You may have seen our recent blog entry about dealing with debt as a couple. Now let’s talk more about what you can do if you just found out your partner has debt – and it totally freaks you out. Believe it or not, it’s okay to feel that way! Recognize the emotion but know that, unless you’re married, you’re not responsible for anyone’s debt but your own. You can, however, help your partner tremendously by setting your fear aside and being there as a support system for him or her. Here are some ways to do that.
Remember It’s Not Your Debt
Now that you’ve acknowledged your fear, allow it to be alleviated by the fact that this is not your debt. Of course, when you love someone and see a future with that person, you may feel like it is your debt – either because you want to help your partner get through it or because you plan to get married someday soon. But until that day comes, you are not responsible for any of it.
With that said, your partner likely could use your emotional support in getting through it. Have you been there before? If so, maybe you can help answer questions your partner may have. Maybe you’ve never been there before. You still can be there for your partner by listening to him or her and maybe even giving a fresh perspective on the situation.
Walk in Your Partner’s Shoes
It’s easy to judge someone who has debt, even if we have it ourselves. But the quickest way to suspend judgement is to walk in that person’s shoes. Talk to your partner about how he or she got into debt. Maybe the bulk of it is student loans because his or her family couldn’t afford to help out with college tuition. Or, it could have been credit card debt that accumulated during a time of economic struggle. Then, there’s always the possibility that your partner simply made poor spending choices and is now paying the price.
No matter how it started, try to walk in your partner’s shoes as he or she tells you how it happened and how he or she is feeling now. Debt can cause a roller coaster of emotions from fear and anxiety to frustration and shame. Nothing can be done to get out of debt until these feelings have been addressed first and someone then has the confidence that he or she has the power to eliminate it. From that will come a determination to do so and that’s when things really start moving forward.
Speaking of moving forward…it’s time to talk strategy. Don’t assume your partner doesn’t have a plan to get out of debt – ask first. If your partner does have a plan, then you two can still talk about it and see if it can be improved upon. If your partner is happy with the plan and the progress, then let it alone. Now all you have to do is be a mental and emotional support system.
If your partner doesn’t have a plan, don’t get upset. Maybe all he or she needed was someone to talk to about this. Now you two can really talk strategy together. What kind of debt is it and – if multiple types – which should your partner pay off first? Is there a way your partner can earn extra money on the side or even search for a career that will pay more? (The latter will only work if your partner isn’t already happy and fulfilled at work.) Maybe your partner just needs to rethink his or her budget or sign up for sites like ReadyForZero to stay motivated and on track. Whatever the case may be, two heads are better than one. This is your chance to provide the kind of support your partner really needs right now – help figuring out what to do about the debt.
See How This Relates to Your Relationship
You’ve now hopefully come to understand how your partner feels and talked about his or her strategy to get out of debt. The next step is to evaluate what this means for your relationship right now. Think about the plans you’ve made. Were you going to take a vacation together soon? Does this still make sense to do right now? What if you were going to relocate to a different city, buy a house, or get married? Come to an agreement on how these goals look now that you know about the debt and how long will take to pay it off. Maybe you want to continue on the same time frame for your goals or maybe you think it’s best to put some of them on hold. Just make sure that the two of you are on the same page so neither one of you ends up feeling resentful.
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Set it and Forget It
This one is going to sound much easier than it will be to do. Now that you’ve come to a mutual understanding about the debt and payoff strategies, don’t let this hang over your head like a black cloud (believe me, your partner is probably already dealing with that him or herself). You’ve done all you can at this point and the most important thing moving forward is that you simply allow your relationship to move forward. Be open to discussions about it as needed by your partner, but don’t ever let it dominate every conversation you two have.
Debt is scary, frustrating, and can slow down and even prevent goals and desires. If you’re debt-free and you just found out that your significant other is carrying debt, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. However, if you follow these steps then you two can come together and realize that debt is just another part of life that some people (many people) have to work through. What’s important isn’t the problems you encounter in your relationship – it’s how you handle them together. So be honest with your significant other about how you feel. But once you’ve talked it all out, don’t let debt ruin your future together.
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!
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