It’s so much worse than I thought. On top of what I knew about, there are three other loans. Ten thousand pounds of debt that I didn’t know about. I am finding it hard to breathe right now.
I tell her, calmly: before you go to bed, I need to ask you something. How much debt are we in that you have not told me about?
None*, she says. Then: oh, well you know about the credit card.
Yes I say, but that’s almost paid off, right? How much is left on it?
Not much, about £250*.
Right. And there’s nothing else?
No*. Well…I have some PayPal Credit.
PayPal Credit? What’s that?
It just allows me to get some things delivered without paying for them.
And how much do you owe on that?
Just some bits and pieces. About £400*.
Right. Is there anything else?
No*. Why are you asking?
Just curious*. Right, so nothing else I need to know about then?
No, I told you that’s it*.
Ok. And how are you paying them off?
Just with the money you give me each month.
Now I know how easily she can lie while looking me in the eye. It gives me chills.
I’ve decided to confront her tonight. I alternate between being enraged at the level of disrespect she has continually shown me about money, sadness at the breach of trust, and complete apathy and disinterest in fixing it. Wanting out. To leave her to clean up this mess without relying on me busting a gut to keep pouring water into a bucket full of holes.
I tell myself to stay calm. Losing my cool will achieve nothing. Yet what will calmly asking for an explanation achieve? More lies? More promises to be broken in a year or two when she decides she fancies maxing out another credit card because she’s feeling unfulfilled or whatever fucking bullshit reason she will have lined up to simultaneously make me feel guilty and pass on taking any accountability for her own behaviour. I’m not interested. This is not what marriage is.
The guilt resulting from my own poor behaviour is always close at hand, ready to remind me that I don’t necessarily occupy a moral high ground. And in terms of being emotionally unfaithful, this is true. I was deeply unsatisfied in my marriage and I went elsewhere, sought out a connection with someone else, in the hope that mere talk would be enough to fill the vacuum where feelings of desire and love and tenderness and intimacy were supposed to be.
However, that is a different topic. My actions, for all their moral decrepitude, don’t have the potential to screw over my family, my children. They don’t risk us being bankrupted and living on welfare. My actions were born of desperation and loneliness, after raising my worries and having them fall on deaf ears. For years.
So while there is a conversation to be had about why I sought love from someone else and the hurt that has caused, it’s a separate topic and should not interfere with her explaining exactly why she thinks that she can continue to max out credit cards and store credit and any other money she can get her hands on that she can’t afford to pay back.
I’m in no position to make threats right now. Maybe in January, when I find out about pay rises and bonus. Maybe then I’ll be in a position to follow through. Right now I just want to understand why she thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to continually treat me like a fucking mug.
In the past she’s been able to trample over my self respect and dignity by claiming that it’s I who is at fault for her spending habits. My fault because I’m so controlling with money. Despite the fact that I give her a huge chunk of money every month and never ask a single question about what she is doing with it. Apparently that’s controlling. I’m not sure if I need to break it down; it seems obvious to me but maybe not. Maybe I need to say “You don’t have a job. I do. So each month I give you money to cover everything you and the kids need. Maybe not everything you want, but everything you need. And a lot of what you want. So given that’s what happens, and given I have never once asked you what you spend that money on, just what about my behaviour is controlling?”
I’m so tired of this. We’ve been here many times before. I won’t be able to believe anything she says. Yet I must try. I need to ask, to hear what she has to say. The difference this time is that any time she uses guilt trip tactics to put the fault on me, I’ll be ready.
In the beginning, debt was just a number. What was important was we were in love. It was us against the world. I happily took on responsibility for the financial mess she had gotten herself into prior to us meeting, knowing that although we might struggle with the loan I got for a few years, at least that would see her debts wiped clean and our future would be debt free. After all, she promised she’d never get into that financial state again. Why wouldn’t I believe her?
Then came mortgage, children, the weight of responsibility. The kind of responsibility that was amplified by never being more than a paycheck away from homelessness. Every penny counted, and I was prompted for the first time to become ambitious. As the sole earner in the household, if I didn’t progress my career, I would be a failure as a husband and father. And that? That was unthinkable. That was all I had.
Within four years I tripled my salary. Today I make six times what I made when I first moved here. Yet still it’s not enough. It will never be enough. I realise that now.
The first betrayal – or, rather, the first that I was aware of – came in 2008. I had sent her to stay with her sister for a week because she was beyond exhausted looking after two young children. I took the week off work to look after the kids.
I wasn’t normally home for the mail being delivered, so it was sheer serendipity that I discovered this particular letter. A red letter. Not the sexy kind, the kind that comes with a stamp in angry bold letters: FINAL WARNING.
It wasn’t addressed to me but I opened it anyway. My hands shook. Repayments missed. Being referred to bailiffs for collection of the debt. And she hadn’t said a fucking word to me about it.
