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or, don't let this happen to you!
Published on May 3, 2007 By Sean Conners aka SConn1 In Current Events
The commercial is funny, and runs on cable news shows regularly.

A man, in a nice Suburban setting, is showing the audience his nice life that includes all the ammenities and cool stuff.

Then he asks rhetorically, "How do I do it?" and answers himself,,, "i'm in debt up to my eyeballs!" as his family and neighbors go about their business in the backround, oblivious to his pleas for help.

It still cracks me up. And like a lot of humor, it's funny because it's true. Fact is, we are in debt. We are over our heads in debt. And i'm not talking about myself personally. I have my own story, which i'll share later, but we are in debt as a people. And the biggest problem about the debt might not be the problems with paying it back.

The problem might be what it could do to our families. Unlike "historical debt" that at least both spouses were at a minumum "vaguely aware" of, even if 1 partner handled most of the finances, much of this debt is a new breed of debt.

Secret debt.

And recent reports are showing an alarmingly high number of couples are guilty of hiding debt from their spouse. Something like 1 in 3. As in,,,,,look at your neighbor on the left,,,, then on the right...and if they are ok,,,, guess what!?!?

I'm not saying your spouse is "financially cheating" on you. Like I said, this is secret debt, so unless you know all of your neighbor's secrets, you probably couldn't deduct it that way. The point is that it is not something that is the "exception" anymore. Spouses are secretly building up 10's of thousands, and in some cases, 100's of thousands of dollars of debt behind their spouses back.

And like with infidelity, the reasons can vary. Some get caught up in circular pattern of tryiing to cover other debts. Some are shopaholics and just can't stop spending. Some have secret vices that a world with easy access to multiple "off site" accounts are easily set up, become victims to those vices and the whole thing snowballs out of control. In researching this story, I saw examples that ran the spectrum of reasoning and bad decisions, just like with sexual infidelity.

And unlike some other things I write about, this is something I have personally experienced in my own life, from both sides. I thought long and hard about sharing this story, especially considering the opening I am giving to all those out there who relish on attacking me on here. But this story is about how the secrecy of this all is the problem, and maybe if i am forthright about this here, it may help others to do something in their own lives before it's too late.

Some time ago, I leant some money, many thousands, to a good and trusted friend. A friend that I had both entrusted in the past with 10's of thousands of my money, and had done the same for me. We were business partners in a way, a relationship that trancended our friendship. So, when I leant the money, I really didn't give it much of a thought. It was common practice for us to entrust the other like that. Our investments and trusts in each other had made bunches of money for both of us.

But shortly thereafter, he ran into some legal trouble. Eventually, he found himself incarcerrated. In addition to his now not being able to pay me back, I, as a friend, helped him out along the way with bail money and security, and some other things. Both of us were optomistic about how things woud turn out, after all, we had some of the best defense in the country (a lawyer who is in the "top 100 attorneys in america" and some court junkies would know by name).

Eventually, our optimism turned to realism as he was sent away for a longer period than anyone anticipated. Our ability to bail him out on a regular basis as the investigators repeatedly tried to lean on him pissed them off and eventually they found a way to technically and loosely "violate" his bail and even the money I was getting to recover the debt stopped. His circumstance also caused me not to be able to work in certain circles, due to various issues (none of which involved me being a criminal, more of "guilt by association") and cut off some of my income sources, at least in the short term, as things cooled off.

I was in a jam, to say the least. In addition to that, the past year had not been my best, financially speaking. A 30K + addition to our house, a new SUV for the wife, a car I bought my mother in law because her's stopped running and a host of other expenses, some expected, some not, had my financial picture in a tizzy.

The past several years had saw our credit card debt and so forth rise the way many families do. Slowly, but ever increasing, with the biggest jumps coming at Christmas time and other typical occasions like vacations. I'm not saying we never paid them off. But after each payoff, the next build-up would be a little higher more often than not than the last. I have a feeling this goes on with other couples too. Perhaps the paying off of an amount creates a mentality that the amount (or slightly more) can be "handled" once again.

Put all of this together, along with traditionally being a pretty generous person who rarely "pinched pennies," I was f*cked.

But I had a plan. I had borrowed before and had always been able to use and invest the money and that along with some hard work, come out ahead. And in case you are wondering, no, i'm not a gambler. I have been pretty good at investing over the years and buying and selling (buyin low, sellin high) so I had confidence that the only thing I needed was a jumpstart. A little "seed" cash.

This is where the real trouble started. I was embarrassed. I had always been pretty good with money professionally speaking. Personally, like I alluded to earlier, I was not so good. Part of my motivation to make money in the 1st place is to share it with those around me. Those who know me in real life know that they will often have to fight me for a check. I don't like paying to act like a bigshot, in fact, unlike others, I tend to downplay what I have sometimes. I really like to do things for those I give a damn about in life. Often, I will excuse myself at a resturaunt after everyone has ordered and pay the check before the debate at the table even happens. That way, everyone can just enjoy their evening and not have to worry about the money. And if they still feel guilty or whatever, I encourage them to donate the expense to their favorite charity or cause. Or just do something nice for someone else.

