DEAR AMY: I’m in a long-term marriage. I have hidden debt (in my name only). The debt is around $45,000. I incurred this debt through light gambling, buying clothes, makeup, travel, hobbies, gifts to adult children and also moving it around to prevent my husband from finding out about it. I completely manage this debt because my income covers it. In the marriage, part of our income is shared for household needs and the remainder is for each spouse to handle as they wish, with the expectation of much of it going to savings as we are nearing retirement. I’m torn between telling my husband about it, which may or may not end the marriage, and just leaving the marriage without telling him about it. Except for some diminishing of retirement expectations, the debt has not affected our financial strength. The lying and dishonesty, however, is affecting the emotional strength of our relationship. Obviously, there are other issues involved in our long marriage, but at this point, this is the question: Should I tell my husband about this hidden debt and incur his wrath and the possible end to the marriage? Or should I not tell him of the debt and leave the marriage by my own choice? Or should I stay the course and, since it’s manageable, assume that everything will be OK when the debt is paid off? I think I know what I’m going to do, but I’m still interested in your response.
DEAR IMPRISONED: You don’t mention if you have stopped your spending — but you must. I also don’t quite know what qualifies as “light gambling,” but this is another issue for you to be brave enough to address.
You could start by seeking treatment and group support through Debtors Anonymous (debtorsanonymous.org), or another similar organization.
You need to understand that your entire question is about the value you see in running, hiding and leaving the relationship over this. So please don’t think that this debt is “manageable,” or that it isn’t having a huge impact on your life, because your debt is running the show.
Of course it is affecting your relationship, as well as your financial future. All of the money you are plowing into servicing this debt is money you are not investing in your retirement.
There are ways to negotiate lower rates and payments to your debtors, and you may be able to substantially lower your burden by facing this and communicating with them.
And, yes, you should tell your husband. I can imagine that this will be disappointing and possibly devastating news for him, but your silence and secrecy is imprisoning you. When you disclose this, you will start your recovery.
Read “How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt and Live Prosperously (Based on the Proven Principles and Techniques of Debtors Anonymous),” by Jerrold Mundis (2012, Bantam).
DEAR AMY: My brother and I have not gotten along well in the last few years. It stems from his “ghosting” our family during a medical crisis of mine. His behavior was prompted and encouraged by his girlfriend. Fast-forward to now, and he is engaged to this same woman. I know that I will be invited to their wedding, but my question is, am I obligated to attend, as this is my brother? Several family members and family friends will be going, so my absence would likely be noticed. However, if this was a friend who had treated me as such during my medical emergency, I would choose to send a polite card and decline to attend the wedding. What are your thoughts?
DEAR ESTRANGED: You should do whatever you want to do. I would encourage you to attend, however. The reason is this: families are built on occasions, celebrations and shared experiences.
You know that if you don’t attend, your estrangement will become solidified. As it is, your witnessing this important celebration is demonstrating to your brother how family members should behave. They should show up for one another. Yes, your brother should have shown up for you when you needed him, and if your relationship is more active, you will be able to express this to him.
DEAR READERS: I still receive, read and appreciate “Ask Amy” postal mail. I have a new postal address which some newspapers haven’t yet posted, so I am noting it here. People wanting to write to me can address mail to “Ask Amy,” PO Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068.