I confronted her, and there were tears and apologies and excuses. Never mind, I said. It’s done, let’s focus on fixing it. Let’s get it paid off together. So I gave her the money to pay it off, and she promised it would never happen again.
That was strike two, I said. There can’t be a strike three, I said.
Fast forward a few years. Financially we’re doing better. We have a huge amount of debt but thankfully I also have a good salary, and I’m slowly paying the debts off. I’m starting to feel like I can see a light at the end of the tunnel.
One day, she asks me to get something out of her purse. When I’m getting it, I see something else. A credit card. A credit card I didn’t know about. Again I confront her. This time she is not apologetic. She says she just needs some money of her own and she hates having to rely on me for it. I get angry about this, because although I’m the sole breadwinner, I have always transferred her a generous chunk of my salary every month to cover everything she needs for her and the kids, and then some. I have never been controlling about how she spends that money. Never asked to see receipts, or for her to tell me how she accounts for the money. I tell her this one is on her. I’m not giving her extra to pay it off like I’ve done before. She needs to take responsibility. She acknowledges and accepts this; she doesn’t really have a choice.
That was strike three, a few years ago. Yet for all my bluster I stick with her. Hearing more promises to never do it again. Urging, imploring, begging her to recognise that we can’t keep up this trend of taking on more and more debt because although I’ve managed to continually get pay rises to coincide with supporting the increasing levels of debt, those increases are going to plateau, and soon. This time I really think she hears me. We’re a team, working towards a debt free future.
This week though. This week I am being forced to acknowledge that this pattern of behaviour won’t ever change. This week I found out that the credit card she told me was almost paid off is actually a stone’s throw away from its limit. Not only that, she has obtained four figures of credit from PayPal. To top it off, she has a store account for a website where she has accumulated four figures of debt. And that’s just the things I can confirm.
I really thought we were swimming towards the surface here. That it wouldn’t be long until I could breathe properly again. Instead I find myself being pulled ever deeper. This feels like I’m wearing an anchor and it’s just going to keep dragging me deeper as long as it’s attached to me.
What can I do except cut it loose?
“You’re disgusting. You are a horrific husband and poor excuse of a man. You fucking piece of shit. You fucking cunt. Fuck you, you shameful disgusting excuse of a man. I am and forever will be so unbelievably grateful that you are not the father of my children. Fuck you. You can go fuck yourself. You deserve to be miserable because you are unworthy of love.”
These are not the words of a person who loves the person they’re speaking to. Nobody who truly loves someone could speak so cruelly, with such vicious intent, such naked hostility. It perhaps makes more sense to consider that such words could be a manifestation of a person’s personal traumas, but nonetheless it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. There are limits to what another person can tolerate, even when they’re in love. And such words, they’re not simply blunt honesty shared with good intentions. They’re skilfully wielded weapons used to hurt and provoke.
Love aside, they’re not the words of someone who respects the person their words are directed at. I realise that now. So, I need to protect myself. For the sake of my mental well being. For the sake of maintaining a modicum of integrity. For the sake of carving my own path instead of reacting to other people’s grievances.
It’s ironic, how often she told me that words matter. That the way I say things matters, that I can be cruel even when trying to be kind by the way I say things. That I need to be careful with how I choose my words because they have the power to destroy. Yet she considered it acceptable for herself to speak as viciously as she felt like, and if I found it hurtful or upsetting, or even if I simply disagreed with the assertions being made, that was on me. That shows me to be weak, because I can’t handle “opinions and emotions”.
She continually wanted to know if I’m weak. If I’m a weak man. Yes, I was weak. I was weak for opening myself up. For revealing my private pain. But I’ve learned my lesson. Weakness gets punished. It isn’t going to happen again. Nobody else will get to know my demons and then unleash them on me. Nobody will ever again have that power over me.
My wife knew I was starting therapy, because I told her before my first appointment last month. However, she forgot, and so I’ve been going along the past few weeks without mentioning it to her. I admit to experiencing a somewhat passive-aggressive vindication in her not remembering, as though it allowed me to think “see, she doesn’t even care about this big important thing that’s happening in my life”. This was pointed out by the therapist and it made me smile at my own unconsciously petty behaviour. So I sought to remedy that by telling her.
She laughed when I said the therapist said I’m a perfectionist, as though the notion was ludicrous. I explained that she meant less a person for whom everything had to be done to exacting standards, and more along the lines of Spud-from-Trainspotting perfectionism – which is to say I want everything to be perfect and if it isn’t then I can’t really be bothered. She didn’t laugh at that, because it’s true.
