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My husband of almost 25 years recently cashed out his retirement funds for the third time in 17 years. I was willing to let the first two times go, but he knows how I feel about this and he went ahead and did it again. I am 61 and he is 55. He has time to work for at least another ten years, but I am coming close to retiring. We both have very good salaries, so I don’t understand why he would continue to do this. I am very good with finances, but obviously he is not. We have lived in separate states for the last six years because he lost his job and is now finally in a very good, secure job with a great salary. The plan was for me to move to where he is in early 2017. After this third time of cashing in his retirement for no apparent reason, I don’t know if I can forgive this again. I am certain that he is not gambling, or doing something inappropriate. He is not that type of man. I fear that he has some kind of ‘martyr’ syndrome where he thinks that he needs to save everyone. He is very generous, but I cannot see where he would need to keep cashing in the retirement funds. I have retirement funds, but it won’t be enough to support us. I feel betrayed, but he doesn’t think he did anything wrong. In my opinion, this is just irresponsible behavior, and I cannot understand why he cannot see that this is wrong. Am I wrong?
Cashing out retirement funds early, while not a smart decision, isn’t the biggest issue here. The biggest issue is that you were left out of the decision-making process. That is the biggest wound that has left you so devastated.
You won’t get anywhere with this discussion if you keep it focused on the money. Each of you could build a case for saving or spending the funds. This isn’t about money. This is about trust. Making consequential decisions around retirement without consulting you weakens your ability to trust him.
You have a few things you need to discuss with him. First, you need to address the impact his unilateral decisions have on your trust and security. Speak clearly with him about the effect this has on you and what has changed for you as a result. You don’t have to criticize or belittle him. Simply speak clearly about the natural feelings of betrayal and mistrust that arise from his actions.
Part of rebuilding trust is for you to know where the money is going. Even though you think he doesn’t have a gambling problem, he obviously has some type of spending problem. Otherwise, he’d be able to live on his salary. There are plenty of irresponsible ways to waste money that are just as problematic as gambling. Ask him to show you receipts of where the money has gone. You deserve to know the truth, especially if you’re going to trust him again.
If he’s serious about rebuilding trust with you, he won’t hesitate to do these things. He’ll be anxious to prove to you that he’s safe and can be trusted. If he fights you on these things and wants to stay secretive, then this is important information for you to notice. There may be more going on than you realize. Living apart for six years allows for lower accountability. You may not know as much as you think you do.
These kinds of injuries can be repaired in a marriage. However, it takes tremendous humility, accountability, and honesty from your husband. You have to be clear about how this has affected you and set some healthy boundaries around finances. Recognize that if his behavior doesn’t change and he continues to drain your resources, you may need to take more drastic measures to protect yourself so you aren’t broke when it’s time for you to retire.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves as the primary chorister. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.