How to cope when spouse's secret debts come to light

Dear Opening Credits,After a couple of years, I just checked my credit report and found out that my husband has been charging on our credit cards and even on cards I didn't know existed. We are $18,000 in debt when I thought we only had a balance of $400. How is this possible? I'm so upset I'm shaking. What can I do? -- Jennifer

Dear Jennifer,I'm truly sorry. It sounds like you've been a victim of financial infidelity. Your husband may be a great guy in every other way, but he's cheated on you in the money department, and that's an extremely painful revelation.

As part of a married couple, it is your responsibility to treat the other person with respect. This means telling the truth, however hard it may be. So if your husband was having financial problems, he should have revealed them long before running up such a balance. And opening accounts in secret? The moment he considered applying for new lines of credit without your knowledge or consent should have been his cue to initiate a heart-to-heart with you about his money issues. But even after accumulating those bills, he still should have eventually come clean, instead of leaving you to discover his indiscretions the hard way.

These are just a few of the "should haves" in this situation, and though it's easy to dwell on them, it's not productive. So what do you do now? Well, you and your husband must first dissect the past, and then you can work toward building a better future. Here's my recommended plan:

Neither of you can afford to be passive about your credit, Jennifer. As the great Russian writer and philosopher Leo Tolstoy once wrote, "What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility." Or as "Project Runway" star and American fashion guru Tim Gunn always says, "Make it work!"

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