My approach on so much of my life is to cause “perfect” to be the enemy of “good enough”. This all-or-nothing mentality pervades every aspect of who I am, and explains the reason for my periodic swings between eating healthily and working out, and binging junk and avoiding exercise. In those cases, I initially stick to a routine with military rigour, but all it ever takes is a wobble in that routine – a missed gym session, a calorific take-away – for me to think “oh well, I screwed up, may as well give up and succumb to the slobbery”. You know, the old “I ate one biscuit, may as well finish the packet” style of thinking.
I told her about focusing on my needs and trying to understand what they really are. How and if they could be met. She remained silent for a long time after this. Three times I asked her what was on her mind. Each time she replied about what she was doing, such as “I’m just sitting here”. The third time, I gently said that I didn’t ask her what she was doing, but what she was thinking about. She diverted, made up something; I could tell by the way she averted her eyes. And something else: I saw fear there.
I suggested that she could work out her needs too. I talked to her about non-violent communication, which isn’t about avoiding hitting people while you interact with them, but about using non-confrontational language that means people are less likely to become defensive when you discuss things with them. She was quite blasé about this, given she has a degree in psychology; and besides, she claims, that’s just common sense. I bit my tongue because my immediate cruel response was to say well if you know so much about it why the fuck do you speak to me like you do. Of course, that would not have benefited either of us, and probably would have made things worse. So instead I reiterated the value I’m finding in trying to take that non-confrontational approach where before responding you try to consider what the person’s needs are.
It didn’t feel productive. It felt like me sharing what was going on but getting nothing back. However I won’t let that phase me. I’ve hurt her. She’s going to need time to let her guard down.
The way things are right now, I don’t know how we’re going to get to the point when we have a truly open, honest discussion. The tentative steps I’m taking towards that seem almost laughable. However I must persist. I will figure out my needs. I’ll figure out hers too, with or without her help, though with would be easier. And in doing that I will work out whether or not either of us really stand a chance of meeting one another’s needs.
There are things I want the person I spend my life with to know. My passions. The things I’m good at. That I get satisfaction from. Yet to do that would be to devastate her. I know this. What I don’t know is how to reconcile this need to be transparent with her against the knowledge that fulfilling this need could destroy her.
On the other hand, to live the rest of my life suppressing so many things that I derive pleasure and satisfaction from would be to destroy myself.
Words don’t often fail me. I can usually get something down on the page. This is one of those days where each keystroke is an effort, each line something slow and pondered.
You see, I lost my lover. The most wonderful person I’ve ever known. Our end was kind and gentle and loving and heartbreaking. There was no lashing out, only two people who desperately want the best for one another and knowing that right now, that what is best means not being together.
I’ve taken everything from her except the last vestiges of her pride. I’m thoroughly ashamed of myself for that. In the end she had to beg me to let her go because if I asked her to stay she’d be unable to resist, despite herself. And ultimately that would break her.
Her mental strength is phenomenal. She has endured things that would have broken other people twice over, and still she smiles. That beautiful, heartbreaking smile.
In spite of my desire for her, my love for her, my yearning to utterly consume her, mind and body, I knew it had to be done. I’ve danced around it long enough, but the fact is I am having an emotional affair that would definitely be physical were it not for the ocean between us. Yet at the same time I’ve told myself – and my lover, for hard as it may be to believe, she has encouraged me more than anyone, even friends and family, to try for the sake of my children – that I will live in the present moment and try to make my marriage work.
I don’t really need to elaborate on the ludicrous contradiction of this situation, but just to be clear: if she’s in my life, I can’t make an honest attempt at making my marriage work. Likewise, I have no right to expect her to simply hang around for me while I do that. What options does that leave her? Either she waits for me to say “yes I want to be with you” or “no I can’t because I think I can get my marriage working”, or she walks away with some dignity intact and lives her life unencumbered by such a selfish conceit. It’s a no-brainer.
Yet: I know how much it hurts her to go, just as I’m agonised to let her go. We must accept that this is a necessary thing. To live honestly and with as much integrity as we can muster. To make decisions for the right reasons.
And here’s the thing. It still doesn’t feel like our story is done. This person who crashed into my life from nowhere and suddenly became the missing piece of me, the piece I never even realised had been missing from my life until it appeared and fit so perfectly into place – she and I can endure this, and worse. This? This is easy compared to what she’s been though. She knows I will always love her. She knows that there is more to us than good sex or conversation or having superficial things in common; this is about an intrinsic understanding of one another’s innermost needs, and being absolutely committed to helping to satisfy them. Not because we feel we must, but because we want to, willingly, without feeling emotionally coerced.
For now, we simply have to accept that someone like that exists out there, and having acknowledged that, honour that someone by keeping focused on the reality we find ourselves in, and doing the best we can with our situations. In doing that we can look to the future – whatever it may hold – with a clear conscience, instead of being burdened by the guilt of secrets and lies.
We can do this. We will do this. We will honour one another by doing what we promised. Let the chips fall where they may.