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The Moneyist: ‘I have committed financial infidelity’: I racked up $50,000 in debt to help my troubled son — and have not told my husband. How do I get out of this mess?

Dear Quentin,

I have committed financial infidelity. This is a second marriage, and one of my sons is unstable and a substance user. He has stolen from us in the past, and two of his children are now living with him. 

He doesn’t work, is on public assistance, and demands money from me. He gets very abusive when I don’t give it to him. This is the second time I have gone into debt behind my husband’s back. 

I worry about my grandchildren, where they will live when my son can’t pay rent, how they will study without internet access and more. I have been subjected to a tremendous amount of emotional abuse by this son. 

“‘My husband is retired. I work part time, but I am thinking of returning to work full time to pay off the debt.’”

I feel like a worthless human being. My husband has zero respect for my son and refuses to help unless it goes directly to the kids (clothing, sports fees, school supplies, etc.).

I am $50,000 in debt and he has no idea. I have stopped the bleeding, but it is far too late. My husband is retired. I work part time, but I am thinking of returning to work full time to pay off the debt. Can I file for bankruptcy separately? 

We live a modest life. I need to tell him. I am ashamed of my actions, and fear he will leave me. We are in our 70s. I have probably destroyed my life and his because I gave in to my son’s harassment and abuse.

Distraught Mother & Wife

Dear Distraught,

The first thing you need to do is stop catastrophizing. You have not destroyed your life. You made some bad decisions, which came from a good place, but you understand that you were manipulated and bullied. However, you are taking accountability for those actions, willing to come clean, and prepared to do what you need to fix this. 

It may not feel like it, but self-pity and ego are two sides of the same coin. Punishing yourself over and over is not an act of sacrifice and humility, but a way of escalating and prolonging the drama. When you are feeling sorry for yourself, the spotlight is still firmly on you. You need to shine the spotlight on the solutions instead. 

Feelings of unworthiness may have led you down this rabbit hole and allowed your son to emotionally blackmail you into giving him thousands of dollars, but languishing in this place will only lead to more self-pity and inaction. It’s time to tell your husband the truth, and what you are prepared to do to fix the situation. Get a full-time job. Start looking now.

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