Should I get divorced?
September 7, 2010 6:52 PM   Subscribe

RelationshipFilter: Kind of at my wits end here, so turning to the collective for some perspective. My wife and I have been together for 10 years, living together for eight and married for six. Now I'm considering a divorce... much more inside.

Like in so many cases, the problem is money. We started dating while she was in grad school, and like most grad students she had none of it. I paid for everything, but didn't mind. Part of dating a grad student.

Then she finished her studies and started working. At about the same time we moved in together. She paid her share of the rent money, but I still paid for everything else. Groceries, eating out, bills, vacation, etc. I even paid her car payments for a while. She still never had any money, and pleaded poverty when it came to paying for anything.

We got really serious and ended up getting married and buying a condo together. Situation continued, and she still didn't have any money, and did not contribute other than paying her part of the mortgage. By now she was pretty well established in her job and making decent money, and I was beginning to wonder what was going on. We kept separate finances, but it was beginning to be obvious that something was wrong. By my best estimate she should have had about $1800 a month in disposable income, yet I was still paying for everything. And I really do mean everything - even her gym membership.

Then about 4 years ago things started to unravel. I started finding out about credit card debt and personal loans she had taken out. Lots more than she should ever have needed. She claimed that this was all due to student loan debt that she was trying to pay off, and was the reason she was in so much financial trouble. It ends with me bailing her out of her debt, paying some of it from my personal savings and some from out home equity loan.

I breath a sigh of relief and think it is all over. Then it happens again. Yet more maxed out credit cards. This time she says it was debt she hadn't wanted to tell me about earlier. Because she didn't want to upset me. Like an idiot I bail her out again. By now it is clear that the real problem is that she spends money on clothes and random stuff she doesn't need, basically treating shopping as a hobby. She swears she will get her spending under control, and I give her another chance.

This plays out two or three more times, until the beginning of this year where I basicially threaten her with divorce if she ever spends another cent without me agreeing to it first. I set her up with a very limited discretionary budget that she can spend as she wants, and the I control the rest of the money. Most of what is left of her income is now being used to pay off the remaining debt, which should be gone in about 3 years.

So now that everything is under control, why am I thinking of getting the hell out of this marriage? Well, I just realized that I have spent the last decade of my life with somebody who has been blatantly lying to me every day. And that I am now living in a situation where instead of trusting my wife, I am having to check her credit reports to make sure she hasn't been spending behind my back again. If I had trusted her less in the beginning, things would never have gotten this bad, so now I am even pissed off at myself for trusting her. While she is not a bad person, and I think she really has things under control this time, I am just not sure if I can trust her ever again.

So Mefites... give me some perspective here. Am I taking this too seriously? I mean, at least she didn't cheat on me. In the end it is just money, isn't it?
posted by skaffen42 to Human Relations (50 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I wouldn't say that the problem is insurmountable, but this is definitely, absolutely, positively a case where getting both of you to counseling should be very high on the list of priorities.

There are issues of self-control and compulsive behavior that need to be dealt with: I won't say addiction, because psychological coping mechanisms vs. physiological addiction opens a can of worms, but if she's essentially "self-medicating" some underlying issue with shopping and lying about it to you, the consequences for the relationship are no less serious than alcoholism. On top of that, you shouldn't have to put yourself into the "I'm the adult, you're the child" position that this sort of monitoring and disciplining entails. It's a ticket to resentment.

I don't think any of us can say what the future of your relationship is, but getting some sort of objective third party into the mix is something that can help both her as an individual, you as an individual, and the relationship that the two of you have together.
posted by verb at 6:59 PM on September 7, 2010 [7 favorites]

My mom did the exact same thing to my dad, except she didn't even finish college. She just ran up the credit cards, 3 or 4 times, exceeding $30k each time.

So how to deal? Couples counseling isn't a bad idea. When my dad called me, upset that my mom had done this again. I told him to take control of the finances, and manage all of the funds himself. Yes, it is treating her like a child, but that's what she's acting like.

Your wife isn't a bad person, I'm sure. But she is trying to fill some void by spending money. Maybe she's feeling powerless and it gives her a sense of power. Maybe she gets a rush from spending money. Either way, she probably needs some counseling to figure out what compels her to spend beyond her means.
posted by bolognius maximus at 7:03 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

In my opinion, and I'm probably far too inexperienced to give one, I think that yeah, it's just money. Maybe she has a spending problem and needs professional help. I know, as a girl, that shopping makes me feel SO good. Maybe her shopping is masking another problem! Maybe you should BOTH go to relationship counseling too, for the lying.
posted by foxy at 7:03 PM on September 7, 2010

