Discussing Debt With Your Spouse

A special thanks to Gary Foreman for today’s guest post. Gary has been passing along financial advice for over 30 years, first as a financial planner and then as editor of The Dollar Stretcher website. In this post, he tackles a difficult problem, yet wonderful opportunity…discussing debt with your spouse! Wonder if you’re heading for a debt problem? Use this simple debt checklist and see for yourself!

You know you need to change your spending habits. Your lack of savings and increasing credit card balances are evidence enough to get you to make changes. But your spouse doesn’t see the problem and feels no need to change their spendy ways. What can you do?

If you search, you’ll find a number of recommendations that may or may not work for you. However, in today’s post, we’re going to look at it from a little different angle than most. We’re going to examine 3 strategies that are often recommended that will almost certainly not work. In fact, they’ll probably add the cost of a divorce lawyer to your pile of bills!

The first suggestion you may read is that you tell your partner the truth…They’re the cause of your problems! Their spending is why you have a debt problem! The argument goes that you can’t expect them to change their behavior if they aren’t aware of the problem and you ‘owe it to them’ to be honest and forthright.

So what’s the problem with telling the truth? As a general rule, nothing is wrong with telling the truth. It comes highly recommended!

The problem is your spouse may not see things the same way you do. What you see as ‘the truth’ they see as your opinion. So they feel you’re blaming them for the problem. And once accused, their defenses will go up making it harder for you to communicate and work together.

There’s also a right and wrong way to share the truth. Suggesting a less expensive way can be a good way to share the truth. Suggesting your spouse is too lazy to look at alternatives is a bad way to share.

Others will tell you that you shouldn’t let your spouse forget your financial goals. That it’s important to keep your target clearly in sight. While there’s some truth to that, you need to make sure the way you do it is helpful.

It’s helpful to let your spouse know how much progress you make each week or month towards your goals. Share your successes together.

It’s not helpful to continually remind them of their past financial mistakes. Any discussion that starts with “you’ll never” or “you always” will likely end up in an argument. If you find that you dwell on their past mistakes, you might want to spend some time asking yourself why that’s true. It could be a significant problem or it could be that the infraction is more important to you than it should be.

You’ll also hear well-meaning advisers tell you to watch every dollar spent and catch any mistakes quickly. This, too, is generally true but can easily be done the wrong way. Chances are both of you will make a purchase that the other thinks isn’t necessary. That’s no time to be harsh on your spouse and predict disaster if they don’t change their spendy ways. A better approach is to ask about the purchase and then, together, figure out ways to prevent future, similar occurrences.

You may have noticed there’s a common thread among these ideas – open communication is essential if a couple is going to correct financial problems! Neither one is likely to be able to get their finances on track without the help of the other. And enlisting the help of your spouse (especially if they’re resistant) requires good communication. In most cases that means it’s more important for you to be a good listener than a good talker.

Getting out of debt can be hard, especially if your spouse isn’t fully on board with you. But if you do manage to successfully meet your goal of getting out of debt you’ll find your relationship is much, much stronger than it was when you were fighting a stack of bills each month.