debt debs

Personal Debt Wrangler – Had my money head in the sand – but no more!

Worth It Wednesday – Can a Marriage Survive a Debt Crisis?

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We’re more than two years into our debt journey now.  It hasn’t always been pretty.  Last month, when Melanie @ Dear Debt wrote on Financial Fidelity it resurrected some feelings I had squashed down.   Coincidentally, Hayley @ A Disease Called Debt wrote that same week “How to make a relationship work if you’re in debt” on her own personal marriage struggles with debt and I said “Oh, boy!  I’ve got to do a post on this too … when I’m ready”.

I’m ready.

The Early Days of a Relationship Debt Crisis

I don’t remember now what particular purchase I tried to make with my credit card that was declined.  All I remember is the date in early March 2012.   I remember how my stomach sank and that awful dread feeling washed over me.   It was quickly followed by a fluttering of butterflies in my chest, as anxiousness and fear temporarily paralyzed me.  It wasn’t the first time.  It hadn’t happened for years though.  I didn’t see it coming.

I thought we were doing better.  I remember there being an issue in 2004 when I tried paying for a rental car overseas.  Then again in 2005, I poked my nose in and didn’t like what I saw.  I started trying to conserve money in a half-hearted attempt.  I remember not wanting to drive anywhere, as if saving on gas was going to be the answer to all of our financial problems.

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Shortly thereafter, my Mum passed away, which set off a few years of YOLO with depression.  I never looked at the bank and credit card statements during this time.

We started planning a cruise with some friends and family.  I figured we would have time to save.  All of a sudden it’s 2009 but our cruise is postponed due to the financial situation of one of the couples.  It didn’t even dawn on me to look at our own financial situation then.  I just blindly trusted my partner that we had the money. There always seemed to be a few thousand in the bank whenever I went to take cash out of the ATM.  I was none-the-wiser.  I had been looking forward to the trip and felt I needed a break.  We went on a short one week cruise on our own anyways.  The following year we took the other cruise as planned.

Fast forward to 2012 and the declined credit card.  I decided that this was enough and I was sick of being put in these positions.  I asked to see the line of credit statement.  Maxed out.  $35K Why? Because of the trip, car repairs, Christmas presents, that thing we bought for the house.  The list was endless.  I guess my husband was moving money around from card to card while trying to make minimum payments.  Wait there’s more.  There’s a home equity LoC maxed out as well at $100K.  I thought we paid that.  No we didn’t because we were aggressively paying down the mortgage.  Why would we bother try to pay down the mortgage when there was still this huge HELOC sitting there?  “For psychological reasons, to have the mortgage gone”, I am told.  “Stupid psychological reasons” I mutter under my breath.   Wouldn’t Dave Ramsey be proud?

Then la pièce de résistance, $100K in low rate credit card balance transfers!!  I.was.in.complete.shock.

The Emotions of a Relationship Debt Crisis

I wanted to flee.  I wanted to run.  I wanted to get in the car and drive and never come back.  I could not fathom the extent of our debt nor could I see a way clear of it.  Divorce was the only way out of my misery.

marriage-survive-a-debt-crisisHow could someone who supposedly cares for me so much, have done this to me?  Was I not working hard enough to provide for the family?  I wasn’t gambling, or rampantly spending to keep up with the Joneses.  I was just doing what any ‘normal’ family does.  I deserve a holiday when I work so hard all year!  The platitudes just kept coming and coming.

I was so furious and beside myself with grief that I didn’t know what I was going to do.    I literally said to him “I spit on you!”.  The venom was real.  How could I love a man whom I was so seething at, …. again?

He slept on the couch that night.  And the next night.  And the night after that.  By the fourth night, I guess since I was still in the house, he decided to come into our bed.  I asked him why he was sleeping on the couch.  He said because he didn’t want to get spit on.

The Getting-On-With-It of a Relationship Debt Crisis

The financial aspects we dealt with together at the bank, adding onto our mortgage.  I went to work figuring out our budget and cash flow.  He started renegotiating phone plans, satellite TV, internet etc.

But that’s not the point of this post.  It’s about how does a couple come back together and repair the lost trust, respect and the “cared for” feeling once a relationship experiences a debt crisis.

It’s not easy but it can be done.