You're right to be taking this seriously, it is a serious issue. But since there's been moderate improvements in terms of getting things under control, it might be worth waiting a bit on those thoughts. It's important to discuss money and philosophies about spending, saving, debt, etc. Not discussing these things is as much your fault as it is hers. The longer you go without discussing these things the more difficult it is to initiate a tough conversation or confess to being irresponsible about these things. (Imagine if you had some secret about a past relationship or something similar that would be tough to raise.) So at least for the time being, take this to be a lesson learned and try to move forward. If she is genuine in her attempts to change, things might get better. It may be that you can't get past this, but at least you'll have given it a shot.
posted by Terriniski at 7:04 PM on September 7, 2010

You guys aren't communicating and that's been your biggest problem. She hasn't been able to feel open with you for whatever reason.

You aren't an idiot for bailing your wife out --- she's your wife. You guys are a unit, even if one half of you malfunctions at times.

Verb is right; you guys need a counselor.
posted by anniecat at 7:06 PM on September 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

First off, I wouldn't use the term "just money." Money, after all, is why you spend the majority of your waking hours working when you could be frolicking at the beach or lounging around in bed. Money can be the difference between living uncomfortably in dangerous, depressing surroundings or living in a safe, secure, attractive environment. It is so important that Money can be a hugely divisive topic between married people.

Having said that, however, neither I nor anyone else can make a pronouncement on your marriage. Yes, you are right to be greatly concerned but I would seek out professional help both for you as a couple and for your wife's irresponsible shopping habits. I can't look into your brain and figure out how much effort you want to put into being married and I can't foresee the future-- all I can tell you is: Money is important but having put in 10 years I wouldn't do anything without first working on saving your marriage.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:15 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

The answer is no. Don't fool yourself. Divorce is the easy way out of this situation, but not the right way. Now just cause I've said that, don't think I don't have empathy for your predicament...

I think you should have a conversation with her about the importance of being honest with herself. I've found that if you're not honest with yourself, it's completely impossible for you to be honest with anyone else... At the same token, it's important that you recognize this fault in her for what it is, and not take it as a personal attack on yourself. If you can do that, you'll start to develop compassion for her situation, and only then will you truly be able to help her.

A great writer once said "Everyone is going to hurt you. You just gotta find the ones worth suffering for..."

Also, forget about the subtitle, and forget about the "oprah's book club" silliness, and also, you should probably skip the first chapter cause it's kind of cheesy, but this book has some incredible insight that has helped me to stop saying "you are doing this to me" in situations such as the one you're in. Freeing myself from thoughts like that has allowed me to remain calm, and really focus and stay present in trying situations. I think you should check it out... You'll find this book in the "self help" section, which is disappointing to me because I think that will be a turn off for a lot of people... It's definitely a gem.

Also, Jesus has all the answers in His #1 hit!

Good luck to ya man! Stay present!
posted by Glendale at 7:19 PM on September 7, 2010

The thing that would bother me wouldn't be the lying, although that's pretty bad. It would be how she let you pay for everything. She was going massively into debt, and couldn't even go into a little bit of that debt for her own gym membership? The utilities? Dinner out? She was totally fine with you spending all of your money.

Was she lying about her student loans, or what?

I think you should get a divorce, actually. It's hard enough to keep trusting each other with a problem like overspending, even if everyone is up front, honest, and trying their best. When one person lies about it? Urgh.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:25 PM on September 7, 2010 [6 favorites]

Your trust has been violated multiple times. Your feelings are legitimate.

Go to counseling, both separately and together. That will help you clarify what you want. It's better to try to make it work, even if you don't end up staying together.

Also,, although this may sound terrible, make sure she hasn't deceived you any further by getting credit checks run for the both of you.
posted by annsunny at 7:27 PM on September 7, 2010 [4 favorites]

Money is huge and trust is even more huge. I mean, say you were hunter-gatherers or farmers, and all that time when you thought she was hunting and smoking meat for the winter while you were growing corn, she was actually asking for people's pretty feathers until you had no food stored up and everyone in the village thought you owed them something. It's not money, but you would still be mad! Money represents: can we stay home from work while our children are little, can we retire, can I quit my job and become an artist, can we afford to live near our friends, and many other important questions about your life and caring for those you love. You are perfectly entitled to feel betrayed and to decide you don't want to be married to someone whom you cannot trust as a partner here, nor even not to deceive you. I agree therapy is in order if you decide you want to keep trying.
posted by salvia at 7:29 PM on September 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'll nth the recommendation for counseling, first as a couple and maybe she'll need individual counseling for her out of control spending. As someone who was at one point close to divorce but am very happy I didn't, I'd say, if you love her it is worth fighting for. That said, I think you should set some very clear benchmarks with regards to her regular participation in counseling etc or you're leaving. I think it is actually important to say that out loud to her and be explicit that you're thinking about it, this is a very serious problem for you and you need her to commit to really working with you and with herself on these issues. Good luck.
posted by stewieandthedude at 7:29 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't really understand this whole my money/finances thing. From the moment my wife and I married both of our incomes were deposited into savings and bills came out of that. Each month my wife and I get a bit of spending money for whatever we want and if either of us want to make a larger purchase we talk about it and see if we can justify it.

