An Emotional Affair Meets Financial Infidelity: Part 5. The Cost of Financial Infidelity
Part 5 The Cost of Financial Infidelity
We met three weeks later.
They sat on the sofa, I in my chair with the round leather-topped coffee table between us.
“I’ve cut down on pot,” Steve said. “I’m determined to stop in a week.”
“Are you okay with that?” I asked.
“Not just okay. I feel better, even proud. The Buspar takes the edge off.”
“It’s good not to have the smell in the house,” Carey said.
Steve nodded. “I’m coughing less.”
“Good!” I smiled. “How’s it going with Vanessa?”
“It’s over,” Steve replied. “We haven’t seen each other since we were last here.”
“Has that helped?” I asked Carey.
She sat forward. “Definitely. And we’re talking more.”
Steve frowned and looked at me. “I’m having a problem I wish didn’t bother me, but it does.”
“Carey hums and it drives me crazy. I don’t know what it is, but the sound gets on my nerves.”
“How do you deal with that?” I asked Carey.
“I know he’s irritated, but there’s nothing I can say that helps.”
“So what do you do?” I asked Steve.
“I’ve just gotta get away. I leave the room when I hear her.”
“And that hurts,” Carey said.
“I don’t get why it bothers me,” said Steve. “I wish it didn’t.”
“My mother used to hum,” I said, “I think it helped calm her.”
“I’d never thought of it like that,” Steve responded.
“What if humming is Carey’s form of solacing herself, like pot has been for you?”
Steve looked toward Carey. “Is that what it does for you?”
“Yeah. I don’t do it purposely, I just find myself doing it,” she replied. “It calms my nerves.”
“Thinking of it that way makes me more tolerant.” Steve caught Carey’s eye. “After all, you’ve put up with my smoking pot for years.”
A momentary silence fell over us.
Carey sat forward, her face alight. “Until now, I haven’t pushed starting a family. I’m afraid we’ll never get there.” She turned to Steve. “I’ve never stopped loving you. But with Vanessa and pot, I’d stopped hoping. Now, I’d really like to start a family.”
“I’d love to have a child too,” Steve said. “I’ve always wanted to teach my son to play basketball.”
Carey’s eyes widened like a child spying a birthday cake. “And I’ve wanted to teach him how to play soccer. I was good at it.”
“What if you have a daughter?” I asked. “Can’t she play soccer or basketball?”
“I’m sure she can,” Steve answered. “They’re lots of great women athletes like Lisa Leslie.”
“I’ve watched her dunk a basketball,.” Carey said. “I admire Mia Hamm playing soccer. It doesn’t make sense to say I want a boy, but most of my girlfriends say they want boys too,” Carey said.
“I’m more comfortable knowing what to do with a boy,” Steve said. “But having a girl would be good too.”
“I was a tomboy. I loved sports,” Carey said, “and I think a girl would be good company.”
“Well, we have to look at our finances,” Steve said tapping his foot. “We’re just scraping by.” He glanced at Carey. “I’m scared what’ll happen when you stop working.”
“I don’t plan to stop except for a few weeks after the delivery,” she replied. “I love my new job. My boss Dan knows me and he’ll let me adjust my schedule.”
“But you took a pay cut,” Steve said.
“I did because I knew Dan would be flexible. I could raise a child and still do my job.”
Steve crossed his legs. “Why don’t we wait a little? We’ve made some big changes. Let’s give ourselves time to see how it works.”
“That’d make sense if I weren’t in my mid-thirties.” Carey shook her head. “I can’t afford to wait.”
Steve nodded. “I want a family too. But we need to be able to afford it. I may need to double my Buspar.” He smiled.
Carey rolled her eyes.
“Your mentioning money reminds me we need to discuss finances,” I said. “Many couples have conflicts over money. Often, one partner is the saver, and the other the spender.”
“How do they make it work?” Steve asked.
“They have to meet in the middle,’ I replied.
“How?” Carey asked.
“I’m the saver, and my wife the spender. She brought up things for us to do, like going to concerts, travelling, even buying a motorhome.”
“What’d you say to her?” Steve asked.
“Usually I said we can’t afford it.”
“What’d she say?” Carey asked.
