Dear Margo: Fatal Financial Differences

My husband spends my money and refuses to get a job. Margo Howard’s advice

Fatal Financial Differences

Dear Margo: I’m at the end of my rope. Eleven years ago, I married my husband for better or for worse. The problem is that it has never gotten better, only worse. He refuses to get a full-time job, but spends my money like he’s a rock star — and then gets mad at me when I object to unnecessary spending. He’s ruined his credit and now mine. I never thought I’d declare bankruptcy. This will be his third, so he doesn’t blink an eye at the consequences.

I am so unhappy, and I know it will take a divorce for things to get better, but I’m still holding out. I regret marrying him for “love.” (We never could afford a honeymoon.) I fear this is what my future will be like: more hard times. What advice do you have for me? — Out of Rope

Dear Out: Any guy who refuses to get a full-time job but spends himself — and you — into bankruptcy needs to be cut loose. I’m pretty sure the love is gone, along with your money. I cannot see any positive reason for staying. Women are not reform schools. I think it will be a constructive step to call it a day and rebuild your life — and your credit. Your future will be what you make it. So go forth and make it. Good luck. — Margo, inevitably

Effects of Abuse Linger

Dear Margo: I am 24 and a victim of childhood sexual abuse that lasted from age 5 to age 18, when I finally got out of the house for college. My stepfather is a horrible predator who was convicted of this same crime against another victim and is currently on Megan’s Law. When I was 5, I told my mother, and she brought him into the room and said, “Nothing happened to you.”

Last year, I met an amazing man with whom I have chosen to build a life. He helped me gain the courage to go to the police and to seek therapy. Despite this, my mother is still with my stepfather, even with my younger siblings still in the house. The police barely helped the situation, citing budget cuts, etc., but I know he eventually will be put away.

This ordeal has been so painful and has put a great strain on my relationship. Not only have I been depressed and anxious, but due to poor coping skills (drinking, holding my emotions in), I fear I have been downright abusive. The worst part is that after I behave this way, I black out and have no recollection of what I said or did.

I have agreed not to drink any longer and have found a therapist who specializes in what I am going through. Now, however, there is a disconnect between us. Is there any way we can salvage the relationship? We had considered marriage at one point, but these days I don’t know if we’ll ever get there. He admits to having caregiver’s burnout, and I feel he has no faith in “us” now. — Still Hopeful

Dear Still: You’ve really been through it, my dear — and I can’t figure out why this molester hasn’t been put away. But for your life now, if therapy is helping, stick with that, and maybe try AA to stay sober and get some insight and support.

I would let this wonderful man know that you are trying everything within your power to repair the relationship between the two of you — and give it your best. I do think things can get back to a comfortable balance where he is the romantic partner and not the caregiver, but this is predicated on your not being in need of “care.” And I hope you have nothing to do with your mother. That’s an old story, but no less awful. — Margo, restoratively

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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31 Responses so far.

  1. avatar David Bolton says:

    LW1: “…but I’m still holding out.” For what, exactly—an engraved invitation? When you have 8 trazillion reasons to leave your husband and start making up ones to stay, he’s no longer your problem—you are. Write back in five or six or twenty years and let us know how things are going with him—or grow a pair, ditch him and have some fun.

    LW2: This sounds suspiciously familiar to another letter I read just this week. If it IS the same person—there’s some important details in this version that were left out of the other, and you don’t sound even a tenth as crazy, entitled or delusional here.

    If it’s not—my recommendation is to let the relationship go and concentrate all your energies on healing yourself, because it’s very, very, very likely you’ll kill it anyway. Give yourself ample room to get through your therapy and to make mistakes in your recovery without destroying someone else’s life, or expect them to hang around, be abused and suffer while you get your head on straight. It’s not fair to them, and it’s a distraction to you. And once you’re in a better place—you’ll either reconnect or you won’t. That’s how life is. This is not to say that you should go through this alone—but don’t drag a potential mate with you, and especially not under the Hollywood notion that “if they really love you, they’ll go through your personal hell with you.” That’s b.s.

    Good luck.

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      Oh, and I meant to add this in: your “amazing” man may not appear so amazing after you get to the other side of your journey. Consider that when you’re in a screwed-up place, you often attract that sort of person to you as well and create a vicious cycle. This isn’t always true, but it happens a LOT.

      • avatar blue tooth says:

        Well said. I would only add that the boyfriend may have some abuse issues himself, and be in “protector / caregiver” mode.

        • avatar KL says:

          I agree. It’s very likely that he has abuse in his past and has taken on the co-dependent role as that’s the most common pattern, abuser/alcoholic/addict in one person and co-dependent in the other. It may be a good idea that both of you seek help.

