up $30K on credit cards.

    There are financial “rules” in a every relationship, be it spoken or unspoken. And every relationship has different rules. I feel honesty is the #1 rule. My husband & I have the agreement that anything over $300 be discussed with the other. Although, never discussed, we “ignore” this rule for birthdays, anniversaries, etc. We have access to each others accounts (we have an “ours” for family expenses & a “mine” as I have to help manage my 89 y.o. father’s funds via my account, this was done for legal purposes). Do I discuss my father’s finance’s with my husband, yes, when it is appropriate, but he trusts me (after 26 years) to not be deceptive.

    On the other hand, my 1st husband was an absolute money control freak..budget to the very last penny. I left after he made me return a 1/2 lb. of magarine to the grocery store for going .13 over the food budget. It is individuals like my ex-husband (and it can be women who assume this role as well) that create an atmosphere in which “hiding” expenses or purchases is fostered.

    Again, we are only hearing about a small piece of Archie’s & his wife’s problems…

  25. Honey says:

    I also wonder how she could have racked up this much debt without him noticing – either expensive items lying around, or behavior (travel, dining out) that wasn’t in keeping with his understanding of their financial situation.

  26. DDFD says:

    Wow! What a disaster! Marriage is a partnership and Archie made a mistake not demanding full disclosure. This is almost like his wife had an affair . . . with credit cards.

    My ex-wife had a shopping problem– I had to pay it off twice (foolishly). The third time I put my foot down and we were divorced– unfortunately that could be the end result here.

  27. kristine says:

    Oh Kevin- no one “needs” and afternoon at a spa. And there was never a mention of only using the cards for gifts.

    Even sans the trust issue- there is definitely a lack of communication, and a lack of direction in this marriage. Not insurmountable, as Archie speaks with love, not contempt.

    Spendaholics hide debt out of shame. TLC is called for- the moment of truth will likely be met with defensiveness, denial, and a sense of devasation. It is no different than if he discovered his wife had a drinking problem. Do you throw them out, or try to help?

    To each his own conscience.

  28. J says:

    I concur with the others who remind us that we are only hearing Archie’s perspective. Likely there is his side, her side and what really happened :)

  29. prufock says:

    Re: #18, Amanda
    Isn’t there a clause in the pre-nup agreement to counter that?

  30. Sherry says:

    Ditto J!!!

  31. Kevin says:


    People put way too much faith in prenups.

    There’s a fundamental truth in all contracts: the law trumps the contract. Specifically, you cannot sign away something which is otherwise a right. For example, since slavery is illegal, any contract you sign agreeing to be a slave is completely unenforceable. It would not stand up in a court of law, regardless of how strongly worded it is, or even if you admit to having signed it.

    This same principle applies to family law and prenuptual agreements. My jurisdiction has particularly strong family laws, such that prenups are virtually a waste of money. Say a rich man and a broke woman get married. They’re madly in love, and they both willingly sign a pre-nup stipulating that if they ever get divorced, she’s entitled to no more than 10% of the joint assets. Then the marriage falls apart and she angrily decides she wants the full 50% she’s entitled to. She would GET the full 50%, EVEN THOUGH SHE SIGNED A PRENUP GIVING UP HER CLAIM TO ANYTHING MORE THAN 10%. The law trumps contracts. You cannot sign away your right to things the law guarantees you. Contracts that seek to do so are unenforceable and will be THROWN OUT by a judge.

    Prenups are worthless. Save your money, and instead make sure you’re marrying someone you truly trust.

  32. getagrip says:

    In my opinion while I hope he found the worst of it, he’s likely only scratched the surface of the debt load and the issues. Guaranteed that when he brings it up, no matter how gently or supportively, she’s going to go high order and try to turn it on him, most folks with a problem do just that. Once the dust has settled somewhat I think much of the advice is spot on. I just think Archie needs to be aware there may be more revealed, then some more after that. That’s where the councilling really would need to come in if they want to continue the relationship.

  33. Amanda B. says:

    I am not an attorney, however I thought that for a prenup to matter 1) you have to have one and 2) it applies to assets/liabilities that the individuals had prior to the marriage. Had they not been married when she accumulated this debt, he would have a better chance of not being legally responsible. However, it sounds like she got the debt while they were married, so it is marital debt.

    However, all of that is moot in my mind because I am pro (this) marriage. It is rarely sound financial advice to divorce (hence the adage “it’s cheaper to keep her”) and I get very weary of people pushing the divorce button at the first sign of trouble. I think this relationship can heal and become stronger and I advise Archie to try.

  34. Craig says:

    I am with #20 – How do you not notice $30k worth of stuff coming into your house??

  35. michel says:

    You need to talk to you wife instead of listening to the people on this website….including the author.

