Is my wife a thief?

Dear Counsellor,

My wife and I have been married for four months. We have a wonderful relationship and get along very well; however, she has one major problem. She steals money. The first time I noticed money was missing from my wallet, I didn’t dwell too much on it, thinking that maybe I’d spent it. I then noticed money missing from my bedside drawer, and that’s when I started suspecting her. But I ignored it, being my wife. Now recently, my brother and his wife came to visit and they lost money yet we were the only ones in the house. We do not have a maid, and we do the chores ourselves. We only have a guy who comes around to wash clothes once a week and we are always around, I can’t imagine he’s the one as he never enters the house. This confirmed my fears, and I am confused about how to handle this situation. How can I find out for sure if it is her? And if it is, is there any way she can be helped?



Dear Simon

Managing money as a married couple is sometimes challenging, especially if there is no mutual understanding. Watching your wife give in to the habit of stealing is a painful experience because it won’t be limited to your house only. Taking money from your spouse without communicating is a serious source of conflict, mistrust and ultimately could lead to separation if not solved in time. It may look like a quick and easy solution to ‘money shortage’ but the damage it causes to the relationship in the long run is not worth it. In the end, it comes down to mutual respect.

Your wife may be suffering from ‘kleptomania’, an impulse control disorder seen through emotional and behavioral self-control problems, while trying to resist the temptation of appalling acts like stealing. A person with such a disorder may feel a lot of tension prior to the theft with a recurrent failure to resist the impulse to steal. However, like many psychiatric disorders, kleptomania may need to be treated with a combination of medication therapy. The care of medical professionals along with your love and support can help her through this trying moment.

The ultimate goal is to honestly communicate. It’s likely that she will be in total denial. The idea is to soften her resistance so that both of you can fully understand the effect of theft on your relationship and reputation. Your tone will be far more effective than applying strict emotional appeals. Keep it brief, non-judgmental, and less detailed in order to prevent her from feeling as if you’re against her. Explain to her the possible consequences of her behaviour, like a criminal record, the loss of a job, jail time, divorce and so forth. You should emphasise that her habit is a treatable disorder and not a character flaw and that you’re willing to help her.

Alternatively, use a debit/credit card so that you avoid carrying solid cash around which is her biggest temptation. If a visitor comes to your house, keep reminding her of the problem as a warning to let her know that she is on the surveillance radar. Explore all the options for treatment. Her recovery from this can be a relationship-building experience for you.