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Anyone who has been in debt and has been married or in a committed relationship at the time likely knows the stress level that debt puts on relationships.

There can be a tendency to blame one another, to fight over the problems and even to pull each other into denial together.

If you’re going to pull your relationship through a journey to get free of debt, there are several things you can do to resolve problems and to catapult your progress as you work toward paying off the debt.

Get on the Same Page

This is likely the toughest part of dealing with debt in a relationship. Often times there is one partner who doesn’t want to begin the journey to debt freedom. Or the blame game is being played.

If the debt was accumulated together inside of a marriage, it’s vital that both married parties take responsibility for the debt. Even if one marriage partner was responsible for accumulating the debt, it’s important that the other partner take responsibility for not being more involved with finances or for not addressing a spending problem sooner.

Taking responsibility as a couple and working to get on the same page about finding a plan to get out of debt must be top priority.

Make a Plan Together

This step is also vitally important. The get out of debt plan must be made together. This first meeting of the minds may not be fun.

It’s not always easy to face up to the debt mess you’ve created. It’s important to determine how the debt accrued without blaming each other, but instead focus on what you’re going to do to get out of debt now that you’re in it.

There are three steps that will help you formulate a successful plan for getting out of debt:

Make a Budget

Work together to create a budget and figure out what each of you is willing to stop spending on with the commitment that you will now make a plan each month for how your money is spent.

Make sure the budget includes “blow money”. Determining a set amount of money for each partner to have each month that is their own to spend how they wish helps couples to avoid fighting about extra expenditures.

Have Regular Check-ins

It’s important when working through a debt payoff plan (and managing money in general) that couples have weekly or monthly check-ins to talk about how things are going.

Use a spreadsheet or an online tool such as Mint.com or Personal Capital to keep track of every dime that’s being spent.

Review those expenditures at your regular money check-ins so that each partner can be accountable for their spending and so that each person has a clear picture of the financial situation as it stands.

Put all Extra Funds Toward Debt

It’s important when dealing with debt in a relationship that all extra money which is saved from cutting expenditures is put toward payment of the debt. The reason for this is that the faster you get out of debt, the more solid footing you’re putting your relationship on.

Make a commitment together that extra expenditures will be kept to a minimum until the debt is paid off.

Choose to Persevere Together

As you’re working through debt, roadblocks and setbacks will come. Unexpected expenses will happen. The car will break down, etc. etc. It’s vital that partners work together to lift each other up, to remain positive and to work together through any setbacks.

Encouragement and the resolve to work as a team are key here.

What if My Spouse is Not on Board?

I’ve seen it happen many times where one spouse has no concern about getting out of debt and will not participate in a plan to reduce debt. Although a situation like this doesn’t have to be a marriage deal-breaker, there are some things that the concerned spouse can do to protect him/herself financially in a situation like this:

  • Open a separate checking/savings account where you can start socking money away
  • If the unwilling spouse is insistent on continuing to accumulate credit card debt, insist on having them open their own sole owner credit cards and closing all joint owner credit cards
  • Separate funds and figure out a plan for how each income earner will contribute to household expenses
  • If you’re a homemaker where only your spouse is earning income, sock away money whenever you can into a sole owner account (with your spouse’s knowledge) in order to protect yourself financially

Also, it’s important in a situation like this to keep working gently on your spouse in regards to showing them the benefits of a life free of debt. Don’t nag, but help them to dream about what a life free of debt would look like.

A Word About Financial Abuse

I’ve seen it happen in some marriages – usually in the case where one partner stays home with the kids and works at caring for the home and children – where a spouse abuses their money-making power and simply refuses to allow the stay-at-home spouse any involvement with the finances or unapproved access to cash.

This is not okay.

If this is happening in your relationship, get outside help from a pastor, trusted friend or family member, or from a licensed counselor. Abuse of any kind, no matter how passive it is, is not okay.

By working together with your spouse, you can formulate a plan to get out of debt and start working together to build wealth.

What are your tips for working through debt while in a relationship?