Protecting Your Marriage While Paying off Debt

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Paying off debt

Everyone knows that debt induces huge stress in a marriage or other committed relationship. This is one of the reasons my husband and I decided to take on our debt problem just over a year ago. Relationships are work enough without adding debt into the picture, am I right? However, the process of paying off debt can also induce just as much stress on your relationship as the accumulation of it.

Fear and anger can raise to all time highs as each member of the partnership adjusts to budgets, reduced spending and the long, tedious journey to debt freedom. So, what are some tips for protecting your relationship as you work toward financial freedom?

Have a Team Mentality While Paying off Debt


Relationships in general work better if each person involved has a “we” mentality instead of a “me” mentality, and that doesn’t change when it comes to paying off debt. A long road is best walked with someone else rather than alone, right?

Decide to make your financial decisions for “the greater good” of your relationship and your finances, and always remember that you’re in this together, and not alone. Commit to metaphorically hold hands and face your debt demons as a team.

Remember What You’re Fighting Against


The stress of working a financial plan can be overwhelming at times, and it’s easy to get frustrated with one another as you work the plan, reach the goals, and deal with the setbacks ever-so-slowly. It’s important to remember, even through the financial setbacks, that you’re not fighting each other, but to keep the fight focused on the debt where it belongs, as that is your real enemy.

Be Encouraging and Have Fun


Paying off debt can be emotionally draining and even physically exhausting at times. Make it a priority to encourage each other and do fun things, both alone and together, as you work your paying off debt plan.

Go on frugal dates, do nice things for each other, take time alone or out with friends, and encourage each other in general, especially when one or the other of you is feeling overwhelmed by your financial situation. Encouraging your partner doesn’t just help them, it helps you as well.

Grace, Grace and More Grace


During your plan to pay off debt, tempers will likely flare, anger and frustrations will arise, and one or both of you will occasionally say or do things you’ll regret. Choose to have  an abundance of mercy and grace with each other, and forgive any outbursts or angry reactions. Anger almost always results from fear, so take time to remember what the true feeling likely is behind that façade of anger.

If your spouse isn’t on board with the debt payoff journey, you’ll need even more grace abounding in your heart.  In that case, continue to lovingly encourage and coach him/her about the benefits of being debt free, and do what you can on your end to improve your financial situation, which might include separating the finances or other protective courses of action, especially if your spouse is dangerously irresponsible with money.

A family member did this when his wife was found to have a gambling problem, and it saved their marriage and their money.

Keep the End Goal in Mind


While working your plan to pay off debt, keep the finish line in sight. Talk about why you’ve committed to this journey, and what kinds of things you’ll do after the debt is gone. Will you travel? Save for your dream house? Sock money away like a banshee in anticipation of early retirement? Share your debt free hopes and dreams with each other as a way to keep yourselves motivated and focusing on what you’re working so very hard for.

You can come through your road to being debt free with an even stronger relationship with your spouse than you started with, but only if you’re willing to work toward that end.


What tips do you have for keeping your relationship with your significant other strong as you work to pay off debt?



Photo courtesy of: Nine Matthews Photography



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Laurie is a wife, mother to 4, and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom, and to a simpler, more peaceful life.


  • Dee @ Color Me Frugal says:

    Great post, Laurie! My hubby and I talk frequently about how badly we want to be debt free and what that will mean for us. I know we both very badly want the debt gone, so having conversations about that helps remind us what we are doing all this for. Inevitably when we have conversations like that we start talking about cool things we want to do when the debt is gone- which inspires us to keep going on the journey and fight the debt, not each other.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Love that idea, Dee!! Those encouraging conversations can be so inspiring, and can definitely help with keeping couples motivated to keep working toward their goals. Thanks for sharing. πŸ™‚

  • Liz says:

    These are great points Laurie. Paying off debt is definitely a journey filled with ups and downs. We’ve definitely had our disagreements about debt repayment/finances but we’ve found that talking about our dreams for the future like you mentioned really helps us see the big picture. In addition, we pretty much discuss every purchase before its made so that we are on the same page with everything regarding finances.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      That’s a great point, Liz, and we do the same. Rick tends to be a pessimist, and I’m an optimist, so I also keep that in mind when budgeting. I know that the stricter I am with our budget, the happier he’ll be. πŸ™‚

  • Brian @ Luke1428 says:

    It’s simply impossible to enjoy financial success unless both parties are walking hand in hand on the issues. It truly is a team effort. I love how you talked about encouraging each other by doing fun stuff. Even in the debt payoff journey you can still spend a bit to celebrate milestones in the process. Those celebrations serve as bonding times in the relationship. They also serve as motivational memories when faced with future struggles. When going through a difficult time, you can look back and say, “Hey, remember when we did that? We can make it through this tough stretch.”

