Skip to main content

How to Talk to Your Partner About Debt

How to Talk to Your Partner About Debt

In general, keeping secrets is bad for relationships. When it comes to debt, that secret is especially bad. What your partner doesn’t know actually can hurt them…and you, financially.

Many people find that debts such as mortgages are easier to speak about than debts such as back taxes, credit cards, or lines of credit. Those types of debts can bring out the fears in all of us. We worry that will be scrutinized and judged. It’s no wonder that it is so common for people to lie to their spouses about money.

Building a life together must rest on a realistic understanding of your respective financial foundations. If your partner doesn’t know about your debt, they will have lifestyle and savings expectations that might be reasonable based on household income, but completely unreasonable based on your debt levels.

This can quickly lead to one of two outcomes: You'll fess up about the debt and work through the fallout, or you'll continue to struggle to keep up appearances as the debt spirals out of control. This will probably lead to your partner finding out, anyway, when the debt becomes too much to manage. This pattern leads to even more fallout, both emotionally and financially.

It doesn’t have to be like this. There is a better way.

How to have the conversation.

Ideally, the time to talk about debt is once your relationship is serious, but before you make firm plans to move in together or get married. Once you’ve made the commitment to build a life together, you need to have a clear understanding of each other’s financial pictures. Some couples choose to keep their finances separate.

Separate finances are fine. Secret finances are not. Whether separate or joint, the important elements are trust and honesty. So, how do you take the big step to open up about your debt?

[Related: The Five Conversations You Need to Have With Your Financial Advisor]

Make time.

Start by setting a time to talk. Let your partner know that you have something important to discuss with them and set a time when you will not be interrupted and neither of you will be too tired.

Know all the facts.

Ensure that you clearly understand your debt and can present accurate details. How big is it? How was it incurred? How have you been handling it so far?

[Related: Top Five Things Generation X Women Need to Know about Their Money]

Have a plan for paying off the debt.

Be prepared to share those details with your partner. A plan is key to a positive outcome from the conversation. Even better...

Start implementing the plan before the conversation.

This will show that you are trustworthy, that you are serious and capable of getting your finances on-track, and that your financial past doesn’t have to be your financial future.

Your partner will likely have some questions. Be prepared to answer them fully and honestly. He or she may also have ideas. Be open to them. Arriving at a solution together could lay a positive foundation for solving future financial issues in your relationship.

[Related: Prenuptial Agreements and Advising Your Client’s Adult Children]


Natasha Knox is the founder of Pax Financial Planning and Education Inc. She helps people think, feel, and act better with their money.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.


Continue learning with this Ellevate Playbook: