Debt is an overwhelming issue in today’s society; especially in North America. It has become a leading cause of divorce for many couples. But why? Why is it that today’s couple can’t push through and come out stronger together?
The main reason a couple will fall apart under the pressure and stress of debt has much to do with focus and knowledge. If a couple will learn some key relationship-building techniques for getting through difficulties of any sort, and maintain focus on forward movement and goals, they are less likely to succumb to defeat.
In more than twenty years of marriage, my wife and I have dealt with many, many hardships. Most of these hardships originated from finances; or, the lack thereof.
Growing up, my family always lacked finances. It’s not that there was a ton of debt, but rather, simply no money. My father passed away early in my life and my mother, who was pretty much always a homemaker, was left to care for us by herself.
I understand that she did her best with the knowledge and skills she had, but I wasn’t able to learn a great deal about money, investments, debt, or even planning.
I took this into my marriage later when I met my wife. She had a much better sense of saving and earning, but we still got into money trouble. Well, if she knew what I didn’t, then why did we still get into financial trouble?
This happened because I was very good at being persistent and convincing. Too many times, even when she was saying it was a bad plan, I would only look at the one or two positives and ignore the ten negatives. Then I would persistently push that on her until she would give in and agree.
My toxic behavior almost cost us our marriage. From the number of family’s that break apart over finances, I’m certain we are not the only ones.
If you are finding your relationship is in deep trouble, but you are willing to try to work things out, I really recommend that you look into the resources available from Mort Fertel.
He has a high success rate of helping couples to find their way back to each other, even if only one partner is willing to put in the work. You can check out his site by clicking here.
Money management is a learnable skill
Because I had developed a bad habit of “spend what I get before someone takes it,” I brought this into our relationship right from day one. What I should have done is taken advantage of my wife’s wisdom and money-making abilities and asked her to help me learn some new money-handling skills. Now, I don’t necessarily mean that she herself should’ve taught me, but possibly, that together, we could’ve taken some courses or such.
So, that’s what we should have done. In fact, that is what every new couple should do. Since money has so much to do with what the couple will be able to do in their future, financial education should be a mandatory pre-marital course.
Of course, this isn’t reality. And, money isn’t everything. But a lack of money and debt sure does put some serious pressure on the relationship.
So, let’s assume that a couple has survived all hardships for several years together, without any formal understanding of good money-management; is it possible for them to work together to develop some new financial skills and start turning it all around? Of course.
There are two things that must be fully understood here: first; money isn’t only for certain people. We are all equally entitled to earn money and learn about good money-management. And second; money isn’t necessary to have a good, long-standing relationship.
These are two areas that I got completely wrong. I truly believed that only the stars on television could be rich, and I also developed a mindset that I had ruined my marriage and my wife’s life because I had poor money-handling skills. The second one here led me to spend a great deal of time depressed, which ultimately wreaked a lot of havoc in our marriage.
How a relationship damaged from debt can recover
If you are at a point where your relationship seems like it can’t recover because debt is too overwhelming, I want to encourage you and your partner to take another look at this situation before letting the subject destroy your beautiful relationship.
Let’s consider what the relationship could be and not what it is at this moment. I have laid out six steps that a couple in debt can implement immediately that should give new hope for their future. This is not a set-it-and-forget-it plan. Instead, this will require complete attention and participation from both in the relationship.
I can assure you, if you work together at this plan, or one very similar, you will soon be back in the financial clear where you can remain afloat with your head above water. However, it will take both, and not just the efforts of one.
Here are six steps to help get you back on the right track today:
- Assess the damage
- Eliminate the problem
- Create a household budget
- Find ways to earn extra income together
- Understand that you have addressed the issue
- Shift your focus and thrive together
1. Assess the damage
It is important for a couple who is under pressure to the point of constant quarrelling to pinpoint the cause of the fights. In most instances, this will be obvious. But it isn’t always completely obvious. Sometimes, we are upset about something, so every time someone does anything that annoys us, we explode on them. Obviously, someone leaving socks on the floor isn’t really cause for divorce.