I'm not trying to fault you, or saying this is necessarily the case, but at first glance it seems to me that you are the breadwinner and perhaps spend your money accordingly. Your wife doesn't make as much money but possibly feels like she should have the right to spend as much as you do. Obviously not an excuse for her actions but I have seen something similar happen in my extended family. I believe strongly in the creed whats mine is yours and whats yours is mine. Everything is shared as anything else will only work to harbor animosity.

The key to marriage is communication and it seems like it's been lacking from the very beginning. Obviously, she has problems and has broken your trust which will take a long time to earn back. The process of healing really needs to get started before the situation erodes anymore. It should happen in an environment where you both will be encouraged to share your feelings and will be held accountable for your actions. I think the best thing you two can do at this point is call a marriage counselor and start working through these issues.
posted by Quack at 7:42 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm hearing "mine" and "hers" a lot here but I'm not hearing "our." THAT is the problem the two of you are having, and the symptoms are simply showing up in the checkbook.

Hie thee to counseling-the both of you.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:52 PM on September 7, 2010 [8 favorites]

I think you have to decide to view this one of two ways. Either your wife has a disease, an addiction and you work with her to overcome it same as if she was an alcoholic not a spendaholic or you focus on the trust thing and decide that you can or cannot trust her again.

Also, I understand why you bailed her out, but why? If she has her own credit, let her max out and hit the wall. Everytime I bail my kids out of a situation that they should have known better, I kick myself for teaching the wrong lesson; that daddy is their to bail them out no matter what. It is a fine line between knowing and trusting your parents (or your wife) will bail you out in a pinch and using that belief to take advantage of them.

Only you can determine which situation of these yours is. Good luck.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:54 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

You're not taking it overly seriously at all. She lied to you and betrayed your trust. You shouldn't blame yourself for trusting her to be a responsible adult and partner; the only mistake you can make from here out is continuing to do the things you've done in the past and expect a different result. And while I believe that couples should combine finances, I think you dodged a bullet by keeping yours separate, as she might have wiped out your savings and gotten into even more debt using your combined credit score.

You're handled the situation the best way you can on your it's time for help, so nthing what the others have said regarding counseling. She needs help. And if you want to save your marriage, you both need help. You've put a tourniquet on the outflow by taking complete control of the finances, but unless you want to continually parent her and feel on guard for the rest of your marriage, that is not a long-term solution.
posted by kattyann at 7:56 PM on September 7, 2010

My cousin divorced his wife because she did the same thing. I don't know if she's still overspending, but my cousin seems to be a lot happier.

Before you make that decision, definitely seek counseling. It's true that she hasn't cheated, but she has violated your trust by lying. She's also been exploiting you with no regard for your future, or hers -- has she thought about how you guys will save for your old age? She's been using you for money.

You don't say whether or not you have kids. If so, she's been taking food out of their mouths, and bankrupting their college money and inheritance.

If she's not willing to truly work at changing, then divorce is definitely understandable.
posted by xenophile at 8:08 PM on September 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

Divorce will not un-entangle your finances. You two are connected at the financial hip whether or not she is still your wife. You own a home together. She can still take out debt under your name for a long time. Etc. etc.

What you need is a counselor. Being unable to control spending is a tough and terrible issue for so many people, and it's likely something that's hurting your wife a lot emotionally. You have got to sit down with someone who can guide you though talking this out. At the end of it, you may want to be married and you may want to be divorced. It's impossible to know right now.
posted by stoneweaver at 8:29 PM on September 7, 2010

Am I taking this too seriously? I mean, at least she didn't cheat on me. In the end it is just money, isn't it?

I don't think you're taking it too seriously. I'm surprised by how cavalier some of the comments are, as if you should just lighten up and figure, "Eh, married couples pool their money, so she was perfectly entitled." Clearly, you can't just decide to start thinking about it that way and expect the issue not to bother you anymore.

If you're at the point of even asking questions like these to AskMetafilter, with this much intense background spanning the whole last 10 years, and you're considering divorce, of course you should go to couples counseling if at all possible.

