Being in a relationship where your partner has debt and you don’t can be frustrating. The frustration could stem from something simple, like they can’t go out to eat as often as you want, or it could be due to something major – like their inability to contribute their share to the bills every month. Regardless of the severity of the situation, your partner’s debt is impacting your relationship, and you want to know what to do about it.

In this piece, you’ll find a few tips on what you should do when your partner has debt, how you can offer your support, and how you can help them get their finances on track.

Start by getting the details and their perspective

You’ve heard it countless times before, but it’s because it’s true – communication is key to a healthy relationship. When you first learn that your partner has debt, see if they’re interested in having a sit-down conversation about it. In this conversation, you should cover:

  • How they accumulated the debt
  • If they have a repayment plan in place
  • Whether paying the debt is a short or long-term commitment
  • How they feel about their debt

It’s important that your partner doesn’t feel like they’re under a full-scale investigation or that you’re trying to pry information from them. Explain that you’re simply interested in having a conversation with no judgment involved, and that you won’t push topics they’re uncomfortable with. If at any point your partner seems flustered or gets defensive, try backing off for a while and opening the conversation at another time. Being in debt, especially high amounts of it, can be an incredibly overwhelming experience – they might just need a few minutes to cool down.

Offer emotional and/or financial support

While offering financial support by helping your partner pay off their debt is an option for some, not everyone has the means to do so. Fortunately, the only cost associated with offering emotional support is your time. Talking to your partner about how their debt affects them is a great start, but there are other ways you can offer your emotional support. Here are a few:

Help them create a repayment plan if they don’t already have one

If your partner doesn’t have a repayment plan in place, this should be their new #1 priority. Without a detailed plan, how will they know how long it’ll take until they’re debt-free?

There are a variety of repayment plans and methods available – offer your support by sitting down with your partner and helping them determine the one that works best for them.

One of the more popular and simple debt repayment plans is the Debt Snowball popularized by financial guru Dave Ramsey. Sound like something you might be interested in? Click here to learn more about the debt snowball plan.

Make joint sacrifices

If you’re not in the position to offer financial help, making joint sacrifices is a cost-effective way you can make your partner feel less alone as they pay down debt. For example, say your partner is saving money by only going out to eat once a week – why not make the same sacrifice? You may find that the sacrifice was an opportunity in disguise. In this particular scenario, not only will you be saving money yourself, but you can also spend more quality time with your partner cooking meals. At the very least, making the same sacrifice will let your partner know that you’ll support them when times get tough.

Motivate them to stay on course

We all have our weak moments – times where we swap our long-term goals for instant gratification and make impulsive decisions and purchases. Your partner is human and will likely be no different. If your partner’s motivation is waning, try keeping them on track by cheering them on – remind them that they can accomplish this.

Avoid judging their situation

When people first start trying to make positive changes in their lives, they’re particularly vulnerable to criticism. Your partner may already feel guilty about the debt they’ve accumulated, and the last thing they need is judgment from those they care about most. At the same time, sometimes a push in the right direction is what we need. How can you help your partner stay motivated without coming off as judgmental?

Simply put, with tact. This is just one of those situations where how you communicate a message could be more important than what is actually being said.

Rather than saying something like, “Do you really need that?”, which could make your partner defensive, opt for a logical approach instead. For example:

“Hey, I understand that you really want this, but I think making a purchase this large could push us over budget. They’ll still be carrying this product next month – why don’t we come back then? If we save up for the next few weeks, we’ll be able to afford it without impacting your repayment plan.”

Notice how in the second example the partner’s feelings were validated, a solution was offered, and the message comes from a place of genuine care. Paying off debt, especially large quantities of it, can be an incredibly draining and frustrating pursuit filled with many ups and downs. Motivation to pay down debt can ebb and flow in the same way, but the knowledge that you’re in their corner could be all your partner needs to get their finances on track.

Talk about other financial topics

While it may feel like it’s never a good time to broach financial topics with your partner, there’s no better time than once the ball is already rolling. If your partner has opened up to you about their debt, take the opportunity to learn more about their financial situation while sharing the details of your own.

Again, these conversations should never come off as pushy – if you sense that your partner isn’t ready to talk about these topics, it’s not wise to force it. If they are ready to talk about other aspects of their finances, here are a few things you should cover:

  • Borrowing history
  • Credit score
  • Savings accounts
  • Investment accounts

Money talks are rarely fun, but if you plan on spending your future with this person, there could be times where you’ll share finances or maybe even apply for financial products together. For these reasons, it’s a good idea for you and your partner to have an idea of your respective financial standings. Open, honest communication could not only bring you closer, but it could also help you identify mutual financial goals.

Meet with a financial planner

Sometimes, the best way to deal with emotionally charged matters within a relationship is to bring an unbiased third party into the mix – particularly one that can improve the situation. By meeting with a financial planner, you and your partner will have access to a resource that could help you realize your financial goals and achieve your long-term financial objectives. In addition, they may be able to share insights they’ve gained from working with past clients who were in debt.

Even if your partner isn’t completely comfortable talking about their debt with you yet, this could still be an option worth pursuing – maybe they don’t want to share this information with someone close to them due to guilt or embarrassment, but have no problem discussing these matters with an experienced professional.

If you truly value your relationship with your partner, their debt should not be a deal-breaker. Remember – you can help your partner get out of this. Get them on track by holding open, honest conversations, offering your support, and refraining from judging their situation – just like they would do for you.