Dr. Romance:

My husband and I have been married for over thirty years. Our children are grown. We own our home , but have a mortgage. Throughout the years, there has been financial infidelity: When we got married, my husband was evading bills from retail stores. I only found out nearly a year later. He told me about a school loan only when they caught up to us approximately five years into the marriage.

Basically his pattern has been that approximately every two to four years, he has opened a secret account or credit card. I discover it - sometimes it seems he leaves something out and I do some work and figure it out. Other times, I sense he has something to tell me. Then, I ask if he has something to tell me and weeks later, he does.

Two years ago, we made a financial plan, refinanced the home to cover some of our debt, but still have tens of thousands of credit card debt.  But my husband still kept creating debt.  I have been in and out of shock and denial. Always before, I have managed to fix each financial dilemma. As there is very little extra at this point, I have had nothing to offer the these creditors. Finally he borrowed from his retirement to borrow the money so he was able to negotiate and pay his extra debt off.  He still has suspicious gift cards and unexplained purchases. On a fairly regular basis, I have obtained credit reports and no new or unusual accounts are noted. I have a suspicion that he has another account, but have not found anything to support this feeling. And I am no longer tearing the house apart trying to find "evidence."  

I repeatedly felt sure he was honest with me. It is terrifying that he could lie so convincingly all through the time we were refinancing. At this point, I am sure that he is a pathological liar; meaning by the time he comes up with a falsehood, he actually believes it.

I am still looking for a job. He has been employed with the same company for over 30 years. In spite of this, I love him. He does have many fine qualities. Any suggestions are very much appreciated. He has never gone to debtors anonymous, but I have gone twice.

I have two questions:

When and if should I divorce him for my own financial protection?

Is there a way to protect myself financially without divorcing him?

This is very humiliating. Thanks for listening.

Dear Reader:

How hard for you! My first husband was a gambling addict, so I'm familiar with money problems like this. It's pretty clear he's not going to change. Unfortunately, divorcing him may not give you financial protection, because he is very out of control, and without you in his life to keep things under control, his income is likely to not be available to you and the children post-divorce. On the other hand, losing a family is often the impetus for addictive/compulsive people to face the problem and change.

There may be a way to protect yourself financially while remaining married. If you can get him to agree that his income (minus an allowance for him) can be automatically deposited to an account that only you control, and only you can sign on, and all savings are in accounts from which only you can withdraw funds, you'll have some protection. Of course, even in this situation he may find a way to forge your signature or take out credit cards you don't know about. You're right. He's not only lying to you, he has convinced him self it's the truth which is why it's believable. This behavior is a hallmark of the narcissistic personality, which underlies most addiction. At this point, he is not in control of what he is doing, and deeply in denial.

What is he doing with the money? Does he have a gambling habit? Is he gambling on the stock market? Drugs? Gambling winnings might account for the gift cards. The money has to be going somewhere. Knowing what he's using it for could be helpful in handling the problem. I recommend that you check out
 which is the organization for families of debt-aholics. You'll be able to find support there and a lot of good information from other spouses of people with debt addiction.
"No Cooperation? Solve it for Yourself!"
 will help you find a solution that works for you.  

The Real 13th Step: Discovering
Self-Confidence, Self-Reliance and Independence Beyond the Twelve Step Programs 

will help you understand the underlying causes of addiction and what will help.

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Author's Bio: 

Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 30 years experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction; The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again; Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage, The Commuter Marriage, and her newest, Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences. She writes the “Dr. Romance” blog, and the “Happiness Tips from Tina” email newsletter.