Dear Dr. Debra,
When one counselor has proven useless, one
counselor has turned out to be toxic, and one partner is
finding excuses to stay out of the house, at what point does
one take steps to shut down joint credit cards?
Almost giving up
First of all, I’m sorry that your marriage has
deteriorated to this point. Good for the two of you for
attempting marriage counseling. Before you give up completely
on your marriage, I’d like the two of you to make another
attempt at counseling. Just like in any profession, there are
good therapists and bad therapists. In fact, the counseling
profession may have even more dysfunctional practitioners
because wounded people are often drawn to this kind of job in
an attempt to find answers to their own problems. That’s okay,
if they first do the necessary healing before trying to treat
others. But, unfortunately that isn’t always the case.
You might have to keep looking until you find
a good counselor. Here are some tips to help your search.
Ask for referrals from
your friends and colleagues, your doctor, rabbi, priest, or
minister. You want to find a therapist others can vouch
for. You don’t want to go to someone who’s just a name on a
list given out by your insurance company or someone in the
phone book. But if you have to see someone recommended by your
insurance carrier, then think of it as shopping. Don’t just
settle for the person at the top of the list or the one whose
office is closest to you. You want to find the counselor who’s
best for you and your partner.
At the first session, it’s important to get a
good feeling about the counselor. Does he or she make you feel
comfortable enough to open up? Does the therapist listen well
and not make critical comments about what you’ve shared? When
the counselor gives you feedback, do you feel she or he
understands your feelings? Do the comments feel helpful and
give you insight into yourself or your partner?
By the end of the session, do you have a
feeling that you learned something, or that you are going to
be able to make progress with this person? You should leave
with a feeling of wanting to return for more sessions, not
because it was necessarily a pleasant experience--in fact, a
lot of painful feelings might have been shared, or the
counselor might have made some points that are hard for you to
swallow, even if you know he or she is correct--but because
you have some hope that your relationship will receive the
help it needs.
If you haven’t had this kind of experience,
don’t go back. Make an appointment with the next person on
Now for the credit card question.
Always act with integrity; however, also
make wise choices to protect yourself.
Start by having a talk with your partner. Tell
him your feelings. Make sure he knows that even though you are
not giving up on the marriage and want to continue to work on
it, you do want to give up the joint cards and joint checking
and savings/investment accounts. Discuss how you will do this.
Then immediately implement the solutions. Meaning, if
you are talking during the day, you both get on the phone with
the credit card company and make the changes. Then together
you drive to your bank and make the changes to your accounts.
Together, you call your investment company. If you have this
discussion at night, then do this as a team first thing in the
I called my credit card company to find out
the necessary steps to go from joint to individual cards. And
I’m going to list them here. However, you need to call your
own company and find out for yourself.
Hopefully you don’t have a balance on the
account, which will make everything easier. But if you do have
a balance, the two of you need to decide how to handle that
debt. For example, you can split it equally, or each take
responsibility for purchases you’ve made in the past. Or one
person can take on the debt in return for the other giving up
something else. If the two of you can’t work this out between
you, then you will need to use a lawyer or each hire lawyers
to find an equitable solution.
As for the actual credit card--first close the
account to further spending. Then order the forms that will
take one person off the account. The other will have to apply
for a new card. And if you’ve made the agreement to share the
debt, then transfer that portion to the new card.
Once you have the worry about your joint
accounts off your mind, perhaps you’ll be able to focus on
mending the relationship. I hope everything works out.