Take Responsibility

It was so easy to blame him for everything.  But that would not help our marriage.  I had to dig deep and acknowledge the role that I played in our debt position.  I also have to ensure he is accountable for his part in our debt journey.

  • It Takes Two – I had left him to manage it, never checking, never discussing, just assuming.  We both have to be involved.  Whether one takes one role, and the other takes another, we still have to share the load and be sure we are reading from the same book, let alone be on the same page!
  • Communicate, Communicate, Communicate – He was overwhelmed but did not discuss it with me.  Other than the odd comment about a purchase, there were no other indications that he thought or knew we were spending beyond our means.  We now discuss our purchases, our progress against goals, our concerns and worries.
  • Record. Review, Revise – We never tracked our spending to know how much we should allow ourselves to spend in different areas and to ensure we were staying on plan.  I track everything now and review progress with him when we discuss.  Usually Saturday mornings in bed with coffee.  Romantic ay?
  • Plan Ahead – Although not a big spender, my husband is “penny wise and pound foolish”.  He will drive around to get sales on groceries, spending more in gas.  He will not buy something that we need because it’s more expensive than he thinks it should be (consequently resulting in a second trip later), but will buy something that don’t even need, just because it’s on sale.    Since I am doing all the ‘bookkeeping’ of our finances, this is his responsibility to think ahead and plan accordingly using lists and consulting the flyers for sales items.
  • Bring Home the Bacon – He was not bringing home enough income.   His job paid him like crap.  I said he needed to get a second job to increase his earnings.  He opted to speak to his boss about getting more assigned work.  This (except for lower season) has worked out for the most part.  He has increased his income dramatically from before, even if it is still quite low (in my opinion), but it is also variable.  He works very hard, too freakin’ hard as far as I can see for what they pay him and what he upgraded his skills for during the last 10 years.
  • Leave the Past There – There’s no point in resurrecting past mistakes and failures.  What’s done is done.  We’re either in this together or we’re against each other.    Okay, sometimes we laugh now, about how he didn’t want to sleep in the same bed in case I spit on him.
  • Be Informed – I let him research options about equipment / technology / home maintenance to ensure we are doing the best thing with our money.   For instance, we switched our home internet provider to Tek Savvy from Primus and our home phone from Primus to Ooma.  We save about $42/mth on our monthly fees (although there was some initial equipment investment doing this of about $300).  I do the research on tools and templates for managing our financial decisions.  We each do what we are more suited for and that (now) suits me fine!
  • Keep Each Other Honest But Keep it Fun – If we find we are slipping into bad habits we remind each other and make a joke about it (You don’t want me spitting on you do you?).

We can choose to be miserable about our debt crisis but we do not.  We both played a part in it and it will take both of us working together and working hard to reach our goals.  We have more than two years behind us and four more to go to be debt free.  That is longer than what is recommended (normally a three year rule of thumb is a good guideline in order to not experience debt fatigue, which I can attest to).

The only other way to get there sooner is to sell our home.  I’m partially in favour of that but my husband is not.  We’ve agreed to review each year and see if we’ve changed our minds.

After that, my husband can retire (he’s seven years older than me) and I will keep working until we have some money saved for house renovations and maybe some more for retirement.  It will depend a lot on how I feel, our health etc.

If you are facing a similar situation, you need to consider whether there is gambling, alcoholism, gaming or other addictive spending habits involved to know if repairing a relationship after a severe debt crisis is feasible or not. There is no easy answer and every situation is different.

Do not let fear keep you in an unhealthy relationship.  If both parties act (not say, talk is cheap) like they are committed to resolving the financial situation, repaying the debt, rebuilding trust and nurturing the relationship, then it is worth giving it a sincere effort.

