When your partner is a debt trap

You are in a love relationship. And the relationship is starting to get serious. You are 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. 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 out of the debt 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 partner you have always known and wanted. Should you still share in their debts or just agree to keep them separate – in short, everyone attends to their own debts, and only God for you both?

Quite often these days, people are bringing or accumulating huge debts in relationships (not just in marriage but business relationships too)—sometimes without the other knowing. However, regardless of who actually owns the debts, they become shared debts when you become partners. When you become partners, the finances effectively become 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.

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. It should no longer matter who has the worst debt. 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 sprees from each other.

Whenever you spend without your partner’s knowledge, know that you are taking money out of that shared pool which could have helped you both get what you want from the future. You are also being dishonest with your partner and, likely, you are not just undermining your debt repayment plan and other financial plans for the future but the trust too. 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 open 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 is 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, when in a partnerships, debts can no longer belong to an individual but to you both as partners because the consequences will surely affect you both. So don’t hide debts accumulated form each other—always let your partner know before you accumulate the next debt. Regardless of who brings the debt 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—ridding the ones having highest interest rates first.

Otherwise, research shows that one reason partnerships don’t last in Malawi is because one of the partners becomes a debt trap and the other partner can’t take it anymore.

A blessed week-end to you and your partner as you together build a transparent debt accumulation and management plan.

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