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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

Dear Almost,

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 your list.

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 morning.

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.

Dr. Debra

Feel free to write me with your questions

Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in relationships and communication techniques.

To read previous 'Ask Dr. Debra' articles, please visit www.wetnoodleposse.com, where Dr. Debra is a regular contributor, or click here to view the archives.





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