We’re not there yet, but we are a work in progress!  Now instead of a spitting cobra when he looks at me he just sees this.

marriage-survive-a-debt-crisis

Enough said?  Okay, but first I suggest you check out this inspiring post on this topic from Big Guy Money – Improve Your Marriage – I Dare You

Javan Spitting Cobra (Naja Sputatrix) via flickr Michael Ransburg                                                    Llama via flickr Valerie
Oh, one last thing.  I joined the Yakezie Challenge.  For anyone who isn’t familiar with it, its about improving your blog over a six month period in order to be eligible to join this community  of personal finance and lifestyle bloggers.   There is a forum where you can work with other bloggers to get support while you are doing the challenge.  One of the criteria for measurement is your Alexa rating of traffic to your blog.  You also write a submission post at the end of the induction period.  You can see the button showing I’m doing the Yakezie challenge in my right side bar.
So on that note, I just want to say that I appreciate all who come and read what I have to say here, whether you comment or not, it’s all good and the more the merrier.  The post above is one of the reasons why I blogIf you like any posts you see or know of someone else who would like to laugh at me  benefit from it, please share via the buttons below.  You have the choice of Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google+ ~ Pinterest ~ email.   Thank you kindly for reading and for your support!
 

Part of Friday Jet Fuel #1

   

Author: debster

I am a fifty-something wife, mother and new grandmother, who admits to having their “head in the sand” about their financial situation until amassing $247,500 worth of consumer debt for a total debt of $393,500. We've paid $121K in 2 years with four more years to go. Join my journey at debtdebs.com sharing ideas and motivation to all those coping with poor money management and bad debt decisions.

52 thoughts on “Worth It Wednesday – Can a Marriage Survive a Debt Crisis?

  1. I laughed out loud at the llama (or is it an alpaca?) photo. Love those things! My fiance and I don’t have any debt except for the mortgage (which, yes, is still debt and still is stressful), which we are thankful for. Many couples let money struggles ruin them. I’m so glad to see that you aren’t one of them!

    • Thank you, Daisy! LOL, it’s a (spitting) llama but I think she must be between spits because she looks pretty relaxed in that photo. Glad you guys have got the right approach handling your debt and money. BRAVO!

  2. Debt is definitely stressful, and can come with a lot of resentment and word-slinging. It made us desperate, and desperate times are not easy on a relationship. We struggled quite a bit when we first hit the wall. And then when we rolled right back to where we began (the “debt repayment” spun its tires for about four months before it got any traction). We fight a lot less now… I think making progress really helps, because most of our fights were financially-motivated.

    • Isn’t it crazy how money makes us so crazy? What I mean is, it’s completely understandable why debt makes us nuts, it’s just the crazy that we didn’t clue in before. I’m glad you guys are doing better on that front too, Alicia.

  3. Deb, I absolutely love this. I love how you both saw that it was a two-person problem, and how you both resolved to pull up your big boy and girl pants and fix the problem instead of just behaving like toddlers. That is exactly what Rick and I had to do too, as our situation is similar to yours. And you know what ? I’m so glad we stuck it out.

    • I know, Laurie, I see similarities too and I’m glad we now have a better plan to work it together. Not saying that we don’t always agree on things, but we are willing to discuss and don’t push things away anymore. I sometimes tease him that he’s lucky that I’m Irish cause the Irish don’t d-i-v-o-r-c-e. LOL Don’t ask me why I hyphenated that, I guess part of my brain thinks it’s a swear word.

  4. Like Daisy, I literally laughed out loud at the bottom pic. :) Thanks so much for sharing. I think so many of these points are huge and so much of it comes down to communication and being on the same page together. I believe that’s huge when it comes to debt, as well as so many other things in marriage. We haven’t had debt together, save for the mortgage or car payment, but I did bring quite a bit into the marriage. We got it all out before we got married and that helped so much in us being on the same page and attacking it together. That said, so many allow for money issues to tear apart a marriage and kudos to you and your husband for working it out. :)

    • Me too, John. And that’s exactly what I look like. heeee Thanks, for your supportive words. You guys have your own ‘opportunities’, working together, but I’m sure with the right attitude you make it very easy.

  5. I love your perspective.
    I find it very eye opening because my relationship is the opposite of yours – I was the one “managing” the money and can relate to your DH. You are giving me insight into how my DH must have felt (not that I couldn’t imagine how he felt)…
    I don’t know if we will survive but after 1 year, things seem to be a bit better.
    One of our issues is that our kids are still young and active and everything costs a ton… I am fully aware of what things cost, but DH gets upset by how much things cost (one of the reasons we ended up in debt)… Perhaps they don’t cost any more than they did a year ago, but now he pays more attention ;) I am thankful for that.

    • Thank you for commenting! :D Raising kids is not easy and definitely harder on the budget. I’m glad things are going a better. Keep at it and keep dialoging with your husband on all things finance to make the best decisions for your family. One thing we did was limit our kids to the number of activities that they did. Mostly 1 per kid (we have 4). It wasn’t primarily for budget reasons because we weren’t focusing on that at the time even though we should have been. It was more for time management. Although sometimes activities would overlap a bit Having said that, if your child is in different types of activities i.e. 1 music and 1 sport, I think that is awesome and hopefully you can carve the money out of your budget by cutting back in other areas (entertainment, travel).

  6. I’m glad you learned so many good lessons and shared them with us! My parents went through the exact same thing. There was a real lack of communication. I was young when it all started, but my mom always managed the finances, and my dad assumed they were doing okay because she had said she was paying extra toward their debt. Somehow, it ballooned, and became extremely stressful and unmanageable for them. There were a lot of fights and arguments about who was to blame. That’s not where the focus should be, though. The only thing my boyfriend and I argue over is his inability to use coupons which drives me crazy (especially when I remind him), and how long I take to make purchasing decisions. But these are usually light-hearted as they’re not huge deals. I’m glad we are on the same page when it comes to money.

    • I think you probably have a good appreciation for our position, EM, as you’ve had a front row seat for your parent’s situation. Once it drives a bit of a wedge between you it takes a lot of work to close up that gaping wound. I’m so glad you guys are on the same page and paying off your debt before you get married. You are both so young so there’s lots of time. It becomes much more difficult once children are in the picture because expenses are so much more. Listen to your Auntie, Debs ;-)

  7. Wow Deb!! Thank you so much for sharing your personal and painful story. I have been married for almost 11 years and I tell people all the time that the song, Give Me a Reason by Pink tells you everything about a marriage. You don’t expect it when you start out, but marriages will bend and be forced to bend even more and it’s easy to think that the bending = breaking, but if you both commit to fixing the bend, then you can move on. Until the next bend in the road. :-) I know this has been painful for you, but I am happy that the two of you are working through it together!

    • Thanks, Shannon, now I’m going to have to look that song up on YouTube because I don’t know it, unless you’re gonna put it on Music Monday soon. ;-) It sounds like it may just fit our story!! Congrats on your 11 years of marriage! We will be 25 this year.

  8. Way to stick it out and work together! Your advice to other couples who are struggling is great. Thanks for sharing such a personal story. Keep up the good work!

    • Thank you, Stephanie. I hope we can inspire people who are struggling that there is hope behind the faith and hard work. You guys are doing amazing as well. My hats off to you both!!

  9. Thanks for sharing Deb. I’m know many of us have faced the same issues while climbing out of debt. A team is much stronger then an individual. Good luck on your journey!

    • You know it, Brian. Thanks so much for sharing my interview questions on your blog today. All the best to you and your family as well!

  10. What a haearfelt post Debs! You have really opened up more lately and it’s amazing! Congrats on joining the Yakezie challenge. I’m still contemplating it myself and didn’t want to join until I got my new site up and going and now that it is what’s my excuse? I don’t know, I just haven’t done it yet I guess :)

    • Thanks, Shoe. I’m spilling my guts lately, I’ll have to go back to jokes again soon! ha ha ha Now that you’ve migrated your site and got the kinks out of it you can do the Yakezie challenge. I know you’re very busy though, as am I, but I figured if I’m gonna do this it was either go big or go home.

  11. I couldn’t read the middle of your post because I’m deathly afraid of snakes, even pictures bother me. But otherwise I think you’re right on. It takes two!

    • Oh no! I’m so sorry Stefanie! You know when I was looking for a picture I was kinda getting creeped out as well. Hubster hates snakes too! I guess you didn’t mind the non-spitting llama then?

  12. Great post as it takes courage to reveal all your issues. I know it is very hard getting on the same page financially, and money is the number #1 reason for divorce. If husbands and wives knew that and wanted to stay together why not talk about money more often to avoid a divorce. I wish you the best, with the debt and life.

    • You’re so right, Rich Uncle EL. It should be talked about more often, daily, or weekly at a minimum. Thank you so much for coming by and offering your kind words of support.

  13. Thank you for this post Debt Debs. Sharing this kind of personal information makes us understand more about you and you know what? This is REAL. This is the kind of thing that goes on in life – in relationships…. As you know from my post on this subject – thank you for the mention by the way!