But I was more embarrassed with my wife. I didn't want to look like such an ass in front of her. I didn't want to let her down, like a lot of loving husbands, i'm sure.

Unfortunately, if I had, we probably could have made things right back then, and it suredly wouldn't have "cost" me nearly as much as it has.

But I didn't. Instead of fessin up and perhaps accessing some monies that were available then, I went outside to some financing that didn't require our joint signatures.

And over the next few months, disaster really fell in. If it hadn't, maybe I wouldn't need to tell this story now...but then again, maybe I still would. Maybe the disaster was inevitable, I don't know. Hindsight is 20/20, and I didn't have that benefit.

The addition, along with another part of the house began to cave in as the contractor caused damage to my roof. That's still under litigation as well as being considered in a home-owners claim by us, so that's all i'll say on that. But needless to say, the end result has been it costing us 10's of thousands of dollars to fix the direct and indirect damage. And we're still not done fixing stuff to this day.

Other financial disasters struck and everytime I started to get back on top, Wham! Something else would happen. I had 2 companies fold their tents owing me vast amounts of money I was counting on. Good investments turned bad. New investments didn't do as well as hoped.

So my borrowing continued. And like the credit card debt, slowly climbed as each season passed. I didn't notice or care too much because the money would always provide a short term solution. Eventually, I was borrowing to pay other people. Of course, I wanted to appear in control, so none of this was disclosed to my wife. And since my income is tradionally "multi-faceted," suspicion wasn't an issue. It was very much like a hard-drug addiction or alchoholism. And like those diseases, I was the last one to see it.

And like the guy in the commercial, we're not poor. Our household income is more than most, we live a good lifestyle. I own a Lexus (one thing that's not a debt, lol) and we do things most families don't.

But little did I know that at the same time I was doing what I was doing, my beloved wife was racking up debt of her own. Looking back, I never paid much mind to the multitudes of packages that arrived at our house almost every day. The amounts spent at "parties" that are really just soft sell pitches for overpriced candles, cookware and whatever you can imagine. Plus all the shopping sprees and "things the baby must have" that clutter our home, most of which is unused.

I always figured we got all those catalogs because we were just on "some mailing list." Apparantly, we must have been on the "she'll buy anything" list. Cause apparantly, she did buy everything.

But for us, finally a lucky break. Or at least one that prevented this downward spiral from getting totally out of control.

The bone luck decided to throw us was that both us reached a "breaking point" at around the same time. So both of us finally put aside our shame and looked towards the other. At 1st, we weren't totally honest with each other. Both of us merely wrangled to "free up" a littel of the budget beyond the realm of accountability. Both of us had done that before. But unlike the past, both of us were strapped at this point and were both paying very close attention to every dollar.

Sooner, fortunately, rather than later, we both figured out that the other were essentially doing the same thing. We both fessed up. And then we both finally began to get down to the nitty gritty. it turned out that collectively, we had racked up about 40-50K of "external debt" that was draining money from the household income. this was in addition to all the other debt. I admittedly had the majority of the debt, but her pile was nothing to sneeze at.

At last, things that were puzzling in the past, like her "protecting" the checkbook and other financial data and overzealously "volunteering" to handle things so I could "go do what I want." And she now understood why she got a call from a financial institution she had no idea we had an account with.

And from there, after the veil of secrecy was lifted, we began to get back on top. A task we are still not completely finished with. If both of us had fessed up earlier, the debts would have been easier to manage. And we probably would be "back in black" today.

But if more time would have gone on, it probably would have wrecked our marriage. And the fact that both of us were guilty of the same crime, at virtually the same time was a lucky break, in retrospect. Once we both realized this, it made confessing easier. And I have a feeling we aren't the only ones. On the other hand, where we had hoped the other "could help us out" early on, when we realized that both of us were "financially unfaithful" the realization that our debt problem was bigger than either of us knew was a downer.

But the most important factor that saved us was being honest about it. I think if more couples were honest about their secret debts they would find their partners living up to their vows. But like with cheating in the traditional sense, if you are "found out" the odds go way down in the hope department.

Again, secret debts spouses are hiding from their partners are one the biggest marriage wreckers out there today. Not all of them are sinister created with malice, in fact most of this snowballing cycle starts becasue of pride. And that pride eventually destroys everything else you loved.

Don't let that be you. Be smarter than I was, or at least a little more humble. Because we eventually saw the light, we will be fine, both in our marriage and financially. And, in this case, I do believe that the old addage is true..."what doesn't kill you, only makes you stronger."

But the sooner you can put your pride and sense of shame aside and get to the business of making things right, the better off you will be.

on May 04, 2007
Wow, what a read Sean! Thanks for sharing your story, I know it couldn't have been easy fessing up but I'm sure it purged you a bit and made you feel better to talk about it I mean.