  36. Jane says:

    My sister found out that her ex-husband was hiding around $50,000 of debt. In her case, I think that it was willful ignorance for years. At the beginning of the marriage, she basically gave him complete control of their finances. She used the credit cards too and was fully aware that they were maxed out. I know this because multiple times in my presence before going shopping she would ask her husband, “What card can I put this on?” This certainly implied that she knew they were all close to their limit. She ended up using financial irresponsibility as her reason to divorce him, but I think ultimately it was just an excuse. To this day she still refuses to take any responsibility for their financial problems.

    Archie’s case sounds difference, since it sounds like his wife had credit cards that he didn’t know about. Regardless, if they divorce, it is my understanding that it will still be his debt. And divorce is DEVASTATING financially, so I wouldn’t do it for supposed financial reasons. If he feels that his trust has been irrevocably violated and the relationship is beyond repair, that’s another story, but in this case, I wouldn’t say they couldn’t work it out. But I also wouldn’t say that are equally to blame. It is clear that she has been deceptive for quite a while.

  37. Kat says:

    Don’t prenups protect assets you have BEFORE marriage? So if you are worth a million going into the marriage, your spouse agreed that it was pre-marriage money, and thus has little standing to now claim that it was a marital asset and thus can’t take half? But the millon you made during the marriage is fair game, even if the prenup signer said they’d be nice and not take it. So, in the case, the lesson is to make all your money before you ever get married, or marry someone you can trust.

    I’ll go with trust, and not hiding statements so I can give gifts. When you are presented with a present, you can usually pretty much guess its value and assume that your spouse paid for it and did not steal it, so you know whether they just spent $50 or $500 on your gift, and bank statements don’t have the exact item you bought listed, so even if you know your spouse bought something from a flower shop or a computer store, you won’t know what it is until you receive it. In the end, even if you hide the statements, hiding the amount due is just wrong, especially when you are claiming to be telling the amount.

    I think that no matter how Archie starts this conversation, his wife will be mad and start a fight. It may be best to have 2 conversations–one in which Archie explains he knows, and then wait a week and try again with a conversation on how to fix it and how to not hide anything any more.

    Assuming that the $30k was not spent on other men or on anything illegal, I see no reason for Arhcie to go straight for divorcing a woman he loves when there is a chance she can fix this and this issue will make them stronger in the long run.

  38. Mimi says:

    My husband did something very similar. We needed to open a credit card for him to re-establish his credit. He argued that he didn’t want me to look at it because he wanted to learn how to do it by himself and he would use it just to by gifts. Well the first time he bought a few online video games, I was mad, but I let him slide with a second chance. In Sept, we were making our budget together and he said the balance on the credit card was what it was supposed to be (about $500 because of a trip we had taken). A few weeks later I found out the credit card company had raised his maximum balance from $500 to $1500 and he’d been buying online games for about 3 months, with a total of about $900. I only found out because he would not show me the account and the balance he was quoting me was a little wonky. After 2 hours of fighting he finally broke down and told me about it. My first thought was: “what did you spend it on” (I don’t know what I would have done if it was porn, or worse). And because he was so ashamed, he then committed to our budget and we paid off $20,000 in debt in the next 4 months.

    So my advice is that it’s hard to come at it sensitively. But rage will not help. I think by the time you find out that your partner’s been essentially lying to you like that, you’re kind of dumbfounded. Hopefully the embarrassment of it all will make your wife want to work hard on paying it off, as it did my husband. In a way, I don’t think we’d be as well off financially right now (only 8 months later), if this didn’t happen because now we’re both in this together. Things will get better as long as you can use it as a stepping stone to go up.

  39. Daria says:

    I found this interesting because my parents do the opposite.My siblings and I are going through trust issues with my parents right now. My mother claims that my father is a control freak over money. He claims to give her a generous allowance for groceries that is more than she needs. She has been hiding the excess from him and then claims that he is stingy so that she cannot go out to lunch frequently with friends or splurge on a pedicure like her friends but she has $35,000 in her name only that I just recently became aware of. He has given her cause to not trust her by changing joint accounts to his name only POD her name, but I see her retaliating by doing the same thing. She will come to my siblings and I and claim that she and my dad are living paycheck to paycheck and they need a new roof or how are they going to pay this years property taxes, and expects us to chip in (there’s four of us) and help out. They have two fully paid off houses-one in Texas and one in Florida. They have no credit card debt that I am aware of. After we chipped in in August to buy her a used car, we found out that she did have a CD. Now we find out that it’s $35K. She is disappointed that we kids are not chipping in to help her live in one of those all encompassing retirement communities like one of her friends children is doing. I don’t mind helping out if they really need it but I have one sibling who just went through a divorce and my husband and I are still putting a child through college.I work 3 part-time jobs-one getting up at 6:15am to be a crossing guard in all sorts of weather while my mom sleeps in, goes to bridge, book club and sits on the beach. My parents have always been frugal but splurged on traveling all over the world because that is what they valued. We lived in South Africa where we had a 3900 sq ft home with a pool, tennis court,and servants. My mother resents my father for bringing her back to the States. I feel manipulated and I’m wondering is this a sign of mental illness or how long has this dishonesty been going on.