One last point: think again about your analogy. "At least she didn't cheat on me." Would that necessarily have been worse? What is it that's so bad about cheating anyway? I'm pretty sure it's not the risk of STDs. And extramarital sex isn't inherently wrong -- it could be OK if both people agreed to it and were comfortable with it. Cheating is wrong because of the deception and violation of trust, right?
posted by John Cohen at 8:50 PM on September 7, 2010 [6 favorites]

When I read your question, I couldn't help but think of this question, and this specific post.
posted by dubitable at 8:56 PM on September 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

Counseling is a good idea. But this is about honesty more than it is about money. And honesty is the most important thing in any relationship.
posted by bardic at 9:00 PM on September 7, 2010

Two suggestions:

1) Ditch the separate accounts. Married people need to function as a team, and if one member wants to be apart from the team, that's not going to work. If she has a problem with this, you might try three accounts; one for each of you, and one joint account that regular deposits need to be made into by both.

2) Go to a counselor -- a financial counselor. She may have gotten you into this, but you're both going to have to get out of it together.
posted by Gilbert at 9:03 PM on September 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oy! So sorry this happened to you. Your trust has totally been violated and she may have an addiction to boot. When she was hiding things, she knew it was wrong but either she's morally bankrupt or she's got an addiction that she thought she could manage but couldn't. I'm guessing since you have been with her this long that she's not been purposefully manipulating you but the end result is the same.

I agree with others that this situation really does require couples counseling. Just like if she had any other addiction or violated your trust for years. If you want to stay together – and I think you *can* come back from this – you will both need to do some hard work. It's not really about the money and if all you do is take control of the finances, then you'll be ignoring the heart of the problem.

As part of the healing process, it may help to research some ways that couples can manage money together. You can keep control of the finances for now while having frequent discussions about what your shared money goals are, what your budget is and how you will both keep within it. You both get a set amount of "mad money" to do with as you see fit. However, you will need eventually to become equal partners in the financial health of your marriage. You can find arguments for separate vs. shared finances but I think you guys will need to share to get though this.

Also, I think that you can set up credit alerts on your credit report – try to disentangle yourself from the habit of trying to "catch" her in the act. That's just so stressful.

Anyway, good luck – having spent years in our marriage trying to work out how to get on the same page regarding money, I know that it can be such an emotional minefield.
posted by amanda at 9:04 PM on September 7, 2010

I mean, at least she didn't cheat on me. In the end it is just money, isn't it?

Think seriously about whether there is any difference. (Really.) Imagine that she had cheated on you: Yes, that would be horrible. But would it be horrible because "sex" possesses some arbitrary quality per se, or because the act constitutes a fundamental deceit and betrayal of your commitment to each other?

I don't suggest this to say "Divorce her!", but only to offer a way of thinking about why you might be feeling as seriously as you are. No, I do not think you are taking this too seriously. I think what your wife did is...if not "equivalent" to cheating, then at least in the same ballpark and shares some basic, fundamental elements with infidelity. (Isn't it "infidelity," as the term is defined?) I do think your wife's particular failing is rather common (just like sexual infidelity, for that matter) and I know that many people have learned to change that same behavior. Maybe she already has. I am definitely not in the camp of, "I read about your problem on the Internet and now I recommend divorce!!" But no, I do not think you are taking this too seriously.
posted by red clover at 9:13 PM on September 7, 2010

I'm shocked at the people who say that you should have pooled your finances more. It's a bit victim-blaming to say that he wasn't being team-oriented enough with the money when he paid for everything!

I don't think there's anything wrong with having separate accounts. In this situation, I think it's best if you keep things as separate as possible. You don't need to end up in check services, unable to get a bank account, because of some wacky shit she did with your joint bank account.

And really, from what I've seen of this kind of financial deception and constant spending, it goes on and on until you have to check your child's credit reports to make sure she didn't take a credit card out in your 4-year-old's name. Seriously. This shit ruins lives and futures. It's not just money.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:20 PM on September 7, 2010 [10 favorites]

She has a problem with her spending that's been pretty clear at the start of your relationship. With my ex, yes I was a college student and there were times when I literally had 0.01 to my name. But I would contribute the best way possible to my relationship. She's one of those people who scream broke because she doesn't know how to manage her money. Definitely seek a money counselor... Im talking with the skills of Susie Orman. Get her books even. She has a real credit crisis thats been affecting you. Of course you feel at your wits end because this was something she should have done many years ago! It's like when a spouse has been physically hurting you for years, and they decide to get on the road to recovery... that doesn't take the pain and unhappiness from the years prior. Your mind remembers and then your heart feels that hurt. You've been unhappy with her for quite some time. It doesn't always have to be about cheating, hon. When financial security isn't there within a partnership, it will break it. It's not "just money." It's part of your basic needs to survive in this world.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 10:02 PM on September 7, 2010

You maintained almost completely separate finances (which in itself I don't understand - when my mate and I got together, everything was 'ours', we'd sink or swim together) and not only has she been blowing all of 'her' money, she's also been spending money she didn't have? And on top of that, using your money to bail her out, not just once but like a half dozen times?

