Dear Penny: Am I Greedy if I Make My Husband Repay Me for $150K Gambling Loss?

A man in a hoodie thinks deeply while gambling in this photo illustration.
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Dear Penny,

We’re a middle-age married couple without kids or a mortgage. We’ve been married for a few years, and my partner has had a gambling problem since before our marriage. 

The issue escalated during Covid. Though our income decreased, the more time available meant more gambling time to him. I took several loans to cover his debts, and I was paying everything for him. Fortunately, our income level came back to the previous level. We managed to clear off all the loans, but he still “owes” me six digits, including the amount I lent him before marriage.

Despite all of that, he insists that our income from now on is our shared asset and isn’t going into my pocket. I think his income should go into my pocket until he pays off the $150,000 he owes from borrowing from me and for the loan payment, rent, regular expenses and his hobby items. It’s all recorded in one of these money management apps. The way I see it, I’ve lost that much in savings opportunities and investing opportunities, as well. 

He thinks I’m treating the marriage like a cold business relationship. We even agreed before we started paying off loans and debts that we’d focus on loan payments, and once we were done, he’d need to pay me back. But we didn’t put this agreement on paper. That seems too business-like to me.

I’m not claiming interest from the lending. I’m simply trying to regain my potential savings. Am I greedy? Am I treating our marriage as too businesslike? What can I do to secure my lost savings at this point? 

His income is deposited to my account that he doesn’t have access to. But I don’t feel good that I have access to his money when he doesn’t think I should be taking it.

-Trapped Wife

Dear Trapped,

You’re not wrong to proceed cautiously. Your husband’s addiction cost you dearly and put you in debt. Now that you’ve paid off the debt with your savings, he wants to wipe the slate clean. Suddenly, everything should be 50/50 in his eyes. That’s not how it works.

Think carefully about whether anything has actually changed in your relationship. Has your husband committed to giving up gambling for good? Has he sought help for his addiction? Has he sincerely apologized or made any real effort at making you financially whole again? Because it sounds like he’s more concerned with not feeling the consequences of his actions.

Dear Penny

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Trust is earned. Sometimes a spouse screws up and needs to re-establish trust. But it doesn’t sound like your husband ever earned it in the first place. I understand why you don’t want to be business-like in your marriage. But when your spouse treats you like a piggy bank, you have no other choice.

The Catch-22 is that if you’re 100% in control of every cent, your husband can’t earn your trust. Trust is built when you have the freedom to make both good and bad decisions. It’s earned a little bit at a time.

Rebuilding your savings is certainly an important goal. A percentage of your husband’s paycheck should be automatically transferred into your bank account. But I think your husband needs to have access to part of his paycheck, along with some responsibility for finances.

Make him responsible for paying some bills. You need to have access to these accounts so you can confirm they’re paid as agreed.

If your husband hasn’t taken any steps to address his gambling problem, that’s a non-negotiable first step. He should check out Gamblers Anonymous if he needs support. Many chapters have virtual meetings.

You also mention that he’s borrowed money from you for his hobby items. He could sell those items to help you replenish your savings faster. If he’s not willing to do so, listen very carefully to what he’s telling you about his priorities.

Of course, I make all these suggestions based on the assumption that you want to make this marriage work. But since you signed this letter as, “Trapped Wife,” I have to ask: Are you sure you want to stay married to this guy?

Even if you’re sure you want to stick around in this marriage, please speak to an attorney. Having a separate bank account doesn’t mean that money is yours if you split. A postnuptial agreement may be appropriate to protect your assets and shield you in case your husband racks up debt again.

Hang onto any documentation you have that shows your husband’s gambling debt and what you spent to bail him out. Also, monitor your credit reports. People who gamble compulsively often hide debt from their partners.

Your husband needs to accept the fact that you’re going to be monitoring how he spends his money. He doesn’t get to blow $150,000 and have everything forgiven and forgotten. Don’t give him your trust if he hasn’t earned it.

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