Either one partner has secretly been using credit cards without his/her spouse’s knowledge and has gotten in too deep, or one person in the relationship is responsible for managing all of the family’s finances and, having failed to keep debt under control, doesn’t want anyone to find out.
It’s tough to live with a secret, especially one you are keeping from your husband or wife. If you’re afraid to come clean about the debts that have built up without your partner’s knowledge, that may signal some other problem in the relationship. If debt and money issues are just one part of a pattern of issues between you and your spouse, you should seek some kind of marriage counseling so you can address all of the issues affecting your relationship.
If money and debt are the only serous problems you have, then you have to plan to have a serious, in-depth conversation about your financial and debt situation.
How to get started
First, get organized. Be ready to show your partner all of the bills and obligations you have, including your full credit card debt.
If you are solely responsible for paying all of the bills, and this has led to your current problems, tell your partner that you need a little more help managing the family finances. That might only mean that you and your spouse sit together once per month and go over your monthly bills and evaluate your status. Just keeping both partners fully in the loop will help prevent a situation where one of you is keeping a secret and is afraid to come clean with the other.
Get some budget sheets (like our Power of Paycheck Planning Guide and tracking sheets, both free downloads) and talk to your spouse about preparing a household budget together. Then both of you will know what you can afford, what you need to set aside for debts, and you can create a plan together to pay off debts and get back on the right track.
Keep your communication positive and forward-looking. Once your debts are knocked out, then you’ll want to have a common goal to save toward. Make this process something positive in your marriage. Avoid quick fix ideas like refinancing or consolidation loans—these are not realistic options in today’s economy.
Every month, our debt counselors help thousands of families and individuals address their financial problems. We know it’s possible for anyone to work his or her way out of debt, no matter how difficult it might seem at first. That task is a lot easier in a marriage if both partners are fully on board. If money and debt issues are a secret in your marriage, set aside time to talk to your spouse about your situation; let him or her be a partner to you when you need help most.