Buy yourself some freedom and let her experience being an adult for once. You don't owe her anything, she is blatantly using you. Get out before she does irreparable harm to your sanity, empathy, and credit rating.
posted by foobario at 10:04 PM on September 7, 2010

Sorry if this sounds harsh, but I think a little tough love is in order.

At some point, shielding someone from the consequences of their actions becomes enabling. You've bailed her out enough times...what will be different this time?

Your wife can not handle credit cards, period. I agree wholeheartedly on the counseling, but I would put some teeth in it. If she is not willing to cancel all her lines of credit, and stick to a cash only budget in order to save her marriage, then she may not be ready to change, or may not be able to change. Either way, the situation is only going to get worse for you.

I am all for pooling resources within a marriage, but in this case I would urge you to separate yourself from her financially before disaster strikes. If you are already raiding retirement accounts, defaulting on your mortgage is not far away.

There may be other forces at play here. Get angry, dude! Somebody you love is walking all over you. Perhaps a bit of counseling is in order for you, too, to investigate issues of codependency.

In any case, best wishes in a very tough situation. You have stood by someone admirably through their troubles, but at this point the best way you can help her is by protecting yourself.
posted by skidoom at 10:14 PM on September 7, 2010 [6 favorites]

What I'm about to say is probably coming from my own ignorance about these kinds of things, so please take this with a grain of salt, but reading your post made me squirm uncomfortably a bit because something doesn't seem to add up here, to me.

She claimed that this was all due to student loan debt that she was trying to pay off, and was the reason she was in so much financial trouble.

This time she says it was debt she hadn't wanted to tell me about earlier.

By now it is clear that the real problem is that she spends money on clothes and random stuff she doesn't need, basically treating shopping as a hobby.

Student loans can be tremendous, I understand that. But then in the second line you simply say "debt".....debt...for what...? More student loans? And then you say really the problem is her buying stuff like clothes and random things she doesn't need? More recently, with a disposable income of $1800 a month? Where is all the stuff that she's buying - $1800 worth of extra stuff she doesn't need, every month - where does that stuff end up, and how have you not been aware of it?

As I said....please take this with a grain of salt. I've never lived with an SO before, and aside from food I really don't buy a lot of stuff so maybe I'm completely naive...but I can't help but wonder how you haven't noticed all of the extra stuff she's been buying (over all these years?) with her $1800 a month and, before that, the money she's been getting from loans/credit cards.

Maybe my idea of the amount of money that she's spending is off....but my goodness, if at this point you're still paying off debt that will take 3 years, it sounds like an awful lot of disposable income that is going to random stuff that you haven't noticed in your home over all this time. Does she have a lot of this random stuff still that she can sell to help speed up her debt payments?

Definitely seek counseling as others have suggested. Her lies about all of this are certainly something that would disturb me greatly in a relationship, so I don't think you are off base in how you are feeling. But...I would also want to make certain, if I were you, that I knew where all of that money she was spending over the years really went....she must either have a *lot* of student loans, or a *lot* of extra needless "stuff" in her possession. I hate to say this because it's complete speculation on my part, but if neither of those are true I wonder if the problem could be something else (gambling..?).

Good luck, and my apologies if I'm way off base with some of my interpretations of your post.
posted by Squee at 10:18 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

She's been addicted to shopping, you've been enabling it, and now that you've put your foot down and stopped enabling it, she's doing better at fighting her addiction.

So, now's a fantastic time to get into counseling, since you've addressed (at least in the short term) the factual matters relating to money, and now you have to start confronting the emotional matters relating to money (such as your resentment and distrust, and her addictive behavior and historical pattern of lying.)

Should you get divorced? Go to counseling and find out.
posted by davejay at 10:30 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Put the issue of money aside and ask yourself - do you actually want to leave?

