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The Secret That Cost Me My Marriage

My ex has never been able to forgive me.

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Jade Schulz
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I’ve never been what they call “good with money.” Growing up middle class, my parents were models of frugality. They owned our home and paid cash for everything. Imagine their surprise the first time they financed a car, only to be turned down because they had not established a credit rating. I was taught to work hard, save and pay bills on time. If you didn’t have the cash in hand, you didn’t buy something until you did. So how the wiring in my brain went so far off track when it comes to money is still a mystery to me.

My “not good with money” took me into $50k worth of debt and a secret life that ultimately cost me my marriage.

I don’t like to be cavalier when telling this story, but sometimes I liken it to being a spy. It’s flippant, but what I did was akin to living a secret life and hiding secrets from everyone around me. Only, in this case, it was stressful and there was nothing sexy about it.

I also don’t like to blame my ex-husband, but let’s just say, he should have seen it coming. While dating in college I once (or twice) convinced the shop clerk at the Bon Marche to let me use “my fiancé’s” credit card. I told him about it afterward, and I had used it to purchase something for him, but surely that was a red flag. I mean, who does that?

After our second child was born, we moved to a small rural town in Northern California. I had quit my job to raise our son and newborn daughter and found myself isolated in a new housing development surrounded by farmland. New friends consisted of other stay-at-home mothers with large budgets for landscaping and decorating their newly constructed homes. I, on the other hand, had no such budget and found myself desperately alone, longing for a community of friends and family who had desires outside of the latest Gymboree clothing, window coverings and Longaberger parties (IYKYK).

My husband traveled frequently for work, and I found myself filling my sadness with “things” — things charged on credit cards that I promised myself I would pay off. Next month. Wait, next month is Christmas. I’ll pay it off in January. Or the next month. But I didn’t pay them off. There was always some reason.

Instead, I used more credit cards. And the balances steadily grew. I took what odd jobs I could with the intent of paying them off. At one point I donated my eggs and went through two separate rounds of treatments. But my husband knew I was getting paid, and the compensation never quite made it to paying the mounting debt. By the third year it was clear I needed a miracle.

More than five years went by as both the debt and the terror of my husband finding out increased. I was usually able to pay the minimum but soon even those were hard to pay. I financed a new car when he was out of town because I was terrified of him seeing the credit report. When we moved and purchased a new house, I had all our bills sent to a post office up the street. On closing day for the house purchase, I took the paperwork to the bathroom and shoved the financial statements listing all our debt down my pants. When the post office closed permanently and the bills had to be delivered to our house, I made sure there was only one mailbox key that was always with me. Every day I timed my schedule around the letter carrier. It was exhausting.

I went to bed in terror knowing what I was doing was wrong. I needed to come clean, but I didn’t know how. I didn’t trust my husband enough to confess my mistakes. I feared the fallout. I had worked hard to create a life for us, and by admitting my mistakes that life would change. The power balance would shift. I wouldn’t be in control anymore. We would have to give up vacations and nice meals out. I was terrified of family and friends finding out. I was terrified of what my husband would think of me. I was scared of who I had become.

When he did find out, it was in the most awful way. Over three months late on the maxed-out American Express bill, the minimum had become too much, and I was paralyzed. Driving home from vacation, a neighbor called my husband saying someone was trying to get ahold of him. That someone was the bill collector. The gig was up. It was as terrible as I imagined it would be. The next several weeks were spent in various fits of rage and anger (him), a whole lot of tears (me), and hours of going over bills, deciding what needed to be done. Often when we think of infidelity, minds go straight to the bedroom. But for my husband, lying about money for so many years was just as damaging as me taking a lover.

It took us three years to work off the debt. Some was negotiated down with the credit card companies. Our credit ratings took a hit for a few years, but we finally paid everything off. Unfortunately, the damage was done. The years of lying had taken its toll. Trust was broken, and no amount of martial counseling could repair it.

The other day a friend asked me if I thought my marriage would have lasted if it weren’t for my financial infidelity, and I answered with a solid “Yes.” 

While our marriage had many other weaknesses, the betrayal of trust for my husband ultimately manifested itself in many other ways and ultimately broke us completely.

I still “struggle with money.” I would love to say I learned my lesson, but I still use credit cards and emotionally shop. I still have moments of weakness, and I regularly fight the urge to procrastinate hard decisions. Slowly I am learning to curb those impulses. This is the year I’ve decided to turn the corner. Creating a monthly budget and tracking my spending puts me in the driver’s seat of my own finances.

I listen to podcasts about being intentional, read a lot of books and frequently think about the mistakes I made. I work intentionally every day to create healthy financial habits that eluded me for years. While my ex-husband has never been able to forgive me, I’m working on forgiving myself. One day at a time.  

Have YOU ever kept a big secret from your spouse? Let us know in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Relationships