I know I’m probably going to get some guff for this, but when it comes to bringing debt into a relationship I think it’s NOT COOL. I’m going on this rant because I see too many 20-somethings bringing gobs of debt into a relationship or others that assume that tackling debt is something you only deal with when things get serious (or someone proposes.) Others, I’ve heard, believe that debt shouldn’t matter when you love someone. WHAT? BULLCRAP. Debt matters. Money problems, if not dealt with properly can totally kill the warm fuzzies you have with someone.
It seems to me that there are plenty of young folks that have accepted credit card debt or mortgage-sized student loan debt as a way of life. “Meh,” they say. Others still believe that bringing debt into a relationship is totally fair and normal, that working on debt after being married is fine and acceptable. I have heard horror stories of people who didn’t know about their spouse’s debt until they were already engaged or about to wed- they usually feel shocked and worried, rightfully so.
But I have to ask- how fair is it to let someone fall in love with you, make plans to get married and then state, “Oh by the way, when it comes to my money, our relationship was based on lies I funded with a credit card!” At times, people go into great lengths to hide their debt from their partner and even from themselves. Whether they hide the reality of their debt by hiding credit card statements, or masking their financial realities by maxing out a credit card to keep up appearances- it’s all deceitful.
To me, if you’re buying your partner gifts you can’t afford, you’re lying- and if you don’t think you’re lying, you at least cheating your partner by making them pay for the life you’re living now in the future you’ll share together. The things you can’t afford now become their burden later, of course, with interest and fees.
What surprises me most is that some people don’t see hiding their debt as deceitful. I recently grilled a friend who was talking about the fact her boyfriend had no idea she was over $10k in credit card debt, and he had no idea about her student loan debt, around $20k. So, this girl is $30,000 in debt and her soon-to-propose boyfriend has NO idea, even though as her husband, he will soon be wedded to not only her debt load, but her habits as well. Disclosing debt ranks up there in necessary honesty along with telling your partner if you’re still legally married to someone else, have kids from another relationship, a criminal record and so on.
So, when should you disclose your financial realities to your partner? When does it become their business? I would say that being honest from the start, or at least, as soon as possible is the best policy. Honesty may not begin with a conversation- but it begins with hints that you will be living within your means. It’s not necessary to have a full “we need to talk” sit down conversation with your partner if you’re in debt, but you begin establishing transparency in your actions far beforehand.
Being authentic and committed is harder than it sounds, but you can start small- you don’t have to have a dramatic conversation but you do need to make adjustments in how money guides or impacts your relationship. No matter where you are in a relationship, if you’re not at the point where it’s necessary to have “the talk,” simply start making changes. Even your smallest actions, like how often you and your partner have date nights or how much money you spend on gifts (especially if you can’t afford it) are financial decisions we take for granted. Making smaller adjustments or having somewhat casual discussions about money can open the doorway to a less painful but more serious conversation about money down the road.
Most people understand that debt happens, whether it’s the result of crazy college years or crazy college tuition, but you need to care before it becomes an issue for your partner. I firmly believe that debt shouldn’t automatically be assumed to be your spouse’s problem, nor is it something to get real about when you get real about your relationship. Whether you’re looking for love or already found it, now is time to lay the foundation for a happy relationship so when you’re ready for the next step, you will know you’re prepared emotionally and financially.
There are so many people that ready themselves for love by preparing their lives in every other way, but seem to neglect their finances. Others go out of their way and hide their debt thinking that the time to reveal their financial history is when rings are exchanged- but a commitment to a happy relationship begins much, much sooner. It takes being honest with yourself and when trust is established, being honest with your partner.