Secret Debt in a Marriage of Deceit

By Amy Dickinson | July 16th, 2018

When debt affects more than just finances


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 whether 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 (, 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).

© 2018 by Amy Dickinson

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