Debt is bad for your wallet, bad for your health and bad for your relationships. Some would say that money is the root of all evil.
I won’t go that far but debt in marriage is definitely something to keep a close eye on to ensure your relationship survives the difficult times.
Many of us start out with debt in a long term relationship, mainly because we are younger and at the beginning of our financial journey.
We don’t earn much and haven’t learnt the art of managing our finances to the best of our abilities.
You might have student loans, car loans or credit card debts. You might have fallen into the trap of living beyond your means as you try and keep up with those around you.
In of themselves these aren’t issues, but life happens and if you aren’t completely joined up as a couple then trouble can brew.
Money problems are often cited as one of the top reasons for getting a divorce. Reasons such as:
- marrying someone with existing debt,
- one of you built up and hid debt from your partner
- you had different money values (spender vs. saver)
- You had different money goals
These on their own don’t necessarily end a marriage. However they are significant stressors that can impact on other aspects of your relationship. Such as talking openly and honestly with each other, having arguments and intimacy.
When you’ve got debt in your marriage you really need to take some form of action to stop it ruining your relationship and stop you continually worrying about money.
Our Debt Story
When Mr2p and I got together I already had a child and credit card debt. Joining forces meant we had 2 incomes but we took out the biggest mortgage we could at 9.5% interest.
Believe it or not that was a great fixed rate as the standard rate was 12%!
On top of that our childcare costs rocketed due to me moving areas to be with Mr2p.
We ended up maxing my credit card and had no wriggle room at all. We had to turn the heating off in the winter, only having it on for an hour or two in the evenings. This is when I learned to love a lap blanket.
The stress of that debt and trying to live within our means was hard going and many a week Mr2p and I had ‘words’.
We learned the hard way that debt in marriage or a relationship impacts on everything you do and how you do it. You can’t afford to go on a date night to discuss money and you can’t afford the alcohol to drown your sorrows!
Thankfully we didn’t take out another credit card but it took us 3 long years to pay that debt off.
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Key Issues With Having Debt In Marriage
There are 4 key debt and money issues that can affect your marriage or relationship. And I’ve got 12 great tips to help you overcome those issues and come out debt free with a stronger relationship.
1. Marrying Someone With Debt
When you get married you make a commitment to each other for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. Perhaps these days we ought to add ‘and in debt’.
With student loan debt running in big numbers, many people start married life with debt.
Depending on where you live, your spouse’s debt incurred before your marriage may well not ever be your legal responsibility.
However as life partners if you want to enjoy living a debt free life together, have joint financial goals then you need to consider what is theirs is yours. Including debt.
Two heads are better than one. Joining forces to focus on paying off your spouse’s debts makes for a stronger relationship and marriage.
2. Hiding Debt From Your Partner
Hiding anything from your partner is not good for developing and maintaining a strong relationship.
And hiding debt from your partner is a problem that can ultimately lead to the break up of your marriage.
It can start out as a small balance on your credit card you couldn’t quite pay off but can easily and quickly snowball into many thousands.
Keeping your debt hidden from your partner then makes paying off the debt that much harder.
3. Building Up Debt In Marriage
It is inevitable that as a couple you will take on some debt in your marriage at some point. If you learn how to manage your finances early on then maybe the only debt you will have is a mortgage.
Realistically though, you are likely to incur debt in a variety of forms before you have your light bulb moment and start focusing on how to budget and save money.
4. How You View Debt
Quite often how having debt will affect your relationship is determined by how you and your partner each view debt. You might actively detest any form of debt whereas for your partner debt is a fact of life.
To stop debt affecting your relationship you need to get on the same page as each other financially. Working together will reduce the impact that debt has on your marriage problems.
12 Actions To Take To Prevent Debt Ruining Your Relationship
So how can you eliminate these 4 stressors and strengthen your financial relationship?
The good news is there are plenty of things you can do to make your relationship work despite having debt. Check out these 12 tips.
1. Team Work
Your partner is your best team mate! Working together as a team you can accomplish so much but you’ve got to be looking out for each other.
Be accountable to your partner and vice versa. Financially, life is much easier if you work as a team and are on the same page.
Having team goals that you work towards and check in on together will help you create a great team.
If you can’t be honest with your life partner, married or not, who can you be honest with? Honesty is so important for every aspect of your marriage, not just your finances.
But it is extremely important for you both to be honest about your financial circumstances not just at the beginning of your marriage but throughout.