My wife is totally dysfunctional with money - we have almost got a massive cc debt under control, and on the weekend she returned home from Costco with a new sewing machine - because "it was on special" - that's it we have have no need for a new sewing machine, but, if it's on special, well that's a different story. I love her, and I see is as my mission to constantly bail her out and chastise her. If you love her and see a future - if not, put the relationship out of it's misery.
posted by the noob at 10:38 PM on September 7, 2010

I can understand why you are contemplating divorce. I know that I would be incredibly angry and mistrustful after discovering something like this. That being said, have you talked to her about this? I mean really talked, past the "this is how much you get now get it together" speech? Things like this don't happen in a vacuum. She either has a serious addiction to spending money or a serious lack of respect for your marriage. You won't know what that is until you talk to her and let her know that being a good girl isn't going to be enough. If it were me, I would let her know how hurt and angry you are and get some couple's therapy, and some individual therapy for her. I hope that either way, it works out well for you.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:42 PM on September 7, 2010

I am not trying to turn this around to make it your fault, (and it is too big of a question to really get to the heart of in a online forum)...but I'm just wondering if there is more (deeper) to the story that she simply overspends (over and over). I'm probably projecting, but a friend of mine was an over-spender shopaholic and she confided in me that her husband had turned away from her sexually. If there is something like that happening you must begin to see your part in the problem. ---Just sayin.
posted by naplesyellow at 12:34 AM on September 8, 2010

So Mefites... give me some perspective here. Am I taking this too seriously? I mean, at least she didn't cheat on me. In the end it is just money, isn't it?

I would treat this as an addiction.
She apparently couldn't control her spending habits despite trying.
So while I understand how much her lying undermined your trust in your relationship, consider whether you would be able to see her lying as a symptom of an addiction, rather than...whatever lying normally means.
At the same time, I think you are right not to give her free rein over the money, and to demand constant control, a plan on what to do about your incomes in the next few years, and of course counselling to get her spending habit under control. I am not an expert on personal finance, but get help on constructing a plan that both you and she can agree on.

That said, I understand the feeling of "enough is enough". I won't advise you that it is your duty as a husband to stick it out or something, because to me, money is a huge safety issue and I couldn't be together with someone who mismanages it.

The decision whether you can't take it any longer or whether you want to save your marriage is very subjective and truly yours.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:28 AM on September 8, 2010

I think you both need to get into therapy to explore 2 issues - why your wife buys so much stuff and why it took you so long to notice - at the risk of being accused of 'victim blaming' - seriously dude, your wife is spending thousands of dollars every month for years on 'clothes and random stuff she doesn't need', how did you not notice? I assume all this stuff was being brought into your marital home. When she comes home with a new outfit and matching shoes but claims she has no money for her gym membership, why did you not call her out on it?

Your wife clearly has a problem and the shopping may only be a symptom but I have to wonder if your marriage has deeper problems if she could have such a bad spending problem for so long without you noticing. Its not like this was secret gambling problem where the money just disappears, as you explain it the money was exchanged for goods which had to go somewhere.

Do you still love your wife? Other than this issue are things good between the two of you?
posted by missmagenta at 2:44 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your wife's behaviour is no different to any addict - gambling, drugs, alcohol. And your reaction is also typical - first you help her (bail her out), then you feel you can "control" her ("set her up with a limited budget").

This will never work. She is an adult, after all. She is not your child. So lighten up on the limited budget and trying to control her expenses. She will not stand for it for long, and it will only cause more bad blood between you.

That said, to your main question. I can't tell you whether or not to get divorced. What I will point out to you was that your wife lied to you on multiple occasions, and betrayed your trust on multiple occasions. Whether you feel you can forgive her for that, and move forward, only you can tell.

Before you commit to therapy, ask yourself this - does your wife want to change? Is she sincere in trying her hardest to overcome her addiction to spending? Or is she just going along with the ride for the sake of her marriage? If you think she is sincere, by all means go to therapy, but know this - she WILL NOT stop her addiction magically because she has started therapy. You will be up for a few more bills yet! So bear that in mind too.

And to those upthread who say you should have noticed - why do they assume that she only spends money on buying clothes and other such stuff? Indeed, why do you assume it? It is pretty easy to lose a fortune quickly from gambling - have you considered that that may be her real addiction? She has lied to you all these years, that could just be another lie.
posted by humpy at 3:12 AM on September 8, 2010

Ditch the separate accounts.

This often comes up in this kind of thread, personally, and I have previously suggested, that whatever works for the couple works for the couple. In this circumstance however I think it would be an appalling error to combine funds. One partner has proved repeatedly that they cannot be trusted with money - letting them have access to all the possible funds in the marriage is a recipe for disaster! I can see some potential use for an account that she pays into but only he can take from, and to link this to paying bills, long term savings etc. She will need to buy into that for it to work, and it will need to be transparently open to checks by her that it is going to things specifically. Basically he needs to take responsbility for her funds because she can't be trusted to do so. Having seen a friend's marriage fall apart over his inability not to resist buying whatever expensive whim he took a fancy too, leaving her saddled with £30,000 of debt by the time she wised up, I think this is a reasonable expectation in marriages where one partner behaves this irrationally and deceitfully.
posted by biffa at 3:43 AM on September 8, 2010 [8 favorites]

I'll add my 'go to couples counselling' advice onto the heap. You might still decide after counselling that you do actually want to get divorced after all. But if you just rush to divorce now you'll always wonder if things would have gotten better if you'd tried to talk it out with each other, with the help of a third party to get you both past the communication issues you have.
posted by harriet vane at 5:26 AM on September 8, 2010

Am I taking this too seriously? I mean, at least she didn't cheat on me. In the end it is just money, isn't it?