“She said we can’t afford not to do it.”
“So who won?” Carey asked.
“Eventually we both did, but it took a while.”
“What’d you mean?” Steve asked.
“At the start I tried to change her into a saver like me.”
“How’d that work?” Carey asked with a grin.
“Not very well, as you can imagine. With time, I figured it out. I realized that most of the fun and enrichment we had in our lives came from carrying out my wife’s ideas. We were able to afford to travel, buy a motorhome and stuff like that because I’d saved. Working together we both gained more than either of us would alone. If we’d both been spenders, we’d have had a lot of fun until we went broke. If we’d both saved, we’d have had a lot of money but not the fun or enriching experiences.”
“That makes sense,” Steve said. “What if your partner spends and doesn’t tell you?”
“That’s a boundary violation,” I replied. “It’s called financial infidelity.”
“What do you mean?” Steve asked.
“We cheat with money when we hide our spending or aren’t financially transparent.”
A hush fell over the room.
Carey cleared her throat. “I have a thing about shoes.” She struggled to speak clearly. “It’s hard for me to pass up buying a pair when I see ones I like. Steve is frugal about buying clothes and expects me to be.”
“Yeah,” Steve nodded. “We don’t have enough money to buy costly clothes.”
“So I hide my new shoes in the back of the closet,” Carey continued. “When the time seems right, I wear a new pair. Sometimes Steve asks if they’re new. I tell him they’re just a pair that’s been in the back of my closet.” She blushed and glanced down at her white shoes.
“What make are those?” I asked.
“Prada slip-on sneakers,” she said. “They’re not as pricey as Gucci’s.”
“I’m relieved you came clean,” Steve said. ”I suspected all along.”
“Keeping secrets is costly,” I said. “In Alcoholic Anonymous they say, ‘You’re as sick as your secrets.’ Our relationships suffer and so do our bodies from carrying guilt and shame.”
“I’m relieved I’ve told you,” Carey said as she glanced at Steve. “I’ve justified it as a get-even for Vanessa and pot.” She looked directly at him. “I’m sorry I called you a sneak. I was sneaking too.” She studied the black and maroon designs in the Oriental rug.”
“Shame makes us want to be invisible,” I said, “like me at the wedding when my wife stopped dancing.”
“Thanks for being honest.” Steve said to Carey. “It helps me trust you.”
Carey continued to stare at the rug.
The prolonged silence grew deafening.
Suddenly Carey shrieked: “I’m fifty thousand dollars in debt!” She buried her face in her hands.
“I know,” Steve responded. “We’re paying off your college loan. And it’s a hundred thousand, not fifty!”
She shrank deeper into the couch and wrapped herself in her arms. “No,” she moaned. “I’m owe fifty thousand dollars on my credit cards!”
“What’re you saying?” Steve stammered. “Fifty thousand more?” He swiveled on the couch, his mouth open, his eyes narrow.
“That’s right,” she said. She bent forward and rocked.
Steve’s face flushed, then drained of color. “I don’t believe it!” he gasped. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
“I’m not.” she muttered.
“On what?” he cried, his complexion ghastly pale. He pounded his fists on his knees.
“Not just shoes. Clothes, furniture, the microwave, draperies, the new carpet…
Steve sat forward on the edge of the sofa. “I tried to get her to lease a Civic,” he said to me. “She insisted on a BMW. No wonder we’re drowning.”
She rocked back against the sofa and tried to catch her breath.
Silence again filled the room.
Finally Steve spoke, his voice trembling. “I knew you had one-hundred thousand dollars in school debt. We’ve been working to pay that off. But this is too much. I can’t take it!” He stood up.
“Steve,” I said, “please sit down. We need to talk.”
“I can’t! We wanted a child. “Now that’s off the table.”
“It doesn’t have to be,” I responded.
“Yes it does! I’m not going to raise a kid in poverty.”
“But your father left you. It wasn’t about money.”
“I won’t cheat my child the way I was cheated! I won’t do what was done to me! He turned toward the door. “I’m leaving. This meeting’s over!”
“Steve, we’ve got to talk this out,” I said as I stood. “Leaving solves nothing.”
“I can’t.” He yanked open the door.
