Ask Amy: Marriage is in arrears over secret debt

Dear Amy: I recently found out that my husband of seven years has been using high-interest credit cards in his own name to buy expensive luxury items (wine, watches, clothing, etc.).

The total bill of this debt is $20,000. I think this has gone on for years.

I asked for his credit card statements, which is how I found out about this.

He said he was a coward for not telling me, and says he has been selfish.

I have strong concerns about trusting him now.

We have existing house debt of $20,000.

He has consolidated his credit card debt.

My husband is a strong Christian and so this level of deception is extremely hypocritical and disappointing.

How would you sort through and view this situation?

— Worried Wife

Dear Worried: You have opened the door onto your husband’s financial deceit and shopping problem, and now you should make sure that you have the full picture. After their purchase, where did these luxury items land?

Complete transparency will at least give you a snapshot of where his problems have landed the two of you.

You might start by researching the least expensive way your husband can negotiate, consolidate and pay back his debt (he has likely chosen a high-interest option). Selling items he has bought could help to chip away at the debt.

Until he demonstrates that he is actively and responsibly working on solutions, you should take charge of all of your joint finances. At least twice a month, you should sit down together and go over your income, bills, and savings.

He should commit to seeing a counselor and perhaps attend a support group for compulsive buying. Compulsive buying can sometimes accompany other addictive behavior, and might be an expression of underlying anxiety, depression or another mental health challenge.

Digging out will take time, but you can map this out on a calendar. Celebrate the positive steps you’re taking toward solvency as you cross various thresholds.

Because you have mentioned your husband’s Christian focus, you two might benefit from the work of consumer financial adviser Dave Ramsey. Ramsey’s long-running radio show (and podcast) casts consumer debt as a spiritual issue (I agree).

People calling in to the show share strategies and inspiring stories. Those who have clawed their way out of debt describe the liberation of solvency, as well as the relationship benefits of working together to take back control of your financial future.

Dear Amy: I like keeping a colder house, as it helps me to breathe better. My thermostat is often set at 67. I wear layers when I am cold, as I get relief from chronic rhinitis and sinus issues.

However, when my parents visit (they are in their 60s), they constantly complain about the cold, until I have to set the thermostat to 73 degrees.

My mother has even joked that they will happily foot the entire month’s heating bill just for more heat while they’re visiting, which is NOT the right perspective on things.

I do watch what I spend, but I swear the thermostat has very little to do with it. I can afford to heat my own home to a balmy 73, but that is uncomfortable for me.

My parents only visit once a year from far away, and our culture necessitates utmost respect for their needs.

But I also don’t want to be uncomfortable in my own home.

What’s a reasonable compromise?

— Sweater Weather

Dear Sweater: There is no compromise here, there is only you maintaining a hospitable environment for your parents, who are undertaking a long annual journey in order to spend time in your home.

I live in a very cold environment where six months out of the year the phrase “put on a sweater” is trotted out to anyone who complains.

But perhaps during this period, you could actually take off a layer or two in order for your folks to be comfortable.

Yes, if you’re having to choose between your comfort and your guests’ comfort — you should choose theirs.

Perhaps you could cordon off your bedroom during this period and keep it cooler than the rest of the house.

Dear Amy: Tears are streaming down my face as I read “Mark in Missouri’s” beautiful tribute to his wife, and his encouragement for her to take “girls’ trips” with her sisters and cousins.

“Illness has no calendar for good times,” he wrote.

So true!

— A Fan

Dear Fan: The best work I do is to amplify the beautiful wisdom of my readers.

(You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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