  40. J says:

    I did think of two possible reasons Archie’s wife hasn’t told him anything. Of course, there are a billion other reasons that it could be entirely her, but here are two that could absolve her completely of the financial mess — but not of the communications mess.

    – This card is tied in with her job, and she had to put something on it for work to cover a business expense. She could be late filing the expense report, of her employer could be late paying it, they could be disputing the charges, etc etc. Meanwhile the charge sits there and she is getting stuck with it. My wife once had to charge $40K on a Amex card to secure a facility for a conference … so it does happen.

    – The wife’s identity has been stolen, or the charges are fraudulent. I doubt this is likely, because Archie doesn’t indicate they all came at once, and I would have expected the wife would have mentioned it to him if this were the case.

  41. Jon says:

    Shoulda gone to peoplesearching.com and looked it up for yourself prior to the union. Trust is a hard thing to come by these days. We live in a time when secretaries are stealing boss’ identities for mortgages. But trust has nothing to do with unopened mail. Yall are married, which means you get to share in the good and the bad. Secretive behavior begets issues. Its not being accommodating at that point. I really feel for you though. Trent you gave some solid advice.

    I would like to turn everyone else on here to a personal finance site I found: thriftiest.com. In penny pinching times not unlike these, comparing goes a long way.

  42. Rebecca says:

    Besides marriage counseling, which is a must for them, I would recommend financial counseling as well, for both of them. I know Dave Ramsey does seminars like that. And if it turns out that his wife does have an addiction to shopping, she may need one on one counseling for that as well. Sometimes the shopping is a symptom of a larger problem, insecurity, depression, lack of intimacy, stc. SOme people gamble, some drink, some cheat, some shop.

  43. Crystal says:

    My financial advice is very similar to Trent’s. I also think you two are going to need to communicate more and seek counseling if you want the marriage to last.

    My husband and I have very similar financial values, so if this happened to me, it would be a major betrayal and I’d probably leave him. But my priorities are obviously going to be different than yours – honesty is way up there for me. So is financial stability (not amount of money, but the stability of knowing our bills are paid and we don’t have to worry much about our future).

  44. Crystal says:

    Oh, and I might get fussed at for this, but I don’t think you violated her trust by opening the mail. If you had just decided to snoop, that’s one thing. But, you received a call from a creditor. That, to me, opens the door to find out what’s going on…obviously, she wasn’t telling you and it’s your mutual debt.

  45. Jenny says:

    My husband and I have been through something similar. It was far less debt, but a couple of other big secrets that were worse than the money. He was the dishonest one and finally came forward with the truth because he had no other choice. It actually turns my stomach to read things like this.

    Anyway, I wanted to say that, contrary to what some have said, in my situation it wasn’t ME that wanted so badly to please my husband. I’d rather have the truth out the minute something goes wrong, and literally had no idea what was going on over a period of at least a year and a half. HE wanted to please me and has had lifelong issues with disappointing people. He made mistakes and covered them with lies from elementary school on, and was extremely good at it. All these issues came out in counseling and now I sort of understand where he’s coming from.

    First we sat down to discuss every single lie he could think of that he’d told while all this was going down. There were many. We called the collection agencies and paid what we owed; luckily we had enough to pay it in full right then. We chopped the cards AND called to cancel them. It was absolutely unreal to have the rug pulled out from under me like this, but beginning to resolve the financial problem made me feel better.

    We are still married and things are better now. Sometimes I’ll see an 800 number on his phone and freak completely out, but we’ve been a long time without incident. He understands when I request a password or a PIN number to check something. I have to do it for our family’s financial security and I don’t feel at all guilty for invading his privacy. Archie, I think you did the right thing, the ONLY thing, by opening her mail. So sorry you’re going through this. I really feel for you and I hope you can talk to your wife and work together towards getting your marriage and finances back on track.

  46. AJ says:

    J #31 – There’s more than one card. Judging by the fact that the first card he found had a $7,500 balance, I’d guess that there’s at least four or five different cards in play here, which makes it very unlikely that a single work-related event is responsible here.

  47. J says:

    @AJ — I know. The work thing is indeed unlikely. But everyone jumps right to their own conclusion based on their experience, and I wanted to throw a couple of ideas out there that could have a possible explanation. Unlikely explanations, sure, but we don’t really have all the context or back story here.

    This story does underscore the importance of why communication is critical to a good marriage, as well as complete openness — even when the news isn’t good.

  48. Maggie says:

    Kevin is simply wrong about prenuptial agreements being unenforceable. All 50 states recognize and enforce prenuptial agreements.

