Surprise! Your Spouse Has Debt – Here’s How to Handle It

marrying someone with debt

Even though 80 percent of American households have some form of debt, many of us can still feel debilitated by shame when thinking about ours. And it’s for this reason that it can be hard to tell even those closest to us that we have it.

Unfortunately, hiding debt can lead to far greater consequences than what we fear will happen if we admit to it. Especially if you end up marrying someone with debt and they don’t tell you about it.

5 steps to take if your spouse hid their debt

If you’ve recently discovered that your spouse has been hiding debt from you, the good news is there are ways to overcome this obstacle. Money infidelity is something you can, in fact, get through. Here’s how.

1. Before you react, listen

So you found out you were marrying someone with debt, or are married to someone with debt, and you didn’t know about it before. You might be feeling betrayed, lied to, and angry beyond all belief at the moment.

Before you fall too deep into those emotions, take a breather. And remember, everyone has something they feel ashamed of. But that doesn’t have to shape their entire identity.

So before you decide your partner is a whole different person, ask a few of the following questions.

Why did they feel the need to hide this? What were they afraid of? Did they think they could handle it on their own without you ever needing to know? Is this something that’s ever happened to them before?

Hear your partner out. And try to be as empathetic as you can. As upset as you are right now, remember that this is a secret they’ve been carrying around for a long time. In fact, it may have been affecting every aspect of their lives and well-being.

If you believe your partner did not keep this secret out of malice, then you’ll need this empathy to help you find a way to work together to fix it.

2. Find out if the lie was malicious or not

If you find out that your spouse was hiding their debt in an attempt to defraud you, skip the next few steps and focus on handling the situation in a way that will protect your future finances.

Whether you’re a man or woman, this page on WomensLaw can help you navigate what to do when handling a case of financial abuse.

However, if this is a case of your spouse withholding the truth because of shame or fear, keep reading. Marrying someone with debt you didn’t know about doesn’t have to be an insurmountable issue. As long as you figure out how to work together from here, you can make it through this.

3. Examine your finances and create a game plan

If you’ve decided you’re going to work through this together, the next step is to look at your current state of finances. Is this debt something you can absorb into your budget and pay off together?

If it is, create a targeted payoff plan. Then make a chart or spreadsheet or something that shows your progress so you two can visualize your progress together. This will help you act like the team you want to be from now on.

An important part of this game plan is to set up money dates and create some ground rules, according to financial planner and founder of Earn Into Wealth Strategies, LLC, Kaya Ladejobi, CFP®.

“Sometimes, when a couple has not set rules that will govern their money behavior in a relationship, it’s challenging for one person to know when the unspoken rule is being violated,” Ladejobi explains. “I recommend for couples to sit down together on one of their money dates and set some ground rules they will abide by.”

These ground rules can be a game changer, especially after dealing with financial infidelity. Ladejobi goes on to give some examples you might want to try.

“What is the dollar limit that each can spend before having to consult the other? How much is an appropriate amount to spend on gifts for family members?” Ladejobi asks. “You could also set a rule that neither can borrow without the consent of the other.”

4. Go through your own grieving process

Even if your spouse didn’t try to pull the wool over your eyes and merely hid their debts out of fear or shame, you might still feel as though you’ve been cheated on.

When the person closest to us keeps a big secret like this, it can lead us to question everything. You may even ask yourself if you saw the signs and just ignored them anyways.

It’s natural to have questions when lies come up in marriage and money. You might even think you’ll never trust your partner again.

That’s why it’s important to go through your own grieving process. Trust can be rebuilt again. But if you bury your feelings, your wound will fester and impact the rest of your marriage. Air it out now so the healing process can begin.

5. Consider talking to a financial therapist

When marriage and money aren’t in sync, it can sometimes take outside help to line them back up. That’s why it can be helpful to talk to a financial therapist. This is another step that Ladejobi recommends.

The only way to recover from financial infidelity is for both of you to commit to complete transparency and teamwork moving forward. A professional can help you figure out how to do this.

When you talk to someone like this, examine the reasons behind the hidden debt. You might discover that your spouse has a shopping or gambling addiction or deep-seated shame in their relationship with money.

Additionally, you may find that the way you two talk about money made it difficult for them to tell the truth.

Marrying someone with debt doesn’t have to end in catastrophe

If this hidden debt wasn’t a one-off event, now is the time to find out and deal with it.

The most important thing to do is to hear your spouse out, decide if they maliciously hid this from you, then proceed with a course of financial action – together. And don’t forget to give yourself some time to heal from this ordeal, too.

Looking for more information on how to handle marriage and money? Here are six tips to help you create a fruitful financial collaboration technique.

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