Quick Update: This serves as my final apology of the week for the wonky schedule in posting over the past few days. I’m back from New York now, and next week should return to a totally regular cadence and format. Thank you!
I often feel weird writing this blog. The reason being is that I am in a pretty decent amount of debt, and yet I’m writing a blog that essentially gives advice on how to deal with debt. It’s like a person who was born with their arms taped to their body giving advice on how to throw a badass fastball, or a person with nothing but a loaf of bread in their hands trying to give guitar lessons on how to properly shred.
What I am decent at however is marriage and maintaining a long and healthy relationship, so let me get someone to cut this tape off of me so that I can eat this bread and we can get started!
My wife and I got married at a very young age, and in August we will celebrate our 24th year of marriage. If you factor in the 3 years we dated, we’ve been together a LONG time!
We know that we’re in this for the long haul, no matter what. One of us will most likely need to put the other in the ground (we all know I’m the one dying first) and that’s the only thing that will put an end to our relationship in any kind of physical way.
So regardless of how we might bicker or fight at times, we know that neither of us are going anywhere. We love each other a great deal. We are soulmates.
When it comes to finances, and being in a less-than-ideal financial situation, it’s bound to put some stress and pressure on a relationship. There is going to come a point where the money is finite enough and you both see the importance of a particular way or thing to spend it on, and that leads to conflict. Conflict in turn leads to… “healthy discussions.”
We have had many such “discussions,” and the fireworks that go right along with them.
Conflict can be a very healthy thing. I’ve always been of the mindset that if you’re willing to argue in matters related to your relationship, that shows passion, and if you’ve got passion it means you’re invested. The worst place you can be in when it comes to relationships is an “I don’t care, do whatever” scenario. If either of you get to that point, it means you’ve lost the passion, and that’s never good.
That doesn’t mean you have to fight. I know lots of very healthy relationships where the couple almost never fights. I also know lots of healthy relationships where there is a heck of a lot of yelling, and yet there is some very obvious love there as well.
With the added stress of your financial situation not being where either of you might like it to be, the bickering might be a pretty common bi-product.
But take my advice, and listen to these 5 steps and you’ll come out together stronger and more invested in each other than ever before:
1.Identify your goals together. My wife and I built our plan together from day one, and agreed on it together. This in a sense created a razor for us to hold all decisions against as we moved forward. If we hit a conflict, we ask if either of us are deviating from our agreed upon plan. One of us almost always is, and while it stings a bit for the person who has to admit it, it’s almost impossible to argue with.
2.Treat it as a simple math problem. It’s difficult to not treat debt in an emotional way. It’s stressful, it’s a burden, it makes you angry/sad/depressed/annoyed. So the trick is to always look at the numbers. Try to remove emotions and personal feelings and look totally at the stats.
Keep a spreadsheet or use a finance tracking app, and track EVERY SINGLE PENNY. That way you both know exactly where funds are going, and you both have access to the math problem at hand. Numbers don’t lie, and it’s hard to argue with math that shows you aren’t ready yet to buy that boat that one of you really wants.
3.Reassure each other as often as you can. Being in debt can be SUPER scary. If you’re feeling terrified about overcoming your debt, you can almost guarantee that your partner is feeling the same way. Talk to them and let them know that you’re in this together, and you’re going to get out of it together.
There is a massive difference between a football coach who walks into the locker room at halftime down 0-31, and says, “You jack wagons are really in the sh*t, and screwed this game up big time! You better figure a way out of it!” versus a coach who walks in and says, “We’re in the sh*t now, but I believe we can come together as a team and overcome this deficit!” In both scenarios the team is in a bad spot and they know it, but in the second scenario the players are much more likely to dig in and help dig out!
Be that second coach to each other and constantly reassure your partner that you’re a team and will work together to pull off this miracle!
4.Avoid blame at any cost. This is a big one. It doesn’t matter who was in charge of the finances, or who spent too much on a credit card, or who bought too many pairs of shoes. The simple fact is that you’re here now, and that isn’t going to change.
Don’t point fingers, because it’s not going to help. It’s only going to build resentment, breed hostility and ultimately end in a massive mushroom cloud over your home.You’re in it, and it doesn’t matter how you got here.
5.Understand that people are inherently good. You need to remind yourself that the vast majority of humans are good, and this includes your significant other. So even in a worst case scenario where they maxed out 10 credit cards buying rare belly button lint from around the world, they probably didn’t set out with a clear and total goal of wrecking both of you financially.
The person who buys too many Christmas gifts might feel that they need to buy the affection of their loved ones based on a troubled childhood that involved their parents divorcing in an ugly manner. The person who buys too many sports cars may have serious issues with their feeling of self worth based on an abusive father. The person who blows through thousands of dollars in plastic surgery may have been teased incessantly as a child and now feels perfection is the only way that they can be accepted.
The point of these examples is that it can sometimes be difficult to know the motivation behind actions, but it’s rarely for nefarious reasons, and it’s almost always for a more complex reason than you realize. Give the love of your life the benefit of the doubt, and understand that we all make mistakes.
The only thing worse than being in debt and struggling to pay bills together is being in debt and struggling to pay bills alone. If you have a partner in all of this –even if they are the ones that shoulder the bulk of the responsibility in how you got here in the first place– know that you are incredibly fortunate. Love that person just as they love you regardless of your mistakes.
When you miraculously overcome that 0-31 deficit on a last minute touchdown, you sure as hell don’t want to be popping champagne in an empty locker room.
Have a great weekend and keep digging!
Do you have additional steps for maintaining a strong relationship in the face of adversity? Let me know in the comments below!