When one partner brings debt into the marriage, the debt is now yours as a couple. But you can stop debt from ruining your marriage – and even find ways to be closer than ever because of your financial debt.
Here’s what one reader asked: “When my fiance and I get married, am I responsible for any of his previous medical bills? He is on disability,” asks a reader on 6 Issues to Settle Before Getting Married.
While I don’t think she’s legally responsible for his medical bills, she is taking on his financial debt when she marries him. If you’re in the same boat, you may find The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by Dave Ramsey helpful.
How to Stop Debt From Ruining Your Marriage
Guest post – Ally
Don’t hide debt from your partner
Hiding debt from your spouse is a surefire way to break trust and sow the seeds of doubt in a relationship. Thoughts run rampant – if he/she was hiding debts from me, what else is in hiding? Affairs? Secret liasons? Family secrets? A vital part of trust in a marriage is the honesty and openness. If you’ve got debt, you have to be honest. If you are hiding debts due to an alcohol or gambling addiction, you need to address that addiction as soon as possible if you want to save your marriage. Even if you have a small debt due to a bad purchase decision or paltry debts from a past life, you need to learn how to talk about money without fighting.
Make reducing debt a team effort
High levels of debt can be a major stress on a marriage. Once debts are all out in the open, both partners need to work together to come up with a plan to get rid of the debt. This is where a mediator, a marriage counsellor with experience in financial debt, or a financial advisor (or all of the above!) can be utilised. Big debts can make a couple feel very lonely, and talking it over with people who understand your situation and who’ve seen it all before (and they will have – big debts are so common these days) – can take some of that isolation and loneliness away.
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Avoid labelling each other
Despite minor spending habits and slightly different values, in most marriages each spouse spends roughly the same amount of money. Women are most often in charge of groceries and the family’s clothing, and men are often in charge of larger purchases such as cars, computers or electronics. It may be that neither spouse is overspending in a big way; the expenses are just of a different type.
Yet it’s easy for couples to fall into a habit of accusing each other of spending too much…
Hubby: “You’re always buying Sally so many dresses. How many dresses does a girl need?”
Wife: “She needs dresses, she’s a girl, what else is she supposed to wear in summer? Do you want her to look like a boy? Anyway, I wish you hadn’t spent so much on the new plasma screen TV. We didn’t need such a huge one.”
Hubby: “It doubles as a computer screen – it’s so much easier to work on a large screen. Plus the kids can use it to do their homework.”
Wife: “Oh, you just wanted a big fat TV. And here I am stuck trying to put food on the table with the budget that’s left.”
Hubby: “If you didn’t insist on buying so many ready-meals, maybe we’d have more money for groceries. Why can’t you cook from scratch, like my mother?!”
Many couples fight about money – and let debt ruin their marriage. Studies show that financial arguments are the most common form of argument in marriage. In reality, Hubby probably loves to see his kids well dressed for the summer, and Wife loves watching her favourite shows in the plasma screen just as much as Hubby does. And who has the time to cook “like mother” these days? Unless one partner has as serious debt or spending issue, couples in debt need to avoid petty arguments about expenditures. Instead, work together to create a budget where you can both keep track of money in and money out. You can stop debt from ruining your marriage if you work together.
Set realistic goals – with timelines for paying off debt
When you’ve got debt, you are naturally going to be under more stress, and stress inevitably can lead to marital conflict. It may not solve all your problems, but having realistic financial goals about how and when you are going to pay your debt off together will reduce your stress immediately. Just knowing that you have a plan might be enough to bring the level of conflict in your marriage down to a manageable level. If either of you start to feel frantic or depressed about the debts you hold, you can go to your plan and remind yourselves that the end is in sight.
Debt can bring you both together more closely than ever before, if you handle it right. To learn how, read The Best Way to Stop Fighting About Money.
Is debt ruining your marriage? Comments welcome below…