    Of those 50 states, 9-10 are community property states (1 is an opt-in situation). In those states ASSETS and DEBTS obtained AFTER marriage belong to both spouses and are divided 50/50 upon divorce. Note that what you bring into the marriage and any inheritance/gifts received at any time are always your separate property and not divisible unless you co-mingle it with community assets and it can’t be divided out later.

    The rest of the states are “equitable distribution” states and assets and debts belong to the person who incurred them while the marriage is ongoing. Then, upon divorce, they are divided “equitably” (i.e. fairly). In practice, this starts at 50/50, but courts can look at many factors (including relative salaries and also perhaps the fact that one party incurred the debt secretly–but even in such a state, there’s no guarantee Archie wouldn’t be assigned some portion of that $30,000 debt if he divorces his wife).

    But EVERY state allows you to avoid the default regime with a valid pre-nuptial agreement. Many states also recognize post-nuptial agreements too. There are rules to make it valid (in writing, both parties have lawyers, etc.) so if you want to make it enforceable, get a lawyer to help you.

    Now, some ELEMENT of a pre-nup CAN be considered unenforceable as against public policy. Like the courts may strike a provision that allows you to refuse to be responsible for your indigent spouse’s medical care b/c public policy prefers the spouse to take care of someone rather than the state. And you can’t agree to anything to limit child support at all (those are considered to be your kids’ rights and are not yours to waive). But if a wife waives her right to her half of the community assets or to spousal support (and the agreement is validly executed) that is almost certainly enforceable.

    I’m not giving legal advice here–get a lawyer to find out the exact requirements in your jurisdiction. This is just what they taught me in law school.

  49. matt says:

    There is never any good reason for a secret in a marriage, I also believe that trust is a porcelain vase that once broken can never be fully restored, sure you can put super glue on it, but it will still look like you dropped it. People can make as many excuses as they want for why she has the debt, they are just that though, excuses. If you have to come up with an excuse there was clearly wrong doing.

  50. chacha1 says:

    Good luck is all I can say. If the total is really about $30K, that can be overcome. If this accrued over a period of years as it seems to have, just a reminder to everyone that it’s very easy to rack up debt.

    A nice dinner for two, with drinks, once a week for a year? There’s $5K right there.

    Archie was wilfully blind, his wife was a coward and a liar, and they have a lot of work to do – but it CAN be done. I agree with Trent, counseling is key, because very few couples can work these things out QUICKLY without help.

  51. Johanna says:

    @matt (and others): Okay, but Archie’s question was not “What do you think of my wife for having run up $30K in credit card debt behind my back?” Nor was it “Was it a good idea or a bad idea for us to have allowed each other some financial privacy?” Rather, his question was “What do I do next?”

    And for that, I think it’s important for him to keep in mind that there are any number of explanations for why his wife might have run up the debt, and that he should avoid jumping to any one conclusion before he finds out the whole story.

  52. LoriBeth says:

    My husband is a nitpicker penny pincher. I could never get money spent on a gift by him. So I created a Paypal account and started selling on Ebay. He knew it, but doesn’t know how much is in it. It has surpassed my original intentions and I used it to almost buy all of our Christmas gifts for the children and other family members last year.

    My brother has recently divorced and then found out the massive debt his ex-wife had acquired when they started coming to repossess things. He was responsible for the majority of the credit card debt since she had taken out cards in his name without his knowledge. He realizes now that he should have played a greater part in what she was spending, and why the mortgage wasn’t getting paid when he was giving her the money for it. Ignorance and dishonesty have no place in a marriage.

  53. Doug says:

    While we all of our financial information (i.e. credit card bills, bank account statements, etc.) My wife and I have a very simple solution for hiding the price of gifts from each other. Rather than using a credit card to pay for things we use our check cards, which solves two problems: (1) we must have enough money to buy a gift and (2) we simply ask the other person not to look at the checking statement (but they can still see the overall balance).

  54. Kevin says:


    Of course, it depends on your jurisdiction. I clearly said I live in a jurisdiction with strong “family laws” on the books (Ontario, Canada). I personally know at least 2 men who had airtight prenuptual agreements that were summarily ignored by the judge, who promptly awarded the wife 50% of all assets, plus alimony, both of which were explicitly pre-emptively conceded by her in the pre-nup. The law allowed her to collect half, so that’s what she got, even though she supposedly signed away her right to it.

    If you live in an area with a more rational outlook on justice, then consider yourself fortunate. Up here, common sense has given way to an absurd degree of prejudiced legislation.

  55. Shan says:

    Archie: I echo the “Total Money Makeover” suggestions of others on the comments. Also, my husband and I set up a budget using the “America’s Cheapest Family” budget book plan, which allowed us to pretty easily compromise on issues that we disagreed on spending for. We are able to set aside a small amount every month for gifts for others. More importantly, we each have a set amount of “discretionary spending” each month. This comes to us at the beginning of the month, always in CASH. This is great for gifts – we are not accountable to each other for that cash spending, and we have enough left for all of our bills, saving, and no debt. In the past, I’ve even set aside $20 a month from my monthly amount to save up, if I know it’s for a bigger gift. In the end, no one is bitter about a credit card bill, and we are able to just enjoy gifts from each other.