  2. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:  Get yourself a good divorce lawyer asap.  Chances are, unless you decide to take bankruptcy yourself, you will get stuck with all the debt upon divorce because even if the court says he is supposed to pay the debt or a portion thereof, you are still on the hook vis a vis the creditors and given his track record…he won’t pay what is owed to the creditors.  Him taking bankruptcy may absolve him of anything he owes to you under the divorce but not what is owed to the creditors on your joint marital debt.  I’m with David…I see no reason to stay in this one-sided relationship.  HE won’t change. 

    LW#2:  I agree with David.  Heal yourself.  Then figure out the relationship issues.  As for your *mother*, I’m with Margo.  I would have nothing to do with her. 


  3. avatar bingo says:

    David, first time posting, long time follower of Margo, you always give excellent advice, tough as it may be sometimes for people to hear/accept. Margo, always great on the advice, keep it coming!

  4. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: Is your husband bipolar? My nephew is, and he spends money like there’s no tomorrow. Maybe there’s a diagnosis to be had here — and medication/psychological treatment. Otherwise? If this is just him being an ultra-selfish jerk? I’d leave. He’s not going to change.

  5. avatar Laurie Deer says:

    Still Hopeful don’t give up, strive for your own life and don’t let this cast a dark shadow on your wonderful life you have now. If your mom does not support you or believe you move on anyway you can.

    Child sexual abuse is difficult at best to understand and I am sure there are many books and studies on why spouses to sexual predators stick by their man, case in point Dottie Sandusky wife to Jerry Sandusky convicted last week. But it does no good to stick around and find out why, you are only hurting yourself in the process.

    Find an advocate in your area or a mentor to help you work through this and please stay away from alcohol. God bless and wishing you all the best.

  6. avatar Lila says:

    LW1 is the perfect follow-up to last week’s writer whose boyfriend was $150,000 in debt.

  7. avatar lisay says:

    #2 Very suspicious.

  8. avatar Claire Saenz says:

    I agree with Margo 100% except with the advice to maybe try AA. I’ve been recovered for many years now and spent quite a bit of time in AA; one of the reasons, among many, that I am no longer an AA member is the way people with child abuse issues were treated in that program. Unfortunately, AA’s teachings, stated clearly in its literature, include the notions that “nothing in God’s world happens by mistake” and “when we are disturbed, no matter what the reason, something is wrong with us”. This philosophy, in my experience, was often used to blame the victims of childhood abuse; such individuals were typically encouraged to think that the abuse happened for a reason, and that being upset about it meant something was the matter with them, the victims.

    • avatar Lila says:

      Wow, I had no idea AA had these weird philosophies. And here I thought it was a support group. “You were abused for a reason and you’re defective for being bothered by it” doesn’t strike me as real great support.

      • avatar Claire Saenz says:

        Well, it can be reasonably good social support in some cases, for people who find the philosophy appealing (i.e., that you’re powerless and God gets you sober). The key is that you can’t leave your common sense at the door…but that can be tough because there’s a lot of group pressure NOT to think for yourself (a common saying is “if you’re in your own head, you’re in a bad neighborhood!”), to make the group your whole life and to trust everyone in the program while ignoring the opinions of outsiders (another common saying: “normies just don’t understand”).

        So I don’t dismiss AA entirely, but I do think that people should realize that there are some bizarre aspects to it and that it may not be a safe place for a vulnerable person to go. Also, I think the constant repetition in the media that a person with addiction should “go to AA” obscures the important fact that there are MANY other sources of social support besides AA and other 12 step programs. There are many other groups which are based on a philosophy of empowerment, rather than powerlessness….for example, SMART Recovery, LifeRing, SOS and Women for Sobriety.

      • avatar Diane Shaw says:

        My brother went through a Narcs Anon program (he’s also now in AA), and he showed me NA’s steps program and he had an issue with one point: “That by now you should have figured out that everything is your parent’s fault”.  He couldn’t accept that as he felt none of it was our parent’s fault.  He did get through the program, but then found alcohol instead.  He continues to go to AA, but has never said anything about having to blame the folks for his problems.

    • avatar Cathy P says:

      Having been a member for 24 years I can tell you that what you refer to is not AA’s philosophy, but a personal story  in the back of the book. Even the guy who wrote that story many years ago came to regret that statement, in part due to your exact argument of child sexual/abuse. He did not feel that something like that would be God’s plan. The sentiment was good in that in order to be happy we all have to accept the cards we have been dealt in life good and bad. My feeling is that if this paragraph helps someone with acceptance then so be it. We can take what we need and leave the rest. With this clarification in mind, Claire, I hope you go back. You have a lot to offer many people. Your disagreement with that statement is not alone and should not turn you away from all of the many good things it has to offer. LW2 – AA can give you a life beyond any dream. It has for me. Give AA a try, it can work for you, too. Good luck!

