When you find yourself staring down a mountain of debt, you probably want to just find a cave somewhere and hide. But if the way you’re managing your money has the potential to affect your spouse or significant other, it’s worth talking about it, lest you suffer the fallout of financial infidelity later on.
While everyone’s financial situation may differ, the tips outlined here can help you get started with having that tough conversation.
Know Why You Want to Talk
Before you sit down with your loved one, “you have to think about why it is you want to discuss this,” said Amanda Clayman, a New York City-based financial therapist who works with people around all aspects of financial behavior and their relationship with money. Ask yourself, “Why is it that you want to come clean about this? Do you want emotional support? Do you need financial help?” Perhaps you feel like you’ve been misleading, or even dishonest, in the way that you held onto this information or disclosed other information in the past. Whatever it is, knowing your own motivations will help you structure the conversation around what needs to be said.
Do Your Homework
“To prepare, you really need to be clear on the situation,” said Clayman. “You can’t disclose the truth without knowing what the truth is.” Do as much of your own homework as you can before your discussion by pulling your credit report and doing an overall assessment of your finances. (You can view two of your credit scores, updated monthly, on Credit.com.)
Know Your Audience
“It’s a different conversation to have with your parents versus a person with whom you already share finances,” said Clayman. In other words, try to anticipate what you need to disclose to this person in particular. Is the way that you’ve been using your credit card affecting your spouse’s ability to put away savings? If so, you’ll need to be more upfront. If your spending is so out of control that you need to move back home with your parents to pay off the debt, you’ll want to choose your words carefully when telling your parents.
“The best thing to do is bring it up as its own conversation,” said Clayman. “You want to be direct and honest, and acknowledge why you haven’t talked about [this subject] in the past.” You’ll also want to address any concerns you have about how your loved one may react — and how you hope they’ll respond. Offering some context can be helpful, said Clayman, since being honest is a step toward taking responsibility and hopefully putting yourself on a path to addressing your own financial instability and creditworthiness.
Being upfront about these emotions will also help the other person be aware of their own reaction as they hear this, said Clayman. What’s more, it will give them a sense of why you may not have been so forthcoming up until now.
“It’s not saying that you can’t have your own reaction to it,” she said. “It’s a way of keeping the relational context intact as you talk about something that can be surprising to some people.” She added, “If you’re to say, ‘I’m sharing this, and the reason I didn’t share it [before] was because I was worried you’d see me in a certain way or be disappointed,’ that way the person can address or refute it.”
Give Yourself Space & Time
When having a talk like this, it’s important to do what you can to make the situation feel less overwhelming, both to you and your loved one. You want to be able to say what needs to be said — and ensure that you have space to do it. “Try to do this at a time when you’re not going to be interrupted,” said Clayman. Also, make sure there’s adequate time. “This is going to be really emotional and a little unpredictable,” she said. “Neither of these things will be improved by having too little time or quiet.”
Focus on Your Loved One
Discussing your financial woes is never easy, but focusing on your loved one can help you stay connected, even when you feel yourself getting worked up. “Even when people disagree or there’s a breach of trust, look for ways that you’re still connected in other aspects of your relationship,” Clayman says. Reminding yourself of those things will help you get through the worst of the problem — and remind you what you’re working toward.
Remember, disclosing your money woes and/or lousy credit isn’t a time to unburden yourself of your worries and guilt. It’s about finding a way to work through the problem together. Not taking this approach can be destructive, especially if you’re not prepared for your loved one’s “anger, bewilderment and so on,” Clayman says. So take the time to learn where you stand and plan the conversation accordingly. Things may just go more smoothly than you expected.