Keeping secrets in general is bad for relationships.   When it comes to debt, that secret is especially bad.   What your partner doesn’t know actually can hurt them…and you, financially.

Many people find that debts such as mortgages, are easier to speak about than debts such as back taxes, or credit cards and lines of credit.    Those types of debts can bring out the fears in all of us.  We worry that will be scrutinized and judged.   It’s no wonder that it is so common for people to lie to their spouses about money.

Building a life together must rest on a realistic understanding of your respective financial foundations.   If your partner doesn’t know about your debt they could have lifestyle and savings expectations that might reasonable based on your household income, but completely unreasonable based on your debt levels.

This can quickly lead to one of two outcomes: you’ll fess up about the debt and work through the fallout, or you will continue to struggle to keep up appearances as the debt spirals out of control.   This will probably lead to them finding out anyway, when the debt becomes too much to manage and there will be even more fallout, both emotionally and financially.  But it doesn’t have to be like this. There is a better way.

How to have the conversation

Ideally the time to talk about debt is once your relationship is serious, but before you make firm plans to move in together, or get married.   Once you’ve made the commitment to build a life together you need to have a clear understanding of each other’s financial pictures.   Some couples choose to keep their finances separate. Separate finances are fine.   Secret finances, are not.   Whether separate or joint, the important elements are trust and honesty.

So how do you take the big step to open up about your debt?

Start by setting a time to talk. Let your partner know that you have something important to discuss with them and set a time when neither of you will be too tired and you will not be interrupted.

Ensure that you clearly understand your  debt and can present accurate details. How big is it?  How was it incurred?  How have you been handling it so far?

Have a plan for paying off the debt and be prepared to share those details with your partner.  A plan is key to a positive outcome from the conversation.

Even better:  start implementing the plan before the conversation. It will show that you are trustworthy, that you are serious and capable of getting your finances on track, and that your financial past doesn’t have to be your financial future.

Your partner will likely have some questions. Be prepared to answer them fully and honestly. He or she may also have ideas . Be open to them. Arriving at a solution together could lay a positive foundation for solving future financial issues in your relationship.

This article was originally posted on the Ellevate Medium page

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