Carolyn Hax: Financial hit of husband’s firing was not ‘for the best’



Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I am so angry at my husband, and I don’t know what to do. He lost his job, and it took months to get the real story. First he was let go because he was old and making too much money, then it was that he was scapegoated for someone else’s mistake, then finally — when I was getting ready to consult one of the lawyers I work with (I’m a paralegal) — I got the truth. Basically, he’d been extremely negligent and wasn’t reviewing something that he was supposed to, instead just signing off on it without even reading it. A long-standing mistake came to light, which he should have caught, and it cost his company hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I knew he was unhappy at work and had wanted to retire early (he’s 62), but with two children headed for college, we just couldn’t afford it. Of course he has been unable to find another job with this black mark hanging over him, and he isn’t remorseful. He’s so happy being a stay-at-home dad while I had to find a higher-paying job with a much longer commute and we had to tell our teenagers that we won’t be able to contribute any more to their college funds.

Last night, my husband told me that he felt as if everything worked out for the best! I was furious and just walked away without responding. He’s not ashamed that he basically stole his salary for years, jeopardized his children’s future and put this burden on me. One of the worst parts is finding out about his lack of integrity. I didn’t want our children knowing that, so we lied and told them their dad retired suddenly but voluntarily. The secrecy is another strain on me.

I still love my husband, but I don’t like him right now. Where do we go from here?

So Angry: Counseling. Just you. I know this is not the time to add an expense to your balance sheet, but this is a lot of big information to process: Your life partner lacks integrity and empathy, you have children whom you either have to lie to or burden with knowledge of their father’s character deficiencies, and you’re having to work and commute longer hours to absorb the consequences of his failure. And he’s luxuriating in that. And you’re supposed to make sense of this and tend to your own well-being alone?

If you were inclined to skip the counseling and go straight to the divorce process, then that is also an option, but it seems as if you still have a lot of conflicting emotions and uncertainty about what you’d like your life to look like, given the raw materials he just handed you. That’s normal, too, in the immediate aftermath of a shocking turn of events. Take care of yourself, talk to someone and let the answers come to you.

By the way, college is not something you have to pay for with emotional dollars. They use the money you saved so far, choose schools that cost less, apply for scholarships and grants, and take out some loans. There are ways.

· I also recommend you consult with a lawyer. That lack of integrity may be at work at other things in the marriage, such as the retirement and college savings. As for lying to the kids: I understand the desire to “protect” them, but they might rightly wonder why Dad retired when Mom is having to double up just to make ends meet. Keeping the secret long-term may just make it worse when the truth ends up coming out.