    Good luck!

  56. Eve says:

    Welcome to my world. How funny that I just had a conversation with my husband and it goes like this. “why do you charge gas/ food and pay 20% on a credit card AND STILL Have a balance monthly, when you have money in your savings to pay it off earning lets just say 2%.” He says that he wants to make sure that he has money in the bank for when he really needs it***what***. Today at my dtrs softball game i had a great conversation with a man who is going to Hawaii staying with a friend and planning on enjoying the beach and spending cash for the trip for 12 days. I had a moment when I just wished he was my husband wow a vacation with no debt and enjoying the simple life ***wow*** My one and only advice is you can either except your wife for who she is or move on. Trust me it won’t get better. Also I wants to say when she gives you her sad face and says she is soooo sorry DONT BUY INTO IT*** I AM SO SORRY TO BE SO HARSH BUT IT IS WHAT IT IS****

  57. Maggie says:

    Those are isolated examples, Kevin, not the law. Ontario is another jurisdiction that DOES enforce prenuptial agreements. They have some different flavors of rules. Like you can’t assign ownership of the family home and you can’t leave someone destitute so they end up on welfare. But they are enforceable there no matter how strong the family laws may seem.

    As for your two friends, I somehow doubt you were intimately familiar with the contents of their pre-nups or their divorce decrees. More likely you are repeating the overblown complaints of men who were bitter that they had to pay/share anything at all.

  58. Carol says:

    I read some of the comments and then skipped ahead to post.
    They are both to blame. Archie is no hero or martyr or ”really good guy”. And she is not super pitiful either.
    They had an agreement. They weren’t going to get into each others finances. Simple. So, they made the choice not to see and acknowledge whatever issues they had. We all know who the spender in the family is. In mine, it is me. I don’t only spend for me and my comfort, though. I spend for the kids and their comfort, and I buy the things for my husband that he wants but won’t buy cause he doesn’t want to spend the money BUT, he is very glad for me to have bought the item and to accept it as a gift. So, I can see how this can happen and one partner will blame the other. My husband doesn’t blame me, we are very open and honest and aware of ”how” the other is, and I try not to go overboard, but if I do, he is right there and we clean up the mess together because that is how we both decided it should be. Both can do this simple math.
    I believe he knew, or had an idea, of what was happening and if he says he did not, he is either lying or just not paying attention.
    Look at and around the house. What do they have, personal items, cars, etc? What services have they received? What vacations have they taken?
    Simple math. An idea of their income vs all those listed above. If he wasn’t spending the money then who was? and is it all stuff she wanted or was some of it he wanted and she made them gifts to him so he could be happy? Are there kids?
    He did not want to know and now it is slamming him in the face. well, he is just as responsible as she and they have a ways to go. Both of them admitting to failings, identify those and move forward.
    He did know. He just didn’t want to deal with it and now he has to.
    I think your advice is sound. Start with the relationship. Then work on the money issues. If they love each other and want to make their relationship work, this could be what binds them stronger than any legal piece of paper, or any legal tender can. I wish them the best of luck and courage and strength to struggle through.

  59. When couples are having issues around money it’s never about money. You already mentioned trust–it’s helpful to know what’s motivating the spending and to have real conversations as everyone is saying–but that’s hard to do. I’d suggest that even before they see a counselor they do Money Habitudes cards (www.moneyhabitudes.com) They are a deck of cardsthat provides a nonjudgmental,easy and non-threatening way to get to the real issues and have productive conversations. Last year they won the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education, (CMFCE) Impact Award for helping to support healthy marriages. Another great resource for him is to go to SmartMarriages.com. The site is loaded with great information and can help locale a counselor or educational program to get them communicating and back on track. Yes they do need to talk but they need to do it so they are really communicating.

  60. Rozann says:

    Reading this was totally deja vu, as my husband and I went through the same thing, only it was him being dishonest and hiding his credit card debt from me. Yes, it is dishonest and the couple need counseling because she seems to be trying to fill a need by buying things. When a husband and wife meet each others’ basic needs, and learn to communicate effectively, limits on spending can be set and then the debt can be slowly and steadily eliminated.

    We had consolidated our debt into a second mortgage and then unbeknownst to me my husband got five more credit cards and in one year ran up $30,000 in debt. I almost had a nervous breakdown when I found out. I wanted to leave him but was pregnant with our fifth child and had absolutely no resources and was 3000 miles away from my family. It was a horrible situation. We eventually had to declare bankruptcy (ten years ago).

    Counseling was suggested buy my husband wasn’t interested at that time. Since then we have learned to communicate and set goals, but there are still differences because of the way we were raised. My heart goes out to that husband, I know how difficult it is to get someone to change.

