Dear Penny: Should I Dump My Husband Over a Stunningly Cheap Anniversary Gift?

A woman yells at her husband while he eats.
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Dear Penny,

I just discovered two new debit cards in my husband’s name. One is an Ally debit card, which means he has a secret checking account going on. The other is a PayPal debit card for his small business he does on the side. He has never told me about the PayPal one, but I understand this one. The other card is a complete surprise to me. 

I have always found something peculiar and secretive about him. He is a quiet person and is not proactive about our bills, hence, why I pay the bills. He does not talk about what he is involved in. I have to draw it out of him to know what he is up to. I understand being quiet, but this is a marriage and it is not seamless in terms of anything. 

What upsets me is that for our anniversary of 24 years, we decided not to spend too much on each other, as we just got my car fixed. I bought him some inexpensive shirts that did not break the bank. He, on the other hand, bought me protein granola bars! Seriously, no flowers or a candle, something to show he cared. Then I think of these other accounts he has and he buys me that? 

Penny, what should I do? We have teenage daughters, but I am tired of this. I am just not happy with this marriage. I love him, but at the same time I feel alone, if that makes sense.

-L.

Dear L.,

Maybe your husband thinks you really love protein granola bars. Or maybe each of you had your own definition of what would constitute spending “too much” on an anniversary gift. But surely you know that this isn’t about protein granola bars, or even secret bank accounts.

After 24 years of marriage, your gut is telling you something is off. You know you’re unhappy. I can’t tell you whether to stay or go. What I can tell you is that you’ll stay unhappy if something doesn’t change.



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Since you’re not happy in this relationship, it’s worth at least meeting with a divorce attorney. Some offer free consultations. You don’t have to take any action from there. Your goal is simply to get information about what the divorce process may look like.

But if you want to stay married and you don’t want to be miserable until death do you part, you’re going to need to work on communication. You can’t force your husband to be more open. But you can ask more questions and see how much resistance you get. You can also try to reach a mutual agreement on what needs to be communicated.

Obviously, it’s not going to be a productive discussion if you tell your husband you’ve always sensed something odd about him. Instead, you’re going to have to speak up and ask questions when something specific seems off. See if the responses reaffirm what your gut is saying.

The anniversary gift and the bank accounts are two good starting points for a discussion. You really don’t need to be accusatory.

Starting with the anniversary gift, you could say something like, “I’m just curious, but was there a reason you chose granola bars for my anniversary gift?” You’re allowed to say you were disappointed. But don’t expect him to be a mindreader. Tell him how he could make you feel cared for on future anniversaries.

Take a similarly straightforward approach with the bank accounts. This discussion needs to be separate from the anniversary gift discussion. “You have a secret bank account and all you bought me were these lousy granola bars” isn’t going to be a conversation that goes well.

Tell your husband you noticed he opened two new accounts and ask him point-blank what they’re for. Be as neutral as possible. A secret bank account conjures up all sorts of nefarious scenarios. But since your husband is a man of few words, is it possible that these new accounts are less of a deliberate secret and more something he failed to mention? For example, is it possible that he opened a new account to get a bank bonus and didn’t think you would care?

You need to establish clear expectations for what you need your husband to communicate to you. You probably don’t need to know the details of every financial transaction he makes. But it’s perfectly reasonable if you expect your spouse to tell you about any major purchases or new credit cards and bank accounts. You both should also know how much the other person earns and where that money comes from.

I think you also need to tell him you no longer want to manage the money alone. Ask him if he’d be willing to sit down together once a month to go over your finances. Review the money going into and out of your accounts, and ask questions about anything you don’t understand.

As you seek more clarity, listen carefully to your gut. Your husband isn’t going to morph into a chatterbox overnight. But if you feel like he’s hiding information from you or his explanations don’t quite add up, these are red flags you can’t afford to ignore.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].