Things change, life throws a few curve balls – being upfront and honest about changes in your finances helps the two of you to tackle them together.
As with any long lasting relationship, trust in your partner is key. You need to be able to trust each other in good times and bad.
Trust is the bedrock of your financial relationship, without which you will struggle to operate as an effective financial team.
4. Joint Money Goals
Debt (and potential marriage problems) can be helped by focusing on future financial goals. If you are both buzzing with the idea of saving up in order to take the trip of a lifetime then paying down your debts gets easier.
The debt has to go in order for you to achieve that trip of a lifetime goal. And you will be determined to get that trip. Debt gets repaid as a result.
All relationships thrive on communication. To stop any debts you have becoming a problem you need to talk regularly about your finances.
When you don’t talk then you run the risk of bigger problems such as hiding debt from a partner.
6. Track Your Spending
If you are on a mission to get rid of debt in your marriage then knowing what you spend is key. Tracking every expense and cash transaction you make will help you build up a complete picture of the finances for you both.
You can then look at the monthly figures to see where, if you need to, you can reduce spending.
It’s amazing how using a contactless card reduces how involved you are in spending your hard earned cash. And reviewing all those small transactions can be an eye opener.
If using your debit and credit cards means you spend more than you planned because it’s just too easy, why not try using the cash envelope system for a month or two? It can help you re-engage with your money.
7. Check In With Monthly Dates
Have a monthly finance date with each other. Look at your spending over the past month. Discuss your financial goals and your progress towards them. Discuss any upcoming big expenses either of you are thinking about.
Where things haven’t all gone according to plan, see those as learning experiences (positive) rather than failures (negative).
Focus on having a positive discussion. Focus on the steps you both have taken and achievements you have both made.
Remember you’re working as a team and these conversations are about your joint financial future.
8. Fun Money
When you’ve got debt, marriage problems can quickly follow if you budget yourselves into a corner with no wiggle room.
Having fun money allows you both to have some guilt free spending. No questioning the value of what your fun money is spent on.
It doesn’t have to be much each month as much of the value of having this allowance is the mere fact of having it.
When Mr2p and I were living on a tight budget we gave ourselves £50 a month each to spend as we liked.
9. Don’t Give Ultimatums
Some people take to budgets like a duck to water, others find them restricting and can unconsciously fight against them.
Discussing your finances in these circumstances can be difficult as you are not on the same page emotionally.
When you are aiming to get rid of debt in your relationship, you should try to keep emotion out of your discussions.
Don’t give ultimatums to a partner who is struggling to live within their means as unfortunately it won’t help.
10. Joint Money Decisions
Whether you have merged your finances completely or each are responsible for certain bills, you can still make joint money decisions. Decisions on what you spend your money on once the bills are paid.
It’s probably not practical to have to agree to every spend either of you want to make. But deciding on bigger ticket items is a good practice to get into.
It helps you to have those regular finance discussions and be joined up with your money goals.
11. Help Them See The Why Of It
With many couples you will find that they aren’t on the same page financially, certainly not at the beginning. Maybe one of you is a saver, whilst the other thinks money is meant to be spent ASAP.
Whether you’ve married someone with debt or incurred debt during your marriage, paying off that debt is infinitely easier with your partner on board.
Your mission needs to be to help them see the benefits of clearing your debt. How you do that will depend on what triggers will work for your partner.
Joint money goals often work. Alternatively digging into the numbers and showing them how much more money they will have once they become debt free may be the trigger.
Or maybe they’re competitive and thrive on a no spend challenge?
12. Consider A Finance Director
In every successful relationship you have someone who takes charge of certain aspects of your joint life. And finances are a key area where it can really help both of you if one of you is focused on your plans.
This is not about someone controlling the finances.
This is more about someone who takes charge of things like ensuring bills are paid on time, tracking what you spend, setting up savings accounts to get the best interest rates for your money.
I am the finance director in our marriage. I’m not a control freak but I do like to know what is going on (ok, maybe I am a bit control freak like!)
Having one person managing your money can be a good idea, as long as the other is still actively involved in your finances and doesn’t devolve all responsibility to the other.
Don’t Let Debt Affect Your Relationship
Remember no-one is perfect (note to self!) and how you view your spending and your finances may well be always a little different to your partner.
The great thing about being in a true partnership is that you are not alone in fighting that debt in marriage. No, you are on a team and can stop debt ever being a problem in your relationship when you work together.