June 22, 2024
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Should I Marry Someone Who Has Significant Debt?

Dear Dr. Chani,

I have been dating a man for a couple of months (let’s call him Donny) and we’ve been getting along well so far. He was not exactly the person I dreamed about, but we have a great time together and we laugh a lot. Things have been getting serious between us and we discussed the possibility of getting engaged. Then Donny told me that he has over $100,000 worth of debt. It isn’t a mortgage. It’s credit card debt.

Since I come from a family where one of the “Ten Commandments” is to pay off your credit card bill every month, I was completely taken aback. I was worried about taking on that level of debt.

I have to say, to his credit, that he was very open and honest about it. Donny explained that he is not asking me to pay off his debt for him. Yet it is possible that I would be somewhat affected by his having to pay off his debt, so he felt obligated to tell me in advance. I’m glad that he told me this information before we actually got engaged.

The more that I think about it, the more concerned I am. Donny works as a marketing consultant. He is self-employed so he doesn’t have a steady salary. I am wondering if that is why he racked up so much credit card debt. What would this mean for our financial future?

My friend keeps telling me that it is not a big deal since I am in a good profession. The truth is that I make enough money to support both of us. I also have a lot of savings that I worked hard to build up over the years. Maybe Donny’s financial instability is a small price to pay to get married to a nice person.

Obviously, I’m pretty unsettled about this new development. What do you suggest I do?

Sincerely,

Amy

Dear Amy,

When you found out that Donny is carrying a significant amount of credit card debt, you were quite surprised. It triggered a series of questions that you are grappling with right now. Your intuition can help guide you here. Allow your thoughts and feelings to lead you to your next step.

It sounds like you have several concerns about the debt that Donny is carrying. One of your worries is how he amassed so much debt in the first place. You surmised that he might not have enough financial stability because he is self-employed. It is worthwhile to have a follow-up conversation with Donny to get more background. Rather than assume anything, ask him open-ended questions to get more clarity. For example, you might ask him, “What led to you having this debt?” and “What is your income from your consulting like month to month?”

Asking open-ended questions will give Donny the opportunity to answer you without feeling like you are judging him or forcing him down a line of questioning that is not relevant or comfortable to him. Finding out more about Donny’s finances and history may help you decide if this is a significant and ongoing concern for you or not.

While your friend is downplaying the importance of Donny having a steady salary, you need to make the decision that is right for you. You are the one who will have to live with your decision. Just because your friend would not mind marrying Donny if she were in your situation, does not mean that you should feel guilty if you decide not to do so. Even if you earn enough on your own, you may still feel more secure knowing that the person you marry is also capable of having a reliable income.

You might be wondering about Donny’s values, and particularly his approach to money. Money can have different meanings to each person. For example, it sounds like one of the meanings that money has for you is that it provides you with a sense of stability. You feel that you are more secure when you pay off your credit card bill every month and safely store sums of money away in savings.

Keep in mind that money can hold different meanings for other people. For example, money may be valued as a way to give to others or to live life to its fullest. Speak to Donny about what money means to him. You might ask him, “What feeling did you have about money when you were growing up?” “How is your approach to money compared to your parents’ approach?” “What are your goals about money?” This may help you clarify the extent to which you share similar values about money. It may also help you recognize ways in which your values differ from Donny’s. You do not need to have the same approach, but you do have to feel comfortable with each other’s approach.

As you and Donny share conversations about what money means to you and your approach to finances, you will gain a deeper understanding of one another. This will give you a more substantial basis to determine how you want to proceed in your relationship with Donny. Hopefully, as you get the self-awareness and clarity that you need, you will feel calm and ready to make your next decision.

Wishing you all the best,

Chani


Chani Maybruch is a social psychologist and relationship coach specializing in teaching emotional connection and communication skills for over two decades. She coaches individuals and couples, teaches courses on how to become a master of relationships and provides free relationship resources at chanimaybruch.com. Learn a step-by-step method to improve your ability to emotionally connect with her online course: The RELATE Technique™—Seven Steps to Emotionally Connect Through Conversation. Reach out to her at [email protected].

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