Once we find the major underlying issue, we can start to address that. Since we are talking about debt and money-mismanagement here, we will focus on that as the major underlying issue.
After learning of the major culprit for the breakdown in the relationship, we must assess the damage. We need to look at the situation from a different standpoint. There are a couple questions to ask:
What damage has this issue already done to us?
Are we willing to try to recover and do whatever it takes, together?
By stopping to think proactively about the issue, we can move forward into a plan for action and remediation. If we have decided that “I don’t have a problem; it’s all his or her fault,” then we’re not ready to move forward yet.
We are in a relationship together. This means, what happens to one, happens to both. When something good happens in the relationship, it happens to both. The same is true for when something bad happens.
We need to move from blaming our partner to getting behind our partner. We are teammates in this game of life. This means, no matter what, we don’t fight against our partner, but rather, leverage their skills and strengths to help the team accomplish a common goal. In this case, financial freedom and a happy relationship.
2. Eliminate the problem
Once we have assessed the damage caused by the underlying issue, we can move to step two: eliminating the problem.
I will be the first to say that getting out of debt isn’t an overnight thing. It will take years in most cases. Of course, this depends on your strategy and ability to raise extra income, but a few years is common.
This means that we must find a way to survive through this time. This is where it starts to get difficult and requires us to lean on each other while sticking to the plan.
There is one major point to understand here: if we continue to use credit and rack up debt, it will be impossible to eliminate the debt. We must be willing to say goodbye to credit and borrowing of any sort and start looking for ways to live within the budget.
It is so easy to get credit these days, which makes going without for any length of time seem ridiculous. But that is where we go wrong. If we are willing to dedicate our financial life to saving first and spending within that savings, we won’t ever struggle with debt.
For me, spending without saving became a habit. I enjoyed the “get it now” concept and rode that train all the way to the end of the line; over-borrowed and under-paid. Eventually, the lender’s stop lending. But it usually isn’t until it’s past the point of what we truly can afford. This is where we really get in trouble.
Step three will help us figure out exactly where our limits are and will give us a plan to stick to that will ultimately help us get back into the black, financially speaking.
3. Create a household budget
Many couples and individuals have heard of the concept of a household financial budget, but not all embrace this simple life-saver.
A written household budget is one that accounts for all income and all expenses. The point of the budget, regardless of rich or poor, is to plan out all that will come in and exactly where all of it will go.
Well, I thought we’re supposed to save and not spend everything?
Yes, and this is very true. But with the household budget, we want to spend everything before even leaving the house. We want to have expense categories for food and bills and repairs and necessities. But we also want to have categories for savings and investments and entertainment and emergencies.
The idea is to allocate the entire income into all necessary fields of expense that are true for us each month. This includes planning for the future and allocating some to saving. Some might say, “How can you include an entertainment section; aren’t we supposed to be getting out of debt and not spending loosely?”
Yes, we are supposed to be frugal and spend wisely. However, if we believe for a moment that we will just set aside any type of entertainment for the next few years, we are lining ourselves up for failure.
Fifty dollars a month is something, right? Okay, so it won’t be enough to go out and have a night of drinking on the town, but it will be enough to take your partner out for a burger and milkshake or catch a movie.
It is true that we will need to tighten the reigns a considerable amount, but we need to find a way to maintain some enjoyment throughout the month. There are many things in life that are free, but not everything. So, instead of getting frustrated and eventually spending money from some other category, allocate a small amount to entertainment and have a moment of guilt-free spending.
4. Find ways to earn extra income together
When debt has gotten to the point where it’s causing stress and turmoil in a relationship, it has most likely surpassed the current income. This means, now we’re living above our means.
We go to school and we get into our careers and we are given the income for that career. So, what happens when we get to the top of our earning-potential in our chosen field and it isn’t enough? Find a new career field? Not likely, right?
No. Instead, we look for ways to earn on the side.
For this step, I encourage you to work with your partner on this. Don’t try to take the ship alone. This is what we are together for. It is essential to understand that two minds are better than one; two strands make a rope much stronger than one.
