How to Confidently Tackle the Debt Conversation

August 13, 2020
Jackie Porter

Article written by Jackie Porter

You have decided you have met the right person. You are ready to take the step towards a lifelong commitment with your soon to be spouse. What could possibly stand in the way of a lifetime of marital bliss? The stats resoundingly indicate squabbles about finances may ultimately erode the strong emotional ties that currently bind you together. This is particularly true regarding the amount of debt you and your partner are bringing into the marriage. You and your partner are not responsible for the debts you each bring into the marriage, but it can still affect you. How can you prevent your marriage from becoming another statistic? Now is your chance to stress test your relationship by tackling uncomfortable conversations. Conversations around money and the debts you are bringing into the marriage. Read on for tips on what you need to consider when debts and the ring become a package deal after you say I do.

Bringing Debt into a Relationship is a Concern for Many Canadians

A recent study from Credit Canada reveals that 1 in 3 Canadians have ended or would end a relationship because of their partner’s debt. These stats show that your current partner wants to know how much debt you are in. Even if either of you has not addressed it. It also suggests that the amount of debt you are carrying could impact whether they are prepared to say “I do”. This is not a surprise. The amount of debt the average Canadian is carrying is currently at an all-time high. Furthermore, this debt can have a lasting negative impact on an individual’s emotional and mental health. This is likely the reason diving headfirst into a long-term relationship with someone carrying a significant amount of debt is causing more people to pause.

Not Addressing Debt will Likely Cause Problems in the Marriage Later

Talking about finances creates a significant level of discomfort for many people. It can sometimes feel like a romance killer. The key to overcoming this is by approaching the subject when you are both calm. Stay away from shaming or blaming one another. Feelings of guilt, regret and anger can arise when having a conversation about how much debt you are in. How long it is going to take you to pay off the debt, and where the debt originated from.

Unfortunately, not talking about debt can lead to long term resentments stemming from frustration about how the debt is impacting you both as a couple many years later. It can create a lack of trust around finances if the debt was never discussed until after the honeymoon.
For example, let’s say a partner’s debts and slow payments reduced their credit score. During the marriage, cash that could have gone toward a home purchase is now being used to pay off the spouses’ debt. Because of the spouse’s low credit score, it could be years before the couple can own a home. Even though they had plans to buy a home and raise a family, the partner’s debt has taken a financial and emotional toll on the relationship. This could lead to a marital breakdown. Especially if they don’t talk about it or come up with strategies to tackle the debt as a team.

Be Prepared to Get Financially Naked with Your Partner

There may be sparks in the bedroom, but a good barometer of any lasting relationship is that you can have an honest conversation about money. If you have debts, you are both open to working on a plan to pay off debts sooner than later. If you feel your partner is someone you see in your life for the long term, you owe it to yourself and to your partner to have that conversation. Take the lead and initiate the conversation by putting your financial details out there for your partner to see. This includes talking about debts owing, how you plan to pay for the debt and your long and short- term financial goals.

Before you can ask your partner to be financially naked, you need to be prepared to put yourself out there first. Having said that, consider if you have put yourself out there and your partner seems unwilling to do the same. You will need to ask yourself the value of a long term relationship with a person unwilling or unable to discuss money and work on financial goals as a team? How will you deal with the numerous money conversations you will need to have as time goes by in the relationship?


Seek Out Financial Counselling Before Planning the Big Day

Sometimes it easier to have money conversations, about how you will tackle debt, with a neutral third party. Especially if you are not able to come up with solutions yourself. If finance isn’t your strength, seek out a certified financial planner. They can help you with concrete strategies to pay off debts you are both bringing into the relationship. A planner can also help you sort out interest rates you are paying. They work help you to figure out how long it will take to pay it the debts so you can focus on the financial future you want to build together. Coming from a background in therapy, I often joke that planning is cheaper than therapy. The goal when helping people come together around finances is to apply practical strategies to your money issues without pointing the finger at anyone. Learning how to discuss money as a couple is an important skill to have for making a relationship last. Give your union every chance to succeed by committing to mastering this skill.