How to Keep Debt from Ruining Your Relationship

Budget, Relationships
Handling Debt in Relationships

Photo: Getty Images

Have debt? Join the club: A survey by NerdWallet shows 35 percent of adults bring credit card debt into their marriages, with that number leaping to 45 percent of millennials. What's worse, 25 percent of couples reported debt has a negative impact on their relationship.

"Unpaid debts slowly can chip away at a relationship and the couple's dreams," explains Alisa Ruby Bash, a licensed marriage therapist in Malibu, Ca. "In some cases, the person without the debt may lose respect or judge their partner for past irresponsibility or mistakes. And feeling limited, unsure about how to get out of your debt, and worried, is never sexy."

Debt doesn't have to ruin your relationship, however. Here's how to handle it together.

Talk about it before you tie the knot.
"I've always found it odd that couples are reluctant to talk finances but will speak about every other intimate issue before getting married," says Elle Kaplan, financial expert and founder of wealth management firm LexION Capital Management. Instead, sit down together before you say "I do" to be totally transparent about your views on money and what you owe, she suggests. "Partners should treat this as another relationship goal to solve together, rather than letting it drive them apart. Regardless of any emotions, both partner's debts and credit scores are now tied together for the long run."

Fix the underlying issue.
One reason debt can destroy a marriage is because the individual never corrects the behavior that led him or her to pile it up in the first place. Ask, "were you spending frivolously? Is your debt from medical school, or a higher education? Is one of you a compulsive spender? Or were there circumstances out of one's control, such as extensive hospital bills or as a result of an injury or accident?" says Bash. "Take responsibility for your part, and communicate about whatever problems you may have had. Own it." Then based on your answer, come up with a game plan to nip the problem in the bud if necessary.

See More: 5 Ways Bridesmaids Can Save Money

Love each other through the debt.
You don't have to love the debt to love the person, Bash points out. "Spend time connecting physically and emotionally, and try to have fun," she says. "Both people are probably suffering and need extra nurturing, comforting, and love. Meditate, do yoga, and find a way to muster compassion in your heart for the person who carries the debt. Try to understand what a heavy burden it must be for them, and the guilt and shame that they may feel."

Change the way you view debt.
Debt isn't a good thing. But the way you look at it can actually bring you and your spouse closer together. "A positive way to frame debt is to think of it as another step in a plan to achieve your relationship goals instead of a burden," advises Kaplan. "For example, rather than thinking 'I have to pay off my fiancés' credit card,' you both can think about this as a problem you will solve together in order to travel after retirement."

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