I'm not going to tell you to get divorced, because I think that's too big of a decision for a stranger to help you with, one way or another. But I just want to point out that your wife lied to you repeatedly, consciously, and over a period of years. She did so to further a habit that will have real and potentially serious consequences for both of your financial futures. This is a serious betrayal. If she had just slept with someone else two or three times, you would be getting a huge DTMFA pile on in this thread. So think carefully about whether or not that's actually worse than what she did.

Oh, and whatever you do, keep your accounts separate. She should under no circumstances have access to your bank account. She will bleed it dry and ruin you financially. No maybe about it - it's pretty much guaranteed.
posted by Ragged Richard at 5:57 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Everybody else has good advice on what you should do from here. I just wanted to add that it does make sense to me that you'd be having these feelings now. You've spent the last decade putting out fires, trying repeatedly to deal with an immediate problem. Now, for the first time, it looks like you've got some calm, the problem is under control. It's only now that you can even relax enough to see the big picture, get some perspective on what your life has been and think about whether it's what you want.

I'm hoping that this perspective will be helpful to you. Try to calmly watch these feelings that come up for you, knowing that they've been building for a long time, knowing that they may feel more powerful for coming out all of a sudden. Be aware that it's a dynamic process. There will be plenty of time to make a decision.
posted by wyzewoman at 7:17 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm floored at the people who think combining funds in this instance is a good idea. Or who think letting her 'hit bottom' will work - somehow forgetting that while he's married to her (and for a while afterward) their finances are combined. He can't allow her to run up insane amounts of debt because he can be held responsible for them as well.

Does she want to change? Does she see a problem? Couples counseling in concert with financial counseling is the best shot you have at figuring out how to fix things - if you want to fix things.
posted by canine epigram at 7:57 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Did you talk about money in the beginning? It really seems like there wasn't much communication about the expectations of either one of you. I also don't see much about what you do like about your relationship - it seems to be a money drain, but it must have some up-sides too, right?

At this point, you've definitely spiraled further and further away from a healthy, mutually satisfying partnership, and it will take some work to get things back. It's doable if you decide to do it, but you have to feel like it's worth it. What does she spend the money on? Can you relate to it at all (eg, do you love seeing her in great outfits, or are you just as happy when she's in sweatsuits...)? Is the "just money" that she spends going towards something that you unknowingly support (telling her she looks hot when she wears heels that probably cost $400)? Or is it stuff you don't even notice, or that she hides from you? That element of the relationship is important to work out...
posted by mdn at 8:10 AM on September 8, 2010

I would absolutely not combine finances and not blame yourself for her deception.
posted by the foreground at 8:41 AM on September 8, 2010

OP here...

Just wanted to say thanks to everybody for replying. Lots to think about.

Also wanted to clarify a few things that didn't come out in my ramblings of last night.

First, she does recognize that she has a problem and we have gotten her professional help for that. Me taking over all the finances is part of that. By making everything more structured she can still spend her discretionary budget, but she doesn't have the temptation to spend wildly.

As for how she managed to spend 20K+ a year while hiding it from me. Well, not really that hard. I don't know the difference between a $30 dress and a $300 dress. And she spent money on things like massages, etc. And of course she hid a lot of her purchases from me, or lied about where they came from. Basically, if you trust a person they can hide a lot from you.

Thinking about it, the young rope-rider has put his finger on what really bugs me. In all of this, she never spent anything on me. Never paid for dinner. Never bought me anything nice.

And wyzewoman is right. Years of putting out fires, and now things are finally under control. I can sit back and take stock, and all I can think about is "why do I bother".

Anyway, thanks again to everybody.
posted by skaffen42 at 8:55 AM on September 8, 2010 [8 favorites]

I've been personally going over my own household budget, and I wanted to say that it's remarkably easy for $1000 a month to just kind of . . . go away. And that's on a lower-middle-class income.

Too much on groceries. Eating OUT! Eating out lunch at the more expensive place. A CD here and a movie there. If you're not watching it, money can be like water. It's not like you have to buy a diamond necklace every month.

