Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Athena and Elizabeth here. (It’s anonymous!)
Dear Pay Dirt,
My husband grew up with parents with poor financial literacy who constantly fought about money and were deep in debt. Unsurprisingly, this upbringing has had a major impact on how my husband relates to money.
It’s a two-part problem: he feels a compulsive need to have more of it, and simultaneously he does not have a healthy attitude toward how to accomplish that goal. He constantly thinks he’s discovered a magic secret for guaranteed wealth (drop shipping, crypto, forex trading…), and that the only reason everyone isn’t rich from it is that they don’t know about it. I push back on that notion, which leads to him complaining he can’t talk to me about his interests.
During the height of COVID in 2020, I discovered that he had put $1,500 of our shared money into drop shipping behind my back (he 100 percent knew I was not on board), lost every penny, and then put another $500 into crypto. He did apologize and seemed to feel genuinely bad, but because of the circumstances of that time (stress, no child care, more stress), we weren’t really able to address the trust issue. I just shoved it as far back in my mind as I could and carried on.
I overheard him on the phone recently telling an unidentified party that he’d lost said party’s money on something and telling them to check out a crypto WhatsApp group that we’d previously discussed and that I’d told him was for sure a scam. He’d said he would bow out of it. When I confronted him, it came out that he’d borrowed money for forex trading and lost all of it, he’d been trading the crypto that he’d told me was just sitting, and he was still involved with the WhatsApp group. He initially lied about that first point and claimed he was just joking (I didn’t believe him for a moment), and even after admitting the lie, at first, refused to tell me who was on the phone. It eventually became clear why: It was an acquaintance of his who recently did a stint in jail for a multi-million dollar tax evasion scheme. He very much knew I would not have been OK with any financial involvement with this individual.
My husband has admitted he was wrong, that he’s been incorrectly prioritizing money over our relationship, and that he has a problem with money (he has never been dishonest with me on any other topic). He wants to do whatever is necessary to rebuild trust. So that’s great. But the thing is how DO we rebuild trust after this?
—Small Investing Is Fine But This Is Not
Dear Small Investing,
Think of this as though your husband were financially unfaithful—because he was. Financial infidelity can include sheltering of accounts and assets, but it can also include the behavior your husband is engaging in. To rebuild trust, I suggest you start seeing a couple’s therapist who has specific experience in dealing with these sorts of issues around money.
A couple’s therapist will help you move forward by facilitating conversations so you both feel heard and can help you both understand each other’s points of view. Counseling can be a place where you set healthy boundaries and work toward actionable steps to heal. They may also suggest your husband seek additional one-on-one sessions to help him work through the other issues you mention that may be driving his impulsive behavior.
While you are in the process of setting up your next steps, I also recommend you check out the website Healthy Love and Money. Founded by Ed Coambs, the site provides resources to help couples learn to communicate about their finances. This might be a good place to start as you wait to find the counselor that’s the right fit.
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