Are your spouse’s debts yours too?

You are in a relationship. That relationship is starting to get serious. You’re contemplating marriage or some other form of long-term commitment. Suddenly, as you are planning your engagement, your partner reveals the huge debts he or she has. Your partner is almost reeling on the brink of bankruptcy. Should you share this debt and bail them out? Or should you keep your debts separate?

Well, you decide to bail them out. But six months down the line after marriage, they have accumulated fresh debts. Some of the things bought are there for you to see and use, but the rest are exclusively self-gratifying. Minus the massive debts, they still remain the loving and charming spouse you have always known. Should you still share in their debts or just agree to keep them separate—everyone attends to their own debts, God for us all!

Quite often today, people are bringing or accumulating significant debts while in the relationship. However, regardless of who actually owns the debts, they are now shared debts. When you are married, your money effectively becomes a shared pool, whether or not you directly share that money or not. If one of you has a debt, the money to pay for that debt comes out of the shared pool. What’s left in that shared pool is smaller, reducing your opportunities as a couple to build towards other financial goals.

Matter of fact, even if you were to keep your debts separate, the reality is that the consequences of those debts will be shared. If the consequences are shared, then it follows that the responsibility for paying off the debts ought to be shared as well.

Which brings me to my next point: Once you acknowledge the debts as essentially shared, the optimal way to get rid of those debts is to consider them all together. It should no longer matter who has the worst debts. What matters is that the worst debt is the one that you both focus on first. Doing all of this successfully requires complete openness. You can’t hide debts from each other. You can’t hide money from each other. You can’t hide spending splurges from each other.

Whenever you spend as a married person without your partner’s knowledge, know that you are taking money out of that shared pool that helps you both get what you want from the future. You are also being dishonest with your partner and, likely, you are undermining your debt repayment plan and other financial plans for the future. This type of dishonesty is acid to any relationship. It opens the door to other forms of dishonesty that can completely destroy a relationship.

Any relationship where things are not completely in the sunshine is a relationship that is eventually asking for problems.

If you are not comfortable with that openness, then your relationship needs work. This goes beyond mere finances. It’s an indication that there are trust issues in your relationship and as long as those trust issues exist, you have got a gigantic fault line in your relationship that can easily erupt into an earthquake.

Simply put, share your debts but let your partner know before you accumulate the next debt. Regardless of who brings them to the table, you share the consequences, so you should also share the effort of eliminating them. This can also help you to pay them off in a more optimal fashion.

Have a blessed week-end.

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