When we lean on each other and become teammates playing the same game, we become very strong. We each have a level of creativity, of skill, of understanding, of determination, of confidence, of passion, and of potential that compliments the other. This is where the true strength comes in. It’s like a compounding effect of our overall potential to succeed.
If we decide that we will do this solo, we are effectively giving up so much leverage that would ultimately help us to achieve our goal far sooner.
What can a couple do together to earn extra income?
To name a few: blog or vlog together about a common interest, write a book together about a lesson-learning experience you both shared, start a hobby where you make something together and have a sell-day each month from home or at a local market, offer tutoring services for something both are good at (cooking, computer stuff, academics, hobbies, renovation practices), start a consulting business for other skills such as; interior/exterior decorating, landscaping and gardening, parenting, relationship building, and even debt awareness to help prevent other new couples from going into debt.
If both partners don’t have the same understanding to do the same side hustle, then the one who does should bring their best forward and the one who doesn’t should use their skills to do other parts of the venture while learning. Side hustles are like any business; there is the main work, there is marketing, there is accounting, there is customer service, and there is additional research and development.
Now, apply all extra new-found income towards reducing debt quickly.
5. Understand that you have addressed the issue
Once we have created a budget and are working towards creating more income, we must both agree to allow the plan to take root and do its thing. This means that we can’t come back to the debt-issue in a couple days and start fighting about how there isn’t enough money.
The plan is in place and it will take time. This understanding has already been established and we must agree to leave it at that. Going back to it and picking it apart again will only open the wound and cause more pain.
Because we’ve taken the previous steps, we must understand that we are now actively doing what we can to correct the situation. We should take great joy knowing that we have reached a higher level of maturity and wisdom and are embarking on a new level in life.
For this, we should celebrate. I don’t mean go spend a bunch of money on cake and decorations. Rather, I mean, when we think about the issue of debt in our household, we smile and acknowledge that we learned a new strategy that will take us way past simply getting out of debt; one that will bring us into financial independence.
Now, when thinking about money, think of it in a positive way and realize that for the moment, we will practice a life of frugality, but in the near future, we will build savings funds that will allow us to travel and explore and buy souvenirs without acquiring debt. We will be able to live where we want, drive what we want, wear what we want, and eat what we want. We have a plan and are working together.
6. Shift your focus and thrive together
For this last point, it is a continuation of point five. We must learn to shift our focus away from the negative to the positive. This isn’t being careless. Remember, we addressed the situation and have done what we can to implement a strategy that will bring us to a new circumstance.
Now, we can shift our focus onto new things. I encourage you as a couple to shift your focus onto learning about building the best relationship you can. Money aside, relationships have many categories that will have an affect on the quality of living together.
Love and affection, respect, communication, spontaneity and adventure, fun and laughter, romance and intimacy, and even time alone and privacy are major areas of study here.
If a couple agrees to do life together, why wouldn’t they agree to learn together so that their life could be lived to its highest potential? Well, I’m not sure. But I can say that there aren’t enough couples who have agreed to take this challenge.
So, I am challenging you and your partner, today, to agree to become students of relationship-building 101. This is your life and when the smoke clears and the friends go home, it is just you and your partner. Instead of being caught up with what the Jones’ are doing (sorry Jones’), get caught up with what you and your partner want to accomplish.
Your friends and coworkers might not understand that now on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s you and your partner spend the evening studying relationship-building material and can’t come out for drinks, but it is you and your partner who will benefit the most from this.
Do what counts. Is your relationship worth it?
I have laid out six steps that a couple can implement in their life right away that will have a positive impact on their future together. If you and your partner are struggling and fighting, try agreeing to implement this plan and give it adequate time. This is not a quick-fix or overnight strategy. It is one that will help correct bad habits while teaching new ones.
Focus is the main objective in this article. Focus on following the new plan consistently without straying from it, and after the plan is in place and being followed, focus on learning new techniques that will make you a showcase couple that most will only ever read about.
If you have any helpful comments or experiences to share, please add them to the comments for our community to enjoy and learn from.
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How to get your spouse to hear you, by Mort Fertel.