    No relationship is perfect and I think your point about ‘it takes two’ is spot on. In my own situation, I should have clocked the signs well before things were bad. I was happy plodding along doing my own thing. I wasn’t thinking about the bigger picture.

    You are doing brilliantly and by the way, this is one of my favourite new blogs to read! Good luck with the challenge! :)

    • You’re very welcome, Hayley. Your post gave me the courage! I could see a lot of similarities, as well, with you guys in the avoidance factor, that me and The Irishman went through. Thanks so much for your kind words about my blog. :blush: :-)

  14. I think it’s awesome you’re getting your story out there. I’m sure for a long time your husband thought he had things under control, and by the time he realized it was out of control he was too embarrassed to come to you. It’s awesome you are working on it together! These days it’s all too easy to get divorced (I was shocked how quickly the process can go). Put the work into marriage, and the reward is great!

    • Thank you, Eric. You are an inspiration to me and I love following your blog. I think you hit the nail on the head there. There’s no secrets now and I think he feels a big relief that I am doing all the tracking now and he thanks me often. Keep up the good work over there at BGM!

  15. Thanks for sharing your story. It is so easy for money to destroy a relationship. I’m glad you and your husband have found a way to make it work and make it fun. You’ve done a great job turning the ship around.

    • Thanks, Kate. I think you guys are too. It warms my heart with so many young couples confronting their debt issues. They always say better late than never (so true) and I like to add even better earlier than late! ;-)

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  18. I have slipped into the debt (credit card debt > $10,000) trap on multiple occasions. My experience has been that the problem of debt grows and festers because we are often willingly ignorant. When the debt involves a couple, it takes both parties to acknowledge the problem and commit to getting their **it together.

    • And that’s why you’re savvier now, James! Hindsight is 20-20 but foresight is da bomb! Here’s to couples working together forevermore. Just curious, and you don’t have to answer this, but how much did money factor into your first marriage?

      • Money, more specifically poor money management, was only a small part of the problem in the first marriage. The bigger issue was that we simply got married too young and one of us – that would her – had a problem with fidelity.

  19. That’s great that you are working on the issues! Your story is not too uncommon. Finances are a killer to marriages, if you let them. I respect that you guys didn’t give up! Love to hear that. :)

    • It really is sad isn’t it that this is one of the major reasons for marriage failures. It is understandable but it is avoidable. Thanks for visiting and your kind words, Kalen.

  20. It takes two to tango. In every relationship crisis, it’s usually not the fault of just any one of the two. Each one contributed to the problem.

    This is the real problem with most couples today. Even if it’s just a financial crisis for the couple, the root cause can be personal behavior and attitude. And if it took both of you to get into so much trouble, it will also take both of you to fix it.

    I’m glad for you Deb that you’ve successfully overcome the marriage crisis brought on by your financial troubles. :)

    • Once I admitted my own failings it became much easier to forgive him and we started moving in unison. He sees a lot of marriage breakdowns in his job. It’s quite an eye opener, and not something that either of us want. Thank you for your comment.

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  22. Good points there, I’m definitely no marriage expert but I think money is fundamental to any marriage and communication about any money topic is important. Leaving the past in the past is also important – theres no sense in dwelling on past money mistakes, just fixing them, learning from them and moving on. I could really listen to my own advice sometimes :)

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  26. This is a fantastic post! Thanks for adding it to the link up at Friday Jet Fuel.
    It is good to hear about the emotions that you and your spouse went through and how you worked your way past that. You have made tonnes of progress, so you have clearly managed to work through everything.
    Anne @ Money Propeller recently posted…Friday Jet Fuel #1My Profile

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  29. Great post. I was not able to start getting myself out of debt until I was divorced (financial issues were not the reason for the divorce). My ex was a spender and I had trouble saying no. Truth be told, I enjoyed spending some too. It is nice reading from the perspective of someone who was able to work with their spouse to get out of debt together.

    • Thanks for your comment, Christa. I would imagine poor finances would put a stress on a marriage even if there were other issues too. But I think what you are saying that, at the end of the day, it was not a factor in your divorce, even though things were not great in that department. For me, it would be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Thanks for sharing.