I find it's always good to be honest with my hubby. We have issues too, that I've been working on. He's a bit of a spendthrift and I am the one who have to draw the strings tight. He used to not tell me everything but I put an end to that. If we're going to survive and make progress we have to be on the same page and he now realises that. It's been a long, long road of recovery for us, I won't go into the gory details but it's not as bad as good for you you're on top of it again!

I know the commercial you're talking about, it makes me laugh every time I see it too and I always nod my head in agreement because it's sooo true!

Thanks again for sharing...gave me a bit more insight into Sean Conners!
on May 04, 2007

I feel for you, and thank you.  For showing me my ex was not alone.  I thought she was unique in the de(bt)ceit.  I see now that it may be all too common.

I suspect nothing has changed with her, but at least I dont have to pay her bills anymore (and unlike you, hers were just sloth and mismoneymanagement).

on May 04, 2007
Thanks again for sharing...gave me a bit more insight into Sean Conners!

thanks! this article is a little more personal than most of my writing. most of the events happened some time ago and our path is currently on the way back. i gave a lot of thought about talking about this for a long time, then when i saw the sheer amount of people in sim. boats that we were and i saw other families deal with the same or parallel issues on the reportrs about it i gave it some more thought and decided to go ahead.

i didn't expect to get much feedback on the article as i understand that anyone going thru this probably won't want to comment on their "secret" publicly. but hopefully it might serve someone in the respect that it might make them re-think their ways and get down to the business of cleaning up the mess. it won't go away, and the longer it goes, the more expensive it gets. not only in money, but in our relationships and other things as well.

thank you very much for your thoughts!!!
on May 04, 2007
I feel for you, and thank you. For showing me my ex was not alone.

thank you very much guy. and no, she wasn't alone. the reports i have seen show that up to 1/3 of us have "secret" debts.

i do have a question (or 2) and would apprecate your experienced viewpoint...

1) did ya find out about her secret debts or did she come to you for help?

2) when you found out, thru either method, did it feel like you were cheated on in the traditional sense? i.e. --- did you feel betrayed or violated like people report when they find out a spouse is involved in an affair?

again, thank you for your comments guy.

on May 04, 2007
1) did ya find out about her secret debts or did she come to you for help?

First, she was kind of like yoru wief in that she controlled the check book, so I never saw it coming. I found out twice. The first time when a CC rep called and wanted me to consolidate our debt. I confronted her then, and she fessed up. We set up a plan to pay off the debt and made a vow (that she did not keep) to not let it get out of hand again.

The second time I found out about it was when we separated. So while it was not a cause of the separation, it sure did nothing to help with a reconcilliation.

2) when you found out, thru either method, did it feel like you were cheated on in the traditional sense? i.e. --- did you feel betrayed or violated like people report when they find out a spouse is involved in an affair?

Yes, it felt almost like she was having an affair. I know it sounds funny (maybe not to you), but it was a betrayal of trust that was hard to get over. After the first time, I thought we had worked it out. But as I found it, that was not the truth.

I am glad you could work it out and hope that you and your wife have a very long marriage. While secret debt may not be the bugaboo that sexual infidelity is to the population as a whole, it does contain many of the same characteristics and as such can be as painful.

on May 04, 2007
thanks guy:)
on May 07, 2007
Hey Sean, you are not alone by any stretch. I'm in the accounting business and we see this all the time especially with the younger set. Finances have alot to do with marital breakups. There is way too much debt going on today and it's killing us. We've decided to do a one day financial seminar at our church because we're realizing many people have no idea about how things can go wrong and snowball fast.

I'm glad to see that you realize what's important in life and it's not money. I'm sure you and your wife will do fine. Like you said, the first step is recognition. Working as a team together will get you reconciled (back to your former state where you should be) in time.

Good luck.
on May 07, 2007
Hey Sean, you are not alone by any stretch.

thanks kfc,,,and "i hear that!"

i've actually gotten a bunch of emails on this article already. i guess people don't want to be public about this sort of thing, which is understandable. but more than a couple (just about all) of the letters were thanking me for convincing them to do something about their situation. and that was the point of "going public."
on May 07, 2007
i guess people don't want to be public about this sort of thing, which is understandable.

I can understand that. In time they will see it as a life's lesson. But in the middle of it, it can be very tender.
on May 07, 2007
I've never really been a big spender. I have girl friends who go to the mall every weekend and spend spend spend. I just never got into it. I buy what I want, but I don't go to the mall walking around to LOOK for stuff I don't need...heh.

I use a credit card that I pay off every month for things that ya just need a credit card for.

I handle the household budget and my husband oversees the savings/investment part. It works for us. But we both puruse the bank statements.

I'm glad you and the wife worked it out. What a tuff thing.

Honestly I don't know how men do it when they are the main bread winner. Talk about stress. Everyone depending on you to bring home the bacon. Scary.