      • avatar Claire Saenz says:

        You sound like one of the good ones, Cathy, but AA truly does not comport with my personal views and philosophy. I agree that there is some good in AA, but my own experience was not such that I have any desire to return.

        I do wonder what to make of your statement that the personal stories in the back of the most recent two editions of the Big Book, and apparently the material in the 12&12 also, do not represent AA’s philosophy. Interesting.

        • avatar Cathy P says:

          To clarify, I do think that the Big Book contains the AA philosophy (as well as 12X12), but only the first part of the Big Book. The second half of the Big Book containing personal stories and are not the AA philosophy rather simply personal stories. The stories can be helpful, but are no more then individual stories that contain a individuals experience, strength and hope.
          Staying sober is not an easy thing and if you found what works for you then that is great. And if at some point and time it no longer works, well, AA will still be there for anyone who wants it. All I know is that it has worked for me and I have seen it work for many others. I cannot judge or speak for anyone else. On that note, I wish you and anyone else struggling with thier drinking the best of luck~

    • avatar Violet says:

      I couldn’t agree more about AA bei g worthless. I stopped drinking 20 years ago without AA and have never relapsed. AA has about a 95% failure rate. I hate their whole phosophy that we have no power over the addiction. I asserted my own power over it and can even spend four hours in a bar with friends and have o temptation to drink.

      What I won’t do is spend hours in a basement with a bunch of people smoking and drinking coffee and rehashing their problems and talking in platitudes. I don’t know why every advice columnist is so taken with the 12 step stuff. I think it’s such bunk.

  9. avatar Violet says:

    Margo, did you not read the part where the abuse victim said there are still minor children in the home w/ the stepfather? Maybe her first priority should be getting them out now. She should call Chilren’s Services and also keep making a pest of herself to the DA until they take action.

    I know she is dealing w/ her own stuff but she’s an adult and the siblings are kids. If I were one of those siblings, I would never forgive the LW for not getting me out of the situation because her priority was her romantic relationship.

  10. avatar R Scott says:

    LW1 – How’s that “for better or worse” vow working for ya?  What’s it gonna take? Some broken bones?  I lose patience with some of these folks.

    LW2 – You need to get some heavy therapy and don’t even worry about this relationship. Salvage it? No. Let it go and you go get heavy duty help. Black out and don’t remember….. wow. And report your mom and stepfather.. again since there are still kids in that hell hole.

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      Don’t make me slap you (again), R. Because then I’ll feel all bad and have to buy you some roses. I can feel the anger over those roses rising already.

  11. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW#1 Read Margo’s recommendation, then read it again. In fact, write it out on a blackboard, and type it into your computer if necessary. You have no future with this guy. Cut your losses and rebuild your life.

    LW#2: Jerry Sandusky’s conviction and fallout from Penn State’s failure to act on complaints and evidence, make it inevitable that even small town cop shops are going to get smarter on handling reports of this nature. Your mother (is her name Dottie?) needs to be put on notice. Meanwhile, keep trying to do what you can to protect your siblings.  

  12. avatar blue tooth says:

    Margo, regarding LW2 and her twin childhood sexual abuse and alcohol problem, there’s a treatment program currently being used with some success, implementing the Seeking Safety protocol, which helps victims of abuse cope with its effects, while avoiding the use of alcohol or substances, which many use to try to dull the pain and escape the panic, emptiness and despair that so often come with that history. You could check with your friends in the mental health community and get their feedback, but I’ve seen pretty good results.

    I’ve also heard others talk about the problems with AA as a treatment, in particular with abuse victims. I think in these cases, AA (or even NA) may not be a complete answer.

  13. avatar Anais P says:

    LW1: Get out. NOW. Your life will not get better until you do. As someone who observed a close male relative in exactly your shoes, I can tell you this: extricating yourself from this parasite will not be easy. Once he is served the papers, he will realize he will lose his meal ticket, so he will go down fighting and may even be verbally or physically abusive. Please consult an attorney privately and be careful, but please cut him loose. He is draining your finances and with it, your soul.
    LW2: Margo is spot on as usual. Please fight as hard as you can to maintain sobriety. It will make your life worth living and convince your partner you are worth being with. You are worth it! Look at you: you’ve been abused and had so much to cope with, including no support from your mother. My thoughts are with you and your struggle, which you do not deserve. Please continue to seek the help you need.

  14. avatar Leajmom says:

    You don’t have to divorce him, just get a legal separation and separate accounts. You pay your bills, he pays (or doesn’t pay) his bills, and enjoy him as you would a boyfriend.