  61. Sam says:

    I agree with “psychologists think that people can compensate for a basic need is being unfulfilled by engaging in some kind of destructive behavior, like overspending.” Spending allows a person to exert control when they don’t have control elsewhere. I catch myself doing it sometimes – thankfully @ Thrift stores (so my December therapy shopping blow out was under $30). Anyway, the gals has something going on – whether it’s a new hobby, hidden family emergency, something.
    It is financial & intimacy infidelity – she didn’t trust him enough to tell him.

    I went through this 10+ years ago with my ex. In the end (after 2yrs of financial drama), I got tired of it and left (to the tune of 42k in debt). I’ve never regretted leaving however, I do think the encouragement for divorce is cold. And this guy would be saddled with the debts too – regardless of whether the debts are in her name.

    If this guy loves his wife, then he should pursue counseling, etc – somethings are worth working out or at least seeing through to the “end” so the demon of regret doesn’t come to haunt.
    I’d approach her (without anger) with the phone message from Citibank and go from there.
    Maybe give her a glass of wine before hand to mellow her out… ? I know cheesecake works for me – the big thing is that she not see you as attacking. yeah, I know edibles are not the best things but whatever helps this one event go smoother… the advice about the deck of cards and how to bring up the conversation are good.

  62. dh says:

    http://www.debtorsanonymous.org would be a good start, too

  63. margaret says:

    I second the approach recommended in comment 3.

    Archie said that he noticed more and more statements over the years and the debt is at least $30,000. Just to put it into perspective, you would run up $30,000 in debt if you put $300 every month onto a 20% card (ignoring minimum payments, especially if payments were just transfers between cards). Each year would add $3600 in debt from the actual charges. But look at the interest added each year if the balance isn’t getting paid off:
    Year 1: $350
    Year 2: $1200
    Year 3: $2250
    Year 4: $3550
    Year 5: $5150
    That’s about $12500 from interest and $17500 from purchases.

    For some people, $300 over budget per month is SHOCKING!!! For other people, $300 doesn’t sound so bad, and if you don’t look at how quickly it builds, especially at a high interest rate, it would be pretty easy to fall into a crisis before you know it. I wouldn’t be surprised if several of those cards started as low interest balance transfers, but when the initial period was up, there was no money to pay them off. Probably the balances didn’t increase consistently every month, but if you are spending more than you earn (100 or 200 in the hole each month), and then once or twice a year something big gets added on — a new TV! — a special trip! — a camera!, I can totally see this happening without any evil intent on the wife’s part. Lack of financial discipline, yes, but not necessarily a spending addiction or purchases of high end goods.

    I’m curious if the couple keeps seperate finances entirely, and some items are husband’s responsibility and some are wife’s, especially if some of wife’s items are discretionary — e.g. gifts or food & entertainment. Also, is there a big income discrepancy? Is the wife’s share of expenses simply too much for her? Does the husband make more money and live at a certain lifestyle that wife is going on the hole to match — e.g. feeling that she needs to spend so much on gifts or doing things where she can’t really afford extras but it would be inconsistent with the lifestyle for her to NOT purchase them?

    And I could be wrong, of course. The $300 a month could also be from eating out at lunch every day or going for spa treatments monthly or whatever and just not caring that it was all going on credit.

    I suppose, after letting the wife know that he knows, the next step is to do a FAMILY budget and make sure that they are living within their means, and preferably with a little leeway to put more than minimums on the debt. If the problem is that the couple spends too much, then they will have to adjust their lifestyle down a bit. If the problem is just the wife and she is unable or unwilling to change, then the husband has to make some hard choices.

  64. Lori says:

    Kudos to Margaret. You hit the nail right on the head. It is very easy to have credit card debt grow exponentially without luxury purchases. Beware of 0% balance transfers. Before you know it your grace period is terminated and you are paying 20-30% interest on your initial transfer. The cost of the emergency repair for your car or other household item that was placed on your credit card has now spiraled out of control. Archie’s wife may have been operating with the best of intentions but got lost in the struggle of constantly rising monthly payments – not to mention the fees charged by credit card companies. Talk it out with her Arcihe and be determined to not lose your temper with her. Let her cry and talk.

  65. socalgal says:

    @ Daria: Your mom’s sense of entitlement is amazing! All the kids need to get together & say “NO” to mom. Dear Mother sounds like she has many issues & for your own sanity & financial health you have to break the vicious cycle of manipulation that you all have created & enabled.

  66. Crystal says:

    @Daria, it hurts, but say “sorry mom, I just can’t.” And stick to it.

  67. Nancy says:

    Archie, if you’re reading these comments, here’s something else to think about. Your wife wanted you to find out. She not only let things progress to the stage that you were getting collection calls at home, but she left all those statements out for you to open. She could have hidden/shredded them. This could be her cry for help.