Carey leapt up and followed him. “I’ll phone you,” she called over her shoulder.
Steve charged down the hall like a runaway colt. Carey bolted after him.
He slammed the office door.
Later that day Carey phoned me: “Steve moved out. He’s living with a friend. I don’t know if he’s coming back. He won’t talk to me.”
“I’ll try to reach him,” I said.
I phoned Steve. No answer. I left him a message.
I heard nothing for two days.
I texted him. No reply.
Finally, he called. He agreed to meet in two weeks with Carey and me. He refused to come sooner.
I phoned Carey, who said she’d come.
When we met, I asked Steve what happened.
“Carey stunned me.” He massaged his stomach with his hand.
“Fifty-thousand dollars,” I nodded. “That’s a lot of debt.”
“Her lies shocked me more than the money.”
“Your trysts shocked me!” Carey exclaimed.
Steve winced as if sucker punched. “I can’t believe what I’m hearing! This is my worst nightmare.”
“You focused on Vanessa,” Carey continued. “You didn’t give a damn about me!”
“Blame it all on me,” Steve replied, “like you’re little Miss innocent!”
Carey shook her head. “It’s not all my fault. My Dad didn’t teach me how to keep a check book or manage money. My Mom didn’t show me how to limit my expenses.”
“Oh give me a break!” Steve groaned. “Blame in on Mommy and Daddy.”
“You went off with Vanessa. Smoked pot in my face. What was I supposed to do? Buying the shoes, the couch, all of it—that was my only consolation!”
“We were already one-hundred thousand in debt.” Steve put his hand on his forehead. “What were you thinking?”
“Is it everyone’s fault but yours?” I asked Carey.
She lowered her gaze. “Are you going to divorce me?”
“I’m tempted.” He glared at her. “It would free me from your debt.”
“Please,” Carey whispered, “give me another chance.”
“I can’t trust you, Just like my father. He deceived me and now, you.”
“You must feel overwhelmed,” I said.
“A gigantic hole opened in my life when he left.”
“And now you have a huge financial hole.”
“Worst of all, there’s no trust,” he said. “I don’t trust Carey anymore.”
“How can you repair that?” I looked at Steve, then Carey.
“You know I specialize in helping companies in debt,” he answered, “that’s what I do for a living.”
“All the better,” I replied. “You know what to do. What would it take to give Carey another chance?”
He shook his head. “Right now I can’t imagine.”
“Give up her credit cards?” I asked.
“First off, she has to commit to stop spending.”
“How can she convince you of that?”
“I’ll lock up my credit cards,” Carey offered.
“That’s not enough,” Steve responded. “Cut them up. Now! No more temptations.”
Carey opened her purse and pulled out her Visa and American Express cards from her wallet. I handed her a pair of scissors from the mug on my desk, a handmade pottery from a client. She cut the cards into several pieces. “I hadn’t thought of myself as a spendaholic,” she said, “but I’ve spent in binges just like my Dad used to drink.”
“Is that all your cards?” I asked.
“Yes,” she nodded.
“What else does Carey need to do?” I asked Steve.
“I know I need help with my finances,” Carey interjected.
“Now’s the time to learn,” I said. “The lessons I’ve learned the hard way I never forget.”
“Find out how to end the lease on your BMW,” Steve said. “Lease the cheapest car you can find.”
Her shoulders drooped. “But I love my Danica. I named her for the racer. ”
“Take your lunch to work. No more eating out. Set the thermostat up to save on energy, especially when we’re away. It all mounts up.”
She exhaled, like air escaping from a balloon.
“Look for a second job,” he continued. “You work eight hours a day. I’m working twelve. Get a part-time job to bring in more money.”
Carey stared at the painting on the wall behind me—a tugboat in a storm breaking through a tall wave.
I followed her gaze. “That’s a gift from a client. He painted his story—he surmounted the storm.”
Carey turned to Steve. “A second job won’t be easy,” she said. “I need time to keep our house.”
“You’re battling an addiction,” I said. “You need help and lots of it. I strongly recommend you join Debtors Anonymous. Go at least once a week.”
“Where do they meet?” she asked.
“Check online. If you can’t find Debtors Anonymous meetings, call Alcoholics Anonymous. They answer 24/7 and have lists for all the Anonymous organizations.”
