Dealing with Debt as a Couple

Dealing with Debt as a CoupleWhether you’re single or in a relationship, debt can be a scary thing. Even though nearly everyone carries some sort of debt, many tend to feel a sense of shame for having it. So what happens when you’ve met someone you think you could have a future with and he or she doesn’t yet know about your debt? Or, what happens if you just found out your partner has debt? Let’s talk about ways you can work together to talk about debt and eliminate it from your lives – so you can move forward happy and debt-free.

Dealing with Debt – Talk About It

The first step is truly the hardest: talking about it. Admitting you have debt to anyone, much less a potential life partner, can be one of the most difficult things you do. You could opt not to talk about it. Maybe you even have a hope that the debt will be paid off before you two move forward in your relationship. Although this may sound like the way out, secrets – any kind of secrets – can create cracks in the foundation of a relationship that may eventually turn into irreparable damage. As painful as it is, you need to be honest with your partner about your debt, especially if you see yourself forming a life with this person.

There’s no doubt that you might fear your partner will judge you, feel differently about you, or maybe even feel overwhelmed by your situation. But you wouldn’t want your partner to withhold something from you for fear of how you could react, so you shouldn’t do the same to your partner. Sit down together and explain your situation. What happened, what things look like now, and what you’re doing to work through it. Who knows, your partner may even have his or her own debt story to tell!

Dealing with Debt – Withhold the Judgement

Now let’s say you’re the one being told about debt. The most important thing you can do when your partner makes this admission to you is to withhold judgement. This may not be as easy as it sounds. Nearly everyone experiences debt, but that doesn’t stop many of us from looking at our own situation as different from everyone else’s – it’s common and even natural to think that your debt is a fluke while judging others for having debt. But when your partner tells you his or her story, listen carefully about what happened and try to place yourself in his or her shoes.

You should also withhold the judgement on yourself. If this is someone you see yourself having a future with, then you may feel overwhelmed by his or her situation. That’s okay. Debt is scary for all of us. Maybe you’ve even just gotten out of debt yourself and were hoping you’d never have to deal with it again. Just remember that your partner isn’t telling you so you’ll take care of it – your partner is telling you to be honest about his or her financial situation. Until you get married, you are not responsible for anyone’s finances but your own. So recognize your feelings but remember that all you need to do is support your partner mentally and emotionally while he or she works through this issue.

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Dealing with Debt – Figure out a Plan

Once the talk is over with, you can move on to the fun part! Figuring out a plan together, that is. Let’s say you are the one with debt and you don’t yet have a handle on the situation. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tell your partner about it! In fact, your partner might have a new way to look at it. For example, have you ever searched your house desperately for your car keys? I’m talking about that frantic, running late for work, rushing around the house, feeling pretty sure that your keys grew legs and walked out on their own. Then someone else in the house comes along, sees you going crazy looking for the keys, then laughs and points at your hands. It turns out you were holding the keys the whole time and didn’t even realize it because you were in such a mad rush.

This is very similar to debt. When debt accumulates, it’s easy to go crazy trying to find solutions and looking everywhere for an answer but in your own hands. Now if you tell your partner about it, he or she may see the answer as clear as day. Perhaps your budget needed to be looked at with a fresh set of eyes or maybe there’s a different way to apply your payments so the principal balance will get paid down faster. Or, your partner may even know of a way to earn some extra money. The point is, it’s a lot easier to get through a problem when you have someone in your corner cheering you on and helping you find solutions that you haven’t yet thought of.

Are you the one being told about the debt? Then you can be the one to help your partner through this. Again, no one is expecting you to take responsibility for debt that you didn’t accumulate. But you just may have the answer your partner has been looking for all this time. So help your partner by taking a good look at the situation together and evaluating what can be done about it. Showing this support may even bring you closer together and teach you how to work through problems together as a team – a great foundation builder for a relationship!

Debt is scary, but it’s not impossible. Whether you have debt of your own or your partner is admitting his or her own debt for the first time, this is a situation that needs to be addressed with honesty, openness, and without judgement. Just like everything else, ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. So open up the lines of communication and you may find that you not only tackle the debt, but also become closer than ever as a couple!

This article is part of our Relationships and Money Resource Center.  If you’re looking for additional information about dealing with money in your relationship, be sure to pay a visit!

Image Credit: R_x – renee barron

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  • TB at

    When my wife and I got married, neither of us had anything. No debt, no bank accounts, nothing. Zero. Seemed bad at the time, no savings accumulated, credit rating ghosts…but when I read posts like this, I think it’s actually pretty great. I dont’ know how I would have handled debt of someone else. Almost doens’t seem fair when people get married that the frugal one has to take on the crazy debt of someone else.

    • Shannon_ReadyForZero

      I totally understand what you mean. The problem is so many of us have debt nowadays (myself included) that it’s difficult to get married without it. That’s why I think it’s so important to have the talk before marriage or engagement – so both parties can figure out a plan to take care of it as soon as possible – even if that just means the other party provides emotional support only. I was lucky that my fiance understood that I have student loans and my own plan for paying them off – it won’t be finished before we get married, but we’re at least on the same page and he knows what my strategy is and doesn’t have to worry about taking on my debt.

  • Darren Novak

    Great article. One thing about debt and I think this is very important for couples who deal with debt together is to think positive. Keep away from thinking about negative thoughts. It will only make this worse. Thank you for sharing, it was a great read.