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The Moneyist

March 14, 2020, 10:28 p.m. EDT

‘My wife made a fool of me.’ She secretly saved $40K and didn’t mention she was fired 6 months ago. I drove an Uber on weekends to pay the bills. What now?

‘I felt a tremendous amount of pressure to stay out on Friday and Saturday nights driving an Uber until 1 a.m. and 2 a.m.’

By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch

Dear Moneyist, 

My wife and I have been married for 13 years and live in New Jersey. I’m 44 years old and she is 41. Things have not been perfect, but three years ago we had a beautiful daughter whom I love very much. 

I have been committed to making the marriage work, and I’m trying to give my daughter a stable, loving family environment. But about four months ago, our arguments became more severe.

I think that having a child in a relationship places a responsibility on both parents to design a family plan that lays out financial stepping stones for education, retirement and general budgeting. 

Want to read more? Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter and read more of his columns here

My wife and I have never agreed on budgeting or spending. The conversation would always end in an argument. I’m sick of it and I don’t see a future if we can’t plan, or talk about a financial plan.

One month ago, I had a talk with my wife after seeing a therapist. The therapist session revealed that she didn’t trust me. I pushed for us to talk outside of a counseling session. 

I explained to her that if we don’t have trust, we can’t have a relationship. My wife revealed that she had saved up $40,000 and withdrawn $25,000 from her retirement account. 

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She told me she had spent most of the $40,000 and the $25,000. I was shocked, but remained calm. 

At the time, I worked after I finished my full-time job as an Uber (NYS:UBER)  driver to pay half the mortgage. I felt a tremendous amount of pressure to stay out on Friday and Saturday nights driving an Uber until 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. 

Why am I killing myself while my wife has the financial flexibility to save and I don’t?

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I looked through her paperwork while she was on vacation in Jamaica and found out that she was laid off six months prior. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t tell me. She still hasn’t admitted it.

I feel like my wife made a fool of me. What she has done is so disrespectful. We still can’t talk about money and future plans, among a whole long list of other issues. I’m on the path to getting a divorce.

What do you think?

Living in an Unhealthy Marriage

Dear Living,

On a financial-infidelity scale of zero to 10, this rates close to a 10. You are left with so many painful questions. How could your wife watch you leave home every Friday and Saturday night to drive an Uber until the early hours of the morning? Where did she go when she was supposed to be at work? Why did she save $40,000 in secret? What reason could she have for dipping into her retirement account for $25,000, likely at a hefty penalty?

Honest answers to these questions may or may not save your marriage, and save you from pulling the lever on divorce proceedings. But ultimately they’re for her to grapple with. Your wife’s problems are bigger than your marriage and almost certainly predated it, whether it’s been a rocky one or not. These are not the run-of-the-mill monetary secrets and lies that take place within a marriage. Typically, one partner runs up credit-card debt or buys something indulgent.

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But this is a credit card of a different color. More than half of adults (55%) say keeping a secret account is as bad as actually cheating on someone, and one in five say it’s worse than physical infidelity, according to a survey released last year. Older people with higher incomes and education levels were more likely to believe that physical cheating is worse. In your case, I believe an affair would be less egregious than what has happened in your marriage.

Without trust in your partner and respect in your marriage, what is there? Two people living together who once had a romantic connection and now share multiple responsibilities, including a child, a home, and the promise that they would love and support each other in sickness and in health. Your wife could be putting together an emergency fund so she can leave the marriage and restart her life somewhere else. No one knows what she’s thinking except for her.

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The good news: You don’t have to figure out why your wife did what she did, nor is it your job to make her see how hurtful this is to you and damaging to your relationship. That’s for her to do. Your job is to help take care of your child and yourself. Without any explanation or even acknowledgment that she is no longer working, assuming that’s the case, you can’t move forward. Notwithstanding more marriage-counseling sessions, it’s time to make your own exit strategy.

You can and should be transparent about your future plans. A woman recently wrote to me about her husband’s secret will. She wanted to write one herself, but I advised her not to allow her spouse's behavior to change who she is. I offer the same advice to you. New Jersey is an equitable-distribution state. Your assets will be divided in a manner that is deemed fair to the court, but not necessarily equal. Your wife’s financial infidelity will be taken into account.

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Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).

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Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas: inheritance, wills, divorce, tipping, gifting. I often talk to lawyers, accountants, financial advisers and other experts, in addition to offering my own thoughts. I receive more letters than I could ever answer, so I’ll be bringing all of that guidance — including some you might not see in these columns — to this group. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

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