“Do I just go to meetings?” she asked.
“You need to get a sponsor as soon as possible. Someone who’s been sober with money. The longer, the better, but at least a couple years. Get rid of all your credit cards, go over your finances with your sponsor, cut your expenses to the bone, and work out a payment plan for your debts.”
Carey glanced at Steve. Her eyes widened. “You look like there’s something more?”
“Yeah,” he nodded. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “The hardest part. We can’t have a child, at least not now.” He grimaced and focused on the black flower in the Oriental rug.
“Oh, my God!” Carey exclaimed. “That’s my dream!” Tears spilled down her cheeks. “Why?”
“We don’t have money to support a child,” Steve said. “We’ve already spent it.”
“How long will it take to pay it off?” Her cheeks were pale and wet.
“At least seven years.” He closed his eyes and pressed his lips into a thin line.
“Seven years! I can’t wait seven years! I’ll be forty-two!”
“This is all on you, honey. I didn’t do this!”
“My chances for having a baby, especially a healthy one, decrease every year!”
Steve shook his head. “You figure out how to make it work! Pay our bills, debts, and the costs of a baby.”
Carey slumped in her seat and wept softly, holding her head between her hands. “I’ve always wanted a child. I can’t believe what I’ve done.”
“Most of us don’t wake up to our addictions,” I said, “until something shocks us out of denial.”
“This is all my fault,” Carey said as she looked up. “I will go to Debtors Anonymous.”
“There’s another big problem,” I said. “The lack of trust between you.”
“I don’t trust you with money.” Steve looked at Carey. “One spree will end it for me.”
“I appreciate that you’ll try.” Carey glanced at him with doleful eyes. “I’m not sure I could do it in your place.”
“Thanks,” he murmured. “I’m willing to try. We both want a child, but how can we raise a child without trusting each other?”
“Trust takes time to rebuild,” I said. “It requires discussing anything that raises suspicions. Don’t sweep your concerns under the rug thinking they’ll go away.”
“I commit to telling the truth,” Carey said. “I crossed a boundary by lying.”
“I want to stop blaming,” Steve responded. “I want to be the best husband I can be, not a victim, rescuer, or offender.”
I caught Steve’s eye. “Are you ready to move back into your home?”
“Yeah,” he said, “now that Carey’s promised to stop spending. I made a vow and I want to keep it.”
“And will you commit to not using pot or consorting with other women?”
“Yes,” he nodded.
“What about our therapy?” Carey asked. “We still need it.”
“We have to cut way back,” Steve said. “Once a month at the most.”
“This is not the time to come less often,” I said. “You need more help to make it through this rain. You need someone to mediate between you, to hear you both.”
“Could you sell some of your shoes or your jewelry to pay for it?”
“Could you sell your bike or cut back going to the gym?”
“Both of you need to give up something for it to work. Each decide for yourself. Leave it to your partner to decide their contribution.”
“I’m sure we can,” Steve said.
“I suggest we meet in two weeks,” I said.
“I’m not coming if we can’t agree to have a child within the next two years!” Carey’s cheeks flushed. “I want a child and I’m not going to throw away my chances!”
“We need to keep talking,” Steve said. “Let’s come back in a month.”
We scheduled a meeting in three weeks.
“You both want a child. You both want to be good parents. Love is a commitment we manifest through our actions. When you love, you can honestly tell your spouse: there is nothing you can say or do that will stop my loving you.”
I opened the door. “I’ll see you in three weeks.” I smiled at each of them. “Call or text me earlier if you need me.”
They each thanked me as they left.
Two weeks later Steve phoned to cancel their meeting.
“What’s going on?” I asked. “I haven’t heard anything from either of you.”
“Carey moved out a week after our meeting. She’s staying with her sister.”
“That must be painful.”
“It’s even worse. She’s filed for a divorce.”
“Is it over?”
“Definitely,” he said. “I’ve had it. There’s no going back.”
“I’m sorry to hear it. My door is always open to you. I’ll keep you both in my prayers.”
“I appreciate that,” he said.
We hung up.
I’ve heard nothing since.
©Dr. Doug Welpton