    Your next step is definitely counseling. Maybe get yourself some first before you confront your wife. I think you have some issues of your own that allowed you to stay blind so long to what you have suspected. I know, I’ve been there.

    I truly hope you can heal your marriage.

    Daria, sounds like your parents are so caught up in their nasty power struggle that they’ve lost the program. That is horrendous manipulation of the kids. I recommend you read The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner.

  68. Gus says:

    I have hade a similar situation with my wife last year. Her total

    debt amounted to USD 15,000, and this is not the first “financial

    infidelity” she has comitted. I will not presume to know what to tell

    Archie, but I can offer a few facts and ideas:
    1) My wife was terribly afraid of my reaction, and so she hid the

    problem from me as long as she could. She thought that we might

    divorce (which I actually considered, but decided not to follow

    through) and she thought that a magical solution to her debt problem

    would appear – it obviously didn’t.
    2) She started psychological treatment to help her deal with her

    issues. We thought about going to a marriage counsellor, but decided

    not to, for our own reasons.
    3) I “consolidated” all of her many debts in a single, lower-interest

    debt in my name; on the other hand, she gave me full control of her

    finances. I have all her credit and bank cards, and use her salary to

    (1) pay the monthly debt repayments (we are actually making extra

    payments)(2) pay for the utilities which she was in charge of before

    we re-structured our finances (3) all that is left over is hers, on a

    CASH BASIS – this is crucial, as she is re-learning to spend and has

    no access to credit cards.

    For those who think that step “3” above was too harsh (taking

    controle of her finances, and have her, in effect, receive a monthly

    allowance for her personal expenditures), I have to admit that yes,

    it is harsh – but not TOO harsh. One, it was our last chance to save

    our marriage, and I needed a firm compromise. Two, it has

    successfully been solving our debt problem, which could have led us

    to bankruptcy. Three, she has finallys stopped lying and admitted she

    has a serious spending problem, that dates back to her adolescence.

    Four, it is harsh on me, too: now I have the burden of nearly all

    financial decisions of our household, and even though I am better

    equipped to handle it because of my “thrift” nature and educational

    background (Economist), this burden is on my shoulders, not hers.

    We have been living like this since last July (10 months and

    counting) and have, in fact, stopped arguing about money and

    expenses. She complained a few times that I should increase her

    allowance (which I have done, now she gets 100% of the ‘leftover’ of

    salary minus debt payments minus utilities), and she has complained

    about not using credit cards (she seems to still believe that credit

    is a magic bullet to kill all our troubles), we have discussed again,

    and now she seems OK with not using cards. I stopped using credit

    cards by myself, to set an example, and we only use credit card when

    we both agree on its use.

    I am unsure how all of this will play out, but I love my wife and do

    not wish to divorce, as it hurts me to even consider it. One doubt:

    what will happen when all the debt is paid? I feel it would be fair

    for her to pay some more of our house expenses, since I now pay some 70% of it, but will that be OK with her? Also, I wish she would contribute to our retirement accounts. Time will tell, I guess. In less than a year we will have paid all of her consumer debt in my name and we will be 100% debt free (except for mortgage, which should end in 2013), and, people may say what they feel like about our plan, we will be in a much better position than in July 2009 when her debt concealment was revealed.

  69. Nicole says:


    My DH doesn’t have any spending problems, but he’s got an allowance. That’s just how he manages his spending money.

    I also handle all the household finances because he doesn’t like to worry his pretty little head over them. He’d much rather take on more of the cleaning. (We do consult for decisions and he gets up to speed on the money flows once a year at tax time).

    So… I don’t think #3 is particularly harsh. We do the same thing but it’s not a punishment, it’s just comparative advantage!

    When the debt is repaid, I suggest her extra payments (minus something as a spending money bonus) go towards her retirement and/or other goals (vacations, cars, potential children etc.). That will be something for you to discuss together and work towards together.

  70. Gus says:


    Thank you for your input and your kind suggestion.

  71. Nicole says:

    Archie– also grab copies of your credit reports

  72. Jerry says:

    I could only wish for this guy’s problems. My wife has been so irresponsible since we married seven years ago. She and her previous husband went bankrupt, yet she learned no lessons from that. A couple of years after we married, I learned that she had deferred $20,000 in student loans from the 90s, still deferred until this summer with a balance now over $40,000. Also since we married, she has wracked up $80,000 in credit card debt with nothing to show for it. She does anything she can to avoid talking about our problems. But when we do talk and it seems we finally have an agreement to be more responsible, she slips again. Just this month, on a whim, she signed an unbreakable contract for our son to take a three-year taekwondo class at a cost of $5000. After just a few lessons, he’s already bored with it. So my point is, when you think you have it bad, it could be even worse…..

  73. Jan says:

    Shannon- could you please call the judges of my best fried (dh with $15,000 in cc debt and a new car when they divorced) and my little brother (a new apartment bought without his signature) on the law in Arizona. They missed the part about not being resposible if the spouse did not know.

