Mr. and Mrs. Denial: An Unhappy Ending

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My ex-husband was a gambling addict (part of me wants to write this in present tense but, since we’ve been divorced for two years, I can no longer speak to his hobbies). I always knew he liked to gamble yet, then again, so did I. Double down on eleven, split aces and eights, know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.

Still, our individual love for gambling was different; I liked it, but he liked it….as in more than just a friend – Lady Luck was the other woman in our marriage. We never approached it the same way – I see that now in hindsight. During our trips to Vegas, I often went to bed around ten or eleven while he stayed up into the night, only sleeping four or five hours over the course of three days.

His personality changed too. Normally, he was more reserved, not one to strike up conversation with others. But put him at a blackjack table and he came alive. He was a joker, a card shark, the King of Diamonds. 

He also had a history – two instances where he lost large sums of money behind my back. Both times I forgave him and, both times, I returned to trusting him fully. 

In fact, I always trusted him, blindly and unquestionably, which is why he was able to hide the deceit from me for so long. Besides, I had access to our checking and saving accounts and I could see, plain as day, that I was the one spending the most money (What can I say? Amazon understands me). I protected our cash, but I came to learn that there is more than one way to skin a cat. Or, in this case, bet on a horse. 

In the spring of 2017, we refinanced our house and I handed him over $5,000 dollars to invest in the stock market, telling him to invest in whatever he wanted and to just let me know what he picked. A few weeks later, I asked him what stock he’d bought and he revealed that he had invested nothing and that the money was gone. I asked him where it went and he told me that he’d spent it on everyday life. When I asked for specifics, he named his $15 haircuts from SportsClips as the reason for its disappearance.  His explanation was so illogical that it felt like I was making it up.

I immediately suspected he’d gambled the money away and I asked him flat out. He admitted he had and, as soon as I reacted, the yelling began. For the next half hour, he screamed at me, called me names, and mocked me when I asked him to stop. I told him later that night that he owed me an apology and he sighed and said, “Well I don’t know.”

It served as a wake up call…and a preview of things to come.  

That was a lot of money to us, but his reaction, his defensiveness, his over-the-top meanness wasn’t a $5000 reaction and that’s when I knew: He did something worse. I pulled his credit report the next morning and began to slowly tug away at the threads of our marriage. When the report popped up on my screen, I saw it: 37,000 dollars of credit card debt and debt for a line of credit I knew nothing about. Until that moment, I didn’t even know he had a credit card. 

Everything unraveled like an onion after that, each layer a different layer of betrayal. It wasn’t just credit cards – it was money stolen from our equity, cash hidden in the house in places I was too short to check, $20,000 loans taken out behind my back, and a secret checking account he kept open our entire marriage, one I thought he’d closed years earlier, one he used to funnel money from our joint account into his individual one. To this day, I have no idea how much money he took and, I’m certain, neither does he.

The good thing about financial abuse (if you have to go ahead and pick a silver lining) is that it creates a solid paper trail; once I began to investigate, I was easily able to collect proof – credit card statements, bank statements, credit reports, equity papers. 

But even after I presented this proof, this rock solid proof pulled directly from websites, he denied it, telling me things like his credit report was wrong but offering no other possible explanation (and showing no sign of panic that someone, allegedly other than him, had racked up nearly $40,000 worth of debt). I’d never seen anyone deny and deny and deny something so obviously true. 

Yet it wasn’t just his denial that played a role – it was mine, too. I’m not sure why I trusted him when he’d proven to me that he was not trustworthy. Part of it almost feels prerequisite in nature: You have to trust your spouse because, if you don’t, then why are you with them in the first place? 

But denial isn’t only about that – it’s about self-protection too. I didn’t want my marriage to end and I think, on some level, I knew that discovering his deception would be our union’s undoing. 

The divorce had a lot more nuance to it as well, with other factors playing a role in me finally walking away. The biggest reason, however, was and is my refusal to deny who he was any longer.

He admitted to the gambling eventually, even confessing to stuff that I didn’t know about, and then, nearly in the same breath, he insisted that I forget it had ever happened.  He went so far to tell me that I could never bring up his gambling again and that I should have gotten over his ten years of deception in a “day or two.” He even walked into the living room, checked for recording devices, and revealed all the ways he’d stolen from our accounts. When I told him that I couldn’t trust him, he rolled his eyes. Because, apparently, I was being ridiculous. 

The last conversation before our marriage ended took place inside our car as we drove down a mountain road; it reeked of denial, a slab thick and heavy.

He turned off the radio and casually told me that I needed to sleep with him so that he didn’t feel bad about what he’d done; it felt like a scene out of some satirical TV show. I told him that I wasn’t ready and that I’d felt he hadn’t truly validated my feelings regarding his vast betrayal. 

I still think about his response: “I’ll never validate you because I know you’ll never leave me.” I laughed out loud.

The next day, I filed for divorce and we finalized a few months later. It was yet another gamble of his that didn’t pay off.

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