Financial Deceit in Marriage

A beautiful woman with a twice-mortgaged house in an expensive suburb finds her husband somewhat less than enamored with her chronic spending. Fights ensue after each purchase that she finds reasonable–a ‘must-have,’ really–and he perceives as an outrageous waste of funds.

Soon my client discovers the secret to marital harmony—every new and expensive purchase she makes she hides from her husband. It’s bliss–why hadn’t she thought of it before?  It’s true that at times her husband asks, “isn’t that a new dress?”  But, knowing her husbands gullibility coupled with his dull observational skills, she always wins by commenting, “No. I’ve had it for months.  You just didn’t notice it.”  As this situation progresses, however, she begins to push the envelope more and more. Soon she’s struggling  with how to hide a cherry-red $10,000 couch. She says her husband would explode if he knew what she paid.  But, really, how does one hide a cherry-red couch, even from the less-than observant husband?

Once a month at bill-paying time Janice* finds her usually fairly easy-going husband belligerent and impossible to talk to. Worse, he is sharply critical of her expenditures–and of her. The lifestyle the couple lives fails to match the income that either or both spouses used to have or pretend to have, but Janice remains almost determinedly oblivious.  Odder still, she doesn’t react initially when strange phone calls come in for business deals and debt collection. “Explanations” for these phone calls are abrupt and  often hostile. Late notices for bills appear frequently. The tax return, for the first time ever, is not ready on April 15.  Not wanting to further aggravate her increasingly cranky spouse, Janice says nothing. Bank account passwords are secret, and new credit cards show up in mail. The phone and cable bill remain unpaid. Willful ignorance is not serving Janice well, as she will soon discover.

Jake* decides it’s time for spring cleaning, and begins with his car, which could certainly use some work. In a burst of magnanimity, he takes his garbage bag and Dustbuster over to his wife’s car. He discovers a trunk full of packages with receipts. When Jake questions his wife, she responds that it doesn’t matter, as she’s returning these things anyway.  And, to add insult to injury, she doesn’t even thank him for his efforts on behalf of her car’s hygiene.

Louise* was always, to put it frankly, a disaster with money.  Chronically broke, she still has a taste for the finer things in life, and feels it unjust that she should have to deny herself. It’s becoming a tad bit more difficult, as she curntly has credit so bad that she has holds no credit cards. After the failure of her second marriage, she is officially bankrupt.  So, if you were a fairy tale author, what would you arrange?

Well, Prince Charming, of course. So along comes Lancelot, who gives Louise the big rush. Oh, poor Louise has no credit and no credit cards?  Lancelot to the rescue: he gives her his. Anyone reading this fairy tale might find this story odd, for Lancelot is a  modest earner with low ambition–and his house with his first wife was far short from mansion-status. But never fear: for Valentine’s Day Lancelot decides to treat to a show: the tickets $750 a pair.  Fresh red roses arrive to sweeten the event. Louise’s favorite chocolate is Godiva, which she finds a box of on her seat when Lance picks her up. Louise simply can’t believe her good luck.

But the trick in writing fairy tales for real people is that the characters are often not descended from royalty, and, thus, finanical realities intrude. So as soon as the “L”s are married there’s chronical finanical trouble and one fight after another.  Lancelot–who, actually, isn’t really named Lancelot at all but is known as Louie*–doesn’t really have a lot of money, given his business practices. So Louie is furious with Louise for her spending, and Louise, feeling betrayed, is chronically angry with Louie for being so cheap.


**There are no Janice, Jake, Louise or Louie, whose names have been changed to protect their privacy. Rather these are teaching examples, composed of bits from real life combined with illustrative details added to make the stories more interesting and instructive.


I help adults and adolescents through the particular struggles of our time: tension between couples, parenting frustration, blending new families, separation and divorce, (un)employment, cancer, and loss. When relationships come to an impasse, I use mediation techniques to try to ensure that each party will have his/her needs heard and accounted for in a dignified way. In addition to talking, listening, and reframing, I utilizes the tools of metaphor, active teaching, role-playing, visualization, and hypnotherapy.for families and businesses, as well as in cases of divorce.

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