  74. triLcat says:

    Gotta say – the only purchases I can “hide” from my husband are the cash ones – we don’t necessarily look at each other’s bank statements, but we don’t hide them either. If I want to surprise him, 1. I usually do it with something that I don’t have to pay for (bake him a cake, make pancakes, iron his shirts, have friends over that he hasn’t seen in a while…) or 2. use cash. Likewise, on the rare occasion that I buy something I think he wouldn’t approve of (my biggest vice is sushi), I use cash for it. As long as spouses can see how much money is being spent, the exact purpose of each dime is less important to keeping track of one’s financial health. That is, if $50-100 a month of cash per partner are labeled miscellaneous and each partner can spend it on their own “nonsense” without accountability, you still have that privacy, without having the potential for financial destruction of the couple.

  75. Steve says:

    The “agreed not to open financial statements addressed to each other” statement seems like such a huge, red flag that it makes the whole message seem like a troll. Then again, maybe it’s one of those situations where the speaker/author is including/remembering only facts that seem to support the story they’re telling.

  76. Steve says:

    A personal allowance is a much better way of allowing each other to buy presents secretly.

    Once my wife bought me a magazine as a present, but she had to pay with a check for some reason. It was only $8 but when I saw the check hit our statement I asked her about it to make sure it was a legit charge.

  77. Charlene says:

    This whole situation reaches deeper than finance – although financial conflicts are very common in marriages. In my opinion, the lack of marital structure could have very easily imbalanced the shared trust and responsibilities between husband and wife…

    Men and women both operate and think uniquely. When acting as the head of the house, a minimum level of dominance is required to both observe and keep one another accountable. These key behaviours balance social, mental, physical and emotional wellness. So this task requires logical, formal, and sound decisions; weighing very heavily on who-so-ever chooses to fill this role.

    So… traditional marriage states that the husband acts as patriarch. This is a very perspective discussion so I will just note a few reasons WHY I agree:

    Man vs. Woman

    1 – Women are emotional, decisions need to be made clearly and concisely – which men so happen to be great at.

    2 – Women do not respect those they dominate. If there’s a boundary that can be shifted – women will push it. Women are too smart, witty, and dangerous when not in control. Men are great keepers.

    3 – Men lead, women manage. This relationship fails when either partner doesn’t contribute equally. While women can lead, they will also want to manage the details (because that’s what we do best). This becomes overwhelming thus invoking our emotions as women, repeating #1.

    4 – Women have needs AND wants. While men can live off nothing, women WANT to be comfortable and social. This balance naturally allows the husband to be provider while trusting her to manage what he provides.

    Both partners failed one another by relinquishing their natural and perspective roles in marriage. The husband more so (in my opinion) because his wife should have been his biggest responsibility and priority as family.

    The wife’s behaviour was directly disrespectful to her husband. I would argue that the decision alone to disregard each other’s spending behaviour was introduced by the wife. This was not sheer rebellion but womanly wiles that indirectly curbed financial responsibility for both at the same time. Adam & Eve – Eve suggested, Adam submitted.

    Why wasn’t the husband aware, curious or even genuinely concerned about her financial needs in the first place? And what is she spending $30,000 on? There’s no way the husband wasn’t completely oblivious to what was going on – they were both just pretending. I really hope that the finances were the only underlying truths in this relationship.

    I also agree with your suggestion for serious counsel. Trust has been broken, but since marriage tends to span long, they thankfully have all the time in the world to rebuild and fix whatever the cause. In hindsight, every marriage could have probably done better somehow. So once the husband initiates and confronts her as his respected wife to regain balance and control, they can both become the best team to fix this problem and move on.

    I pray they focus on the solution and forgive one another easily.

    The Mrs.

  78. The first question that should be asked is what that $30,000 was used for (e.g., gambling? shopping? money for drugs?). Once that has been answered, Archie’s wife should seek counseling for the root problem causing her to accumulate all this debt.

    Marriage counseling and paying off the debt come into play only after finding out what compelled her to get this debt in the first place.

  79. Pete says:

    Great post! Really good insight. It’s always difficult to discuss finances and share money in relationships. Thanks for your advice. I recently stumbled upon this blog like I stumbled upon yours. I think they offer some good points and laughter about the topic: http://burisonthecouch.wordpress.com/2010/09/22/dolla-dolla-bill-yall/

    Thanks for the post! I’d like to see more like it.

  80. tentaculistic says:

    Charlene – Hmm, interesting ideas, perhaps spoken without the recognition of you speaking from within a very distinct subculture. I’m not dismissing the applicability to you of your statements, but please remember that your statements most likely reflect more than anything the culture in which you live (I’m guessing deeply Christian, having come from that background and recognizing the lingo), which may not be at all applicable to other cultures. And which makes many of your statements “translate” so badly that oh my, your whole post is like a blood pressure spike in a box!

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