Trapped by $50k debts

I want to leave my partner for someone else, but we can’t afford to separate. And then there’s the kids… 

I know it’s not what you want to hear, says our elder. But try to make sense of your marriage before you think about moving on.


Dear EWC 

I selected the category marriage, but in reality, I am not married. It feels like I am, though, as I am in a committed relationship with shared everything. Shared accounts, debts, bills, insurance, vehicles, you name it. Also, there are children. One of mine, and one of his. Plus animals, again one of mine and one of his. Our relationship has been going downhill for years and I’ve been telling him I’ve wanted out for a very long time. We have been together for six years and maybe two of them were good. I sleep on the couch every night and have for maybe the last two years now. He really believes if we stay together, I will fall back in love with him. But we have grown to have fundamental differences and desires out of life. We have grown apart. We are very financially codependent, and we are also in a lot of debt. Around $50k. I’ve told him that I want to stay together long enough to pay our debt so we can both be independently financially stable. I feel like this gives him cause to hope. I just know neither of us can afford to separate. 

The thing is, I’m pretty certain I’ve met the love of my life. Or I should say, re-met? My boyfriend from over 13 years ago has reconnected with me, and it’s been instantaneous for us both. And I feel so torn, so terrible. I’m having anxiety and a hard time sleeping, eating and focusing. I believe I could have a good life with either of them. My current would be reliable, dependable, but I don’t know if my heart would ever be in it again which isn’t fair to him. I just don’t know what to do. Life is too short to settle. But what if I’m giving up on someone I shouldn’t… either way?


PJH replies

I’m sorry your relationship is such turmoil, but glad you’ve written for an elder’s perspective on the problem.

Let me begin by agreeing with your assessment that the issue is a troubled marriage. Depending on the state you live in you may or may not be in a common law marriage, but whether it’s legal or simply a moral commitment the combination of fiscal and familial responsibilities you share form a marriage, and its trajectory is a sadly familiar one. 

After two years problems developed and stayed unresolved. You reduced the tension by moving to the couch and then found moments of joyous escape in the arrival of an old flame with fresh appeal and without visible baggage. He’s created a crisis that has you unfocussed, sleepless, and without appetite. As I noted, you’re following a well-worn path with predictable consequences.

As a person who’s shared elements of your dilemma and seen the scenario played out by among family and friends, I offer this advice: Put your lover on permanent hold while you make sense of your marriage. Your partner, a good man by your own admission, is ready to do his part. Your children can’t thrive in a household in upheaval, and your debts won’t go away unless you make a joint plan to pay them off. 

I know that’s hard to read, and heartbreaking to contemplate, but we rarely die of broken hearts; more often, we wither as we recognize the damage failures of character cause. But that said, let me add that a task that seems overwhelming gets done taking one step at a time, and each step makes the next one easier. Then, once done, we’re free, with self-respect intact, and that’s a fine prize to collect.

To close, as an elder I want to emphasize how much of life remains to be enjoyed once kids are raised and debts paid. Whether your partnership continues ’til retirement or you decide to call it quits when the big job is done becomes a matter of free choice with continued caring and concern. Love and loving are not age-related. Nor is passion. We experience life in episodes, chapters, and there are many more pages to your story. I urge you to take charge of your responsibilities, rebuild what you can of your relationship, and take comfort in knowing you’re doing the right things for yourself and your family.


Marriage #463652

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