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Thanks, Brian! Love what you said about reflecting on those motivational memories – that could be a huge source of encouragement!

  • Matt Becker says:

    I love the suggestion to keep doing fun things. You don’t have to break the bank, but life has to have some joy in it. We aren’t paying off debt, but I definitely find that the more we talk about things and the more we make an effort to spend some of our money on quality time on each other, the easier the big money decisions become.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Exactly, Matt. Even if it’s just going for a walk or heading out for an ice cream cone, those little fun things keep the journey happy, and keep couples and families focused on their true priorities.

  • Holly@ClubThrifty says:

    Great points, Laurie! I like to think that my husband and I have a team mentality and that’s the reason that we get along so well. I think that money decisions turn out better when a couple makes decisions together.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      A team mentality is huge in any kind of partnership – especially marriage! It can literally mean the difference between success and failure. You guys seem like you’ve got that team attitude down pat, Holly. Great job. πŸ™‚

  • Michael Solari says:

    Working as a team is the best approach. My wife tells me that “you” statements are counterproductive! haha. When you’re married finances are combined and the only way to combat debt is if both are pulling in the same direction.

  • Broke Millennial says:

    I especially fond of the have fun point! I’m glad to hear you two still treat yourselves. I can’t imagine the tempers that would flare if you went into complete deprivation. I continue to love following your journey to get back in the black, Laurie.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      LOL, two stubborn people like us? No way! πŸ™‚ Really, though, Erin, we do treat ourselves occasionally, even if it is a frugal treat. So glad you’re enjoying our journey. We’ll be having some kind of massive party when it’s gone, that’s for sure. πŸ™‚

  • Travis @debtchronicles says:

    Oh my, yes tempers do flare. When you only have X amount of money, and both people have different ideas about how to spend it, things can get touchy. Remembering that we’re working towards a common goal, and that little thing called compromise goes a LONG way!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      EXCELLENT point, Travis!! It’s funny, we don’t argue so much about how to spend the cash (mostly b/c neither of our are spending any πŸ™‚ ), but more because of the existence of the debt itself. Strange, isn’t it. πŸ™‚

  • Andrew@LivingRichCheaply says:

    It definitely pays to have a team mentality. It wouldn’t work if my wife didn’t have a similar frugal mindset as I do. My co-worker is struggling with this program as his wife has not seen the frugal light. He can save all he wants but he she continues to spend, then it’s all for not. Also good tip about having fun sometimes, because if neither of you are happy then the debt payoff plan won’t work.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Oh, that’s SO hard. We have friends like that too, where one spouse or the other continues to spend while the other wants to save, and it’s tough stuff. Glad you guys are on the same page, Andrew. It makes marriage a whole lot more fun, doesn’t it!

  • Raquel@Practical Cents says:

    Being on the same page with your significant other is so important. My husband and I help each other stay on track whenever we start thinking of spending. I’ve been really impressed with how our mentality has improved when it comes to money and debt.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Isn’t it fun, Raquel? The progress you see when both partners are on the same page is exciting and fun. πŸ™‚

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup says:

    My wife wasn’t in debt when I met her, but I was. All I asked of her was to be encouraging and back me up. She certainly did that and that motivated me to get out of debt.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Grayson, that is awesome. That’s the kind of team mentality I’m talking about. You still took responsibility for the mess you created, but she supported you all the way without enabling you. What a great team the two of you have!

  • Shannon @ Financially Blonde says:

    I am a big fan of having fun and rewarding yourself through the process. My clients who are in a debt situation typically got there because of “too much fun.” So when they have to cut back, it typically depresses them and makes them want to quit the debt reduction plan. When they see they can have fun and still pay down debt, it definitely motivates them more.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Yeah, there definitely has to be a balance there. Too much fun isn’t good, nor is too little fun. We set a balance for fun money each month, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. That’s worked out well for us so far.

  • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse says:

    “Grace, Grace, Grace” …. so important in a marriage and even more important when you’re tackling debt. It is definitely easy for tempers to flare and blame to cast. There is a reason why money is a leading cause of divorce. As hard as it may be at times, you have to forgive yourself and your spouse and let go of past mistakes. You decided to get out of debt to strengthen your family and your marriage and that’s what you stay focused on.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      SO true, Shannon!! The debt will still be there, whether or not we choose to forgive ourselves and our spouses, so you might as well do it the peaceful way and hand out some grace. πŸ™‚

  • Anthony @ Thrifty Dad says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Financial decisions should be done as a team. As stressful and as hard as it can be, it’s much harder when you’re going at it alone and without any support. Great post, Laurie!

  • E.M. says:

    All good advice as usual! My parents definitely had fights over lack of money because they were under so much stress to pay their debt back. Then my dad was laid off, which made matters worse. Focusing on the end game of retirement and moving to a lower cost of living area that they loved helped keep things in perspective. They worked toward that goal, achieved it, and are now working to pay their debt off together. There’s less pressure on them which was a key factor.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Oh yes, E.M., we can identify with that. I think it’s great that your parents took the steps they needed to take in order to reach their goals. Not every couple chooses to do that. Huge kudos to them!

  • AverageJoe says:

    That team approach is crucial. Too often people get sidetracked into he said/she said, he wants/she wants and it becomes a train wreck.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Exactly, Joe!! If you start focusing too much on yourself and giving too much of the blame to the other party, it’s definitely a recipe for disaster.

  • anna says:

    Oh my gosh, you must be psychic because I’ve had a few ‘we’ scenarios these past couple of weeks and had challenges with it since it’s previously always been ‘me.’ I was going to write about it, as well, but I loved all your points on how to acclimate getting into the ‘we’ mindset. This came so timely, thank you, Laurie!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      LOL, must be! πŸ™‚ I’d love to hear your thoughts on this too, Anna. You guys are doing such a great job at analyzing this stuff before the wedding day, and I think that’s so smart!

  • Kay says:

    These are all great points to keep in mind. Paying off debt can be very stressful and challenging. Attacking with a united front ensures the best chance of success. I think the point about having fun is an important one. Definitely take a break in the form of a fun date or other time together and celebrate small victories along the way!

  • Amanda @ Passionately Simple Life says:

    Really really great points! The bf has been so supportive of me and my student loans, knowing that not only do I have a limited income, but I’m trying to pay off the loans asap. It’s been a lot of give and take. I love the idea of ‘grace and mercy’. I will try to combine that with patience next time we have a money rough patch.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Amanda, that’s great that your bf has been so supportive of you. Glad you are working toward combining grace and mercy with your patience – that has helped us a lot. Good luck on paying those loans of soon!

  • Dear Debt says:

    I would also add patience. Lots of patience. I think the first two relate to each other. Knowing what you are fighting against and be a team, so you are not fighting each other!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      SO true, Melanie! Patience has definitely been built with Rick and I as we walk this road, and it’s part of what keeps us going to drop more debt. Huge benefits if you are willing to be patient.

  • Catherine says:

    Dude, love this post! Such valuable lessons. It is so easy to let money put a wedge in your marriage due to lack of communication.

  • Ben says:

    My wife and I have been married 6 months now, and so far so good. She came in with a fair amount of student loans and I came in with thankfully, none. It’s all about “our” debt now, and I’ve had to learn not to hold grudges or to be bitter about it. Her debt is our debt and it’s not going away unless we pay it off…as a team!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Ben, that’s a terrific attitude to have. I love that you said “I had to learn not to hold grudges or to be bitter about it”. Holding grudges and being bitter are choices. It’s hard to overcome those emotions, but it can be done. Good for you guys! You’re off to a terrific start. πŸ™‚

  • jonnyp says:

    Thanx Laurie for sharing these nice thoughts…I think togetherness is the best thing after getting marriage.We can”t live our whole life alone that is why we tie bonds with our partners in terms of marriage. Now the main thing is we need to be more patient and also try to help our partners to keep patience,which helps anyone to take the right decision and here unity is more important.When situations are going wrong,just hold your partners hand,share thoughts and be patient which will help u to wipe out all the problems in ur life even when u r deeply in debt…enjoy life πŸ™‚

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