Financial Infidelity Happened to Me
As with many couples, one of us was the saver (me) and the other was the spender (Rob). I was raised by parents who were conservative about money, and grew into a very budget-minded adult. Rob, on the other hand, was an only child who never learned to be responsible with money. I became a writer, and he finished school and got a job at a corporate law firm. Despite our opposite upbringings, though, I wouldn't have called us a couple with large-scale money problems.
After our wedding, we started trying to save up to buy our own place. We made a commitment to save money together, but he didn't really stick to it. I remember a box of DVDs and books arriving, which Rob had ordered, and saying to him, "Wait a minute—we said we weren't buying this kind of stuff right now." He said he understood, but it still happened a few times. I was starry-eyed, thinking that my being practical and responsible about money would be enough to keep our joint finances on track. And for a time, it was. With a little help from my family, we bought an apartment in Brooklyn. Looking back, I realize I had a very naïve idea about marriage—that if you love each other, you can figure anything out.
We lived in that apartment for about five years. Then, I lost my job—the company I worked for had a giant layoff, and I was actually one of the few people who saw it coming. I went into freelancing and got a contributing editor job at another magazine. I was doing well, but when I got a job offer at a startup—it was a recipe-and-cooking app—in Arizona, I felt like it was a good opportunity. So, Rob and I figured we'd try living out West for a year. We put our home on the market and it sold quickly.
During the time that Rob and I had been married, he had done some investing, and had had some success. But we decided we should just hold the proceeds from the sale in a joint savings account. I distinctly remember telling him, "I know you like to play the stock market, but there's a possibility we may move back to New York, so you shouldn't play with that money." He agreed, and I trusted him.
Over the next few months, I dove into my new job while Rob (supposedly) tried to sort out what to do with his life. He'd been on the fence about his career as a lawyer—and while in New York, we could never afford for him to take a break, in Arizona we could, so we drew up a plan that he'd have six months to mull over his options. As the deadline approached, though, I could tell he was struggling. He'd tell people we weren't going to stay there, and when I'd ask about his plans, his responses were vague. I sensed he was depressed and suggested we move back to New York—and I even took him to see a marriage counselor. But he said he was just going through a transition, still trying to figure out what to do with his life.
Meanwhile, the company I was working for went out of business, but I found a new job and was also writing freelance articles. One weekend, Rob flew to New York for a bachelor party, and I received a check for a story I'd written—I was excited because it was the most money I'd ever been paid for one article. I went to the bank to deposit the check, and the teller mentioned that we were going to start incurring fees because of our low balance. Surprised, I asked, "How low is it?" He responded: "Fifty-two dollars."
I assumed there must have been some sort of mix-up. Only fifty-two dollars? That was impossible; we had hundreds of thousands of dollars from the sale of our apartment...didn't we? I guess I couldn't be sure—all our money was in joint accounts, and Rob paid our bills and handled most of our finances. It was actually something that had impressed me: Back in New York, I always got the mail and looked at the bills, but after we moved to Arizona, I noticed he always got the bills and took care of them. I had thought to myself, "Oh look! He's handling this!" I was working a ton, and he wasn't, so I had just figured it was awesome that he was taking care of our finances. It didn't even occur to me that he might have touched our savings.
When Rob returned from his weekend away, I told him about what I learned at the bank, and he acted just as confused as I felt. He put his coat on and said, "I'm going to the bank to figure it out." Two minutes later, he came back. "There's not a problem with the account," he told me. "I lost the money. I've been investing it and had been doing really well for awhile. But I started making riskier and riskier investments, and...I lost all of it."
At first, his words weren't making sense to me. I couldn't believe it. I didn't understand how this could happen. Every dollar from the sale of our New York City home—gone? But as Rob spoke, he appeared dazed, with a panicky look in his eyes. I knew then that this was not a joke. He told me, "I made sure you never saw a bank statement. You were just glad I was taking care of things." And he was right—I had thought his stepping up like that was great.
Somehow, my brain kicked into damage-control mode. We went to the bank and took Rob's name off all our accounts (that is, what was left of our savings, along with our 401k, which he had touched, but that hadn't been lost completely). I brought Rob to a doctor so he could get some help with his depression. And we met with a marriage counselor. I was pretty sure our marriage was over. But I also knew that if we didn't talk about Rob's deception, I'd never be able to move on or have a healthy relationship again in my life.
The marriage counselor urged Rob to tell me about any past financial "indiscretions," as she called them—but he said there were none, he kept no other secrets. I wanted to believe him, but our counselor pushed me to find out for sure. So I went online, checking our retirement accounts, which were in my name. I had just never bothered to look at them.
It turned out Rob had been lying. As I dug back through account statements from before we bought our Brooklyn apartment, I discovered that Rob had been taking whatever money we had left over at the end of every month (after paying our mortgage and other bills) and investing it. All that time, I just figured we were barely breaking even—when really, we had cash left over every month that he was playing the stock market with, though he wasn't making the kinds of risky investments he later did with the money from the sale of our apartment.
Rob also admitted that before he lost all our money, he envisioned himself growing it into an even bigger amount and then surprising me with the wonderful news that our hundreds of thousands were now millions. As if that would somehow make his deception okay.
I said to him, "You know me—and you know how strongly I believe in right and wrong. The whole point is that you lied to me."
We stayed married for two more years. I thought that we could fix our relationship and rebuild the trust. We moved back east, and Rob got another law job and was responsible with our money. Meanwhile, I kept giving us "relationship" deadlines, like, "If by this date we're not connecting in any way, I'm going to ask for a divorce," et cetera. I kept not sticking to the target dates, though, because I kept feeling hopeful that I would save our marriage. I loved Rob and I was still really naïve, and thought we could work it out. But eventually I realized there was a certain emotional depth that he couldn't go to that I needed; there had been so much damage to the trust in our relationship, that it was never going to recover.
I finally asked for a divorce and he said to me, "No, don't—I can do better." I told him I believed that he had loved me, and that if he could've done better, he would have. But I knew we would never be able to get back to where we were.
It's been four years, and I've moved on. I'm in a happy relationship now. Sometimes, people will ask me why I got divorced, and I tell them my ex-husband lied to me. Of course, their first thought is that my ex cheated on me with someone else. And then I say "No, it was a financial deception." Both scenarios involve a betrayal of trust—and while I know my situation is not what people expect when they think of a lying spouse, it was just as devastating.
At the subject's request, names and identifying details have been changed.