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Bringing up debt in any conversation can feel like a social taboo. Oddly enough, the more intimate the relationship, the more awkward debt discussions can be. We worry we will suddenly be viewed in a negative light: “What if they judge me? What if they start lecturing me? What if my financial burden creates this strangeness anytime my wallet, or theirs, is involved?”.

The anxiety surrounding the topic of debt builds even more with your loved one. There are endless reasons why. Nobody wants their partner to think less of them. We have this inherent desire to always put our best selves out there. Debt can be the elephant in the room, always around but rarely acknowledged for the sake of keeping the peace.

Debt can certainly muddy the relationship waters, especially early on. What used to be “yours” and “theirs” may turn into “ours” at some point. Someone’s financial baggage becomes part of the package deal. Old lines of credit, even ones with well-intended purposes, may feel burdensome. Past money mishaps, which are all too common, may linger, inhibiting a couple’s cashflow for years.

Developing sound financial footing in your relationship begins with trust and understanding. As we tell our clients, many times the most difficult step in making meaningful financial headway is simply to begin. The same goes for having productive talks with your partner about your respective debt loads. It is never a good idea to hide debts, regardless of the circumstances. While it may seem like the better option at the time, money secrets can lead to major troubles for couples.

Unsure how to broach the topic with your partner? Here are five guidelines to help:

  • Be open and honest. Understand that your significant other may have a different financial personality (saver vs. spender, debt comfortable vs. debt adverse). Find common ground where you can. Respect your partner’s perspective. Don’t hold back your feelings about debt. Express your views in a considerate and amicable way. If your partner’s financial situation makes you uncomfortable, say so.
  • Find your way together. Come to an agreement about how to manage your respective debt loads. Decide if each person will be responsible for covering their own payments, or if you will tackle the monthly expenses as a team. Figure out how you will handle paying for any new debts you take on together.   
  • Be patient. Money habits take years to develop. If you or your significant other were accustomed to carrying loads of debt, developing a new mindset as a couple may take a while. Understand you may need to be quite tolerant as you both find a way forward.
  • Hold each other accountable. Accountability is crucial. If you are disappointed in your partner’s progress toward managing debt after a bit, speak up. If your partner feels you aren’t putting in the effort, be cognizant of that too. Remember, you have come to a mutual understanding on how to make progress. Make nonjudgmental accountability the bedrock of your approach. Don’t forget, you are both learning how to navigate a shared life, from divvying up household chores to managing your collective finances.  
  • Keep the dialogue going. Finances and relationships evolve. Make it a point to touch base often with your partner about debt, and about your overall financial situation. Keeping the discussion going helps to remove the taboo of talking about money. Schedule specific dates to review your finances and debts at regular intervals.  Monthly is a solid goal. Make it quarterly at a minimum.

If you or your significant other find yourselves struggling to reach common financial ground, we are here to help. Having an objective voice in the discussion can go a long way in easing the tension surrounding debt. To schedule a free introductory phone call, click here.

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