And then there's the interest on her CC debt.
posted by endless_forms at 9:31 AM on September 8, 2010

Are you sure that some of that money hasn't been going to support a drug habit? Because it seems weird that she could be spending that much on clothes and stuff without you noticing the physical stuff piling up.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:35 PM on September 8, 2010

Jacqueline, it's pretty staggering how much you can spend on clothing, small electronic devices, cosmetics, food, etc if you always go for top-tier stuff.

skaffen42 - it's absolutely encouraging to hear that there's a counselor/professional involved. It sounds like you might be talking about a financial counselor, though, which is important but only half the battle in the situation you describe. Now that the cash situation has stabilized the relationship issues are what seem to be bubbling up to the surface. The point you made about feeling hurt about the nature of the expenditures is important; it doesn't sound like you wanted her to "spend her money on you" as much as you felt that there was a very, very lopsided level of sacrifice and care for one's partner.

These aren't financial questions: they're absolutely, positively about the relationship, your trust, and your perception of her care for you. You need a third party working with you about those questions specifically, because it's very, very easy to get the answers tangled up in transient emotional outbursts or second-guessing.

I'm really sorry that both of you have to go through this, and you're in my thoughts. You can make it through -- friends and members of my own family have had to deal with similar issues on a purely financial level. Make sure you're not trying to pick through the emotional and relational aspects of it alone.
posted by verb at 3:00 PM on September 8, 2010

This often comes up in this kind of thread, personally, and I have previously suggested, that whatever works for the couple works for the couple. In this circumstance however I think it would be an appalling error to combine funds.

posted by davejay at 4:43 PM on September 8, 2010

Ditch the separate accounts. Married people need to function as a team, and if one member wants to be apart from the team, that's not going to work.

I better tell my wife we need a divorce, since our marriage of ten years obviously can't be functioning.

In this circumstance however I think it would be an appalling error to combine funds.

Quite. I can't help but wonder how some of the advice would pan out were genders reversed; the idea that the poster should be cleaned out financially because "girls like shopping"? Really?

I will, instead, weigh in that there's no "just money". Tell me that when you spend some serious time stressing out about whether you can afford to eat or make rent for the next couple of months. You, poster, haven't had this problem thus far because you earn so much money you can absord the shocks of your wife's money problems - but I'd be more than a touch upset at having watched the fruits of years of my like disappear into a void of dishonest self-gratification; it would also give me pretty serious pause for the long-term. Do you want to one day explain to a child that they're going to have to give up their music class or football or what-have-you because Mummy cleaned out the accounts again? Do you want to hit the point you'd pegged for retirement and find the money's gone?

I wonder if part of your feeling is based on an image of years of policing an adult, your partner, to make sure they don't relapse, as well. Who wants to baby their partner?
posted by rodgerd at 1:21 AM on September 9, 2010

In all of this, she never spent anything on me. Never paid for dinner. Never bought me anything nice.

Please do not take this fact personally. Your wife has/had a shopping problem. She is medicating herself with consumer goods in attempt to make herself happy. We're all trying to make ourselves happier. Some of our ways are healthier than others. If I'm attempting to make myself happy with cocaine, why would I buy you any? She's not thinking straight. Every time she buys something, there is very brief thrill, she forgets it, and then needs to buy more.

Her shopping was a selfish pursuit but if you're going to be mad, don't be mad that she didn't go into debt to buy you a stupid gift. She bought stupid gifts for herself because she wasn't in the right frame of mind to be generous and responsible. She has a problem. She admits this and is motivated to stop spending. She probably has a tremendous amount of guilt.

It's a hard call. I understand your anger. You have definitely been taken advantage of, but I doubt it was with malicious intent. She's trying to keep up with the Joneses, probably has a big sense of entitlement, and is most likely chronically discontented and seeks to make herself happier with shopping instead of working on what is really wrong with her head.

She has had a cushion for a very long time. You have always bailed her out. She never had to be an adult when it came to money. Some of us mature later than we would like. She is now seeking help and promising not to go into debt again. It's up to you to decide if you love her enough to stay.
posted by Fairchild at 6:36 AM on September 10, 2010

Fairchild, I think it's completely fair to take something personally when it's your spouse doing something to you that hurts you very much and is inherently very selfish.

We all behave hurtfully at times, sure. But it doesn't matter whether that hurtful behavior comes from selfishness, immaturity, an addiction, or the full moon.

People have the right to respond to our behavior, not our intentions (or lack thereof).

You seem to be comparing it to an addiction (like to cocaine). Even if she were addicted to cocaine and it wreaked this amount of havoc on the OP's life, and caused her to behave so selfishly, the OP would have every right to feel hurt and wronged, because he has been.

Making it about love, as though he has to stay with her to prove that he loves her "enough"--why didn't she love him "enough" to get help? See how that works? It can be used to justify or require anything.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:31 AM on September 10, 2010

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