Dumping Debt on the One You Love

When you commit to a relationship, are you also committing to a lifetime of debt? Colette Dowling dishes out a heaping bowl of reality to those who've let love blind them to the financial failings of their mates.

Okay, so you're ready to tie the knot, move in together, whatever. You're committed, in any event. What's mine is yours, what's yours is mine, in sickness and in health, et cetera, et cetera. You've talked all night about your hopes, your dreams . . . your debt?

You haven't discussed your debt? But the real ball and chain in any relationship is debt. Just ask the many Money members who speak desperately of getting saddled with their new partner's lifetime of bills. They never imagined marrying a guy with twenty grand in credit card debt. But gee, he's so sweet and generous. Isn't it only fair that you take on his debt when you take him on? You help him with this, and then he'll help you out when you need him, right?

Oh boy. What a can of worms we have here. The red flags of dependency are up and waving. In the best of all possible worlds, I'd say, fine. You want to help the love of your life by taking on $10,000 of his bachelor-day exploits, go for it. Surely he'll return your generosity in kind. This is a partnership, isn't it?

But stop. We're in the real world now, and in the real world partnerships are not forever, and marrying big credit card debt is marrying the consequences of a possible spending addiction.

So if you're facing a partner who has a problem keeping his wallet in his pocket, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is his problem in check -- can this guy control his spending?
  • Are you going to be an enabler by taking on his debt?
  • Will you end up resenting it?
  • Do you really have the resources to play Lady Bountiful?

The fact of the matter is that if you just imagine his debt can be blended into your overall financial picture never to be noticed again, you're living a pipe dream. Wake up!

The only way to a prosperous relationship is if each of you takes responsibility for your mistakes. Lean on each other for moral support, but don't be a crutch for the other's bad habits.

What about the single mother who's been hanging on by her fingernails ever since her first husband left her with the kids, the mortgage, and his debt. Doesn't she deserve a break? Shouldn't she be able to share her troubles with her new love? He wants to help. Why shouldn't she take advantage of his offer?

For the same reason you shouldn't take on your mate's mistakes. If you let that dumb jerk of a first husband dump all over you, why should someone else be dragged into the mess? Clean it up, and get on with your life.

In this era of marriage, divorce and remarriage, sorting out the money issues -- where the money's coming from and how it's to be handled -- may be the biggest challenge of all. My advice is this: Don't bring debt into a new relationship. You would've had to handle your problem on your own if Mr. Nice Guy hadn't come along. So keep Mr. Nice Guy nice by managing your own affairs and letting him manage his. Don't let debt be the ball and chain that drags your relationship down.

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