People often ask me how to get their spouse on board with debt reduction, and for good reason. When you’re in a relationship where you both have opposing goals, it’s really hard to make progress. Someone’s usually unhappy, frustrated, or blaming the other. And you don’t get much of anywhere — especially if your goal is to get out of debt.
But is it really your spouse’s fault?
When I was married to my previous husband and in debt, I used to get super frustrated. I blamed him (and outside circumstances) for our debt and lack of progress on getting it paid off.
But the thing is, while it’s true that he did spend money on stuff we didn’t need, and that he was the one who suggested we get a credit card “for emergencies only”, it wasn’t fair of me to blame him.
No one forced me to sign up for that credit card. And I’m the one who decided that a whole slew of stuff for our new condo was ok to put on the card afterward (because we really “needed” it/didn’t want to wait.) I’m the one who encouraged him to buy a brand new car, and who bought a new car myself as well. And I sure bought stuff we didn’t need too — everything from meals out to Halloween photos of our dogs. The list just goes on, and if anything, we both created those circumstances.
Stop the blame game
If any of this is sounding familiar, you’re probably keeping each other in debt — even if you’ve both agreed in theory that you want to, say, pay off the credit cards. To change that, stop the blame game.
Remember that it’s a rare case where one spouse is completely blameless, and the other is completely at fault. Especially when it comes to something as common and pervasive as debt.
So own up to your part — at least to yourself — and then realize that it doesn’t matter who did what in the past. What matters is what you each do from here on out.
Come to agreement
Start by seeing what you can agree on as your first goal, and write it down. Don’t be too strict in the beginning, either. For example, it’s unrealistic to go from no budget and tons of spending money to a strict budget and $5 a week in fun money. That’s not going to work.
Realize that getting out of debt is a process that requires changing your behaviors and habits for the long term. It’s not a crash diet. Then, do your part to make sure you aren’t keeping your spouse in debt.
Be accountably supportive
Being supportive is probably the most important part. And part of being supportive is being accountable — or accountably supportive, if you will.
That means NOT saying “Oh what the heck, let’s go!” when your spouse wistfully mentions that she misses the beach. Instead, it means saying things like “I know, but think how great it will be when we can take that trip without the side of guilt.” Or “Hey, that seems really important to you and it’ll only cost us $150. Why don’t we make that our reward when the car is paid off?”.
It also means giving each other regular progress updates, and dreaming together about what you want to achieve and what it’ll be like once you do.
Start working together instead of against each other (or instead of enabling each other) and you’ll be way ahead on the path to get-out-of-debt success.