I’ve Secretly Put Us in Serious Debt: How To Break the News to Your Spouse

Woman with credit cards and bills spread on the floor

A few years ago, an acquaintance ran up a huge credit card bill and didn’t tell his wife about it. Eventually, she discovered the giant debt — and went through the roof. She felt betrayed and deceived, and who could blame her? She couldn’t find a way to trust her husband again. As a result, the couple divorced.

Be Aware: What Not To Do While Trying To Get Out of Debt
Learn:  30 Things You Do That Can Mess Up Your Credit Score

If you’ve secretly put your family in debt, there is a way out. Here’s how to tell your spouse before it’s too late.

1. Stop

You might be riddled with guilt and dying to unload all the truth, but please wait. Coming clean might make you feel better for a few minutes, but if you spill your guts without thinking it through, you might do irreparable harm to your relationship. Slow down and go through these steps before doing anything.

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Related: 30 Ways To Dig Yourself Out of Debt

2. Find the Root Problem

When you ultimately approach your spouse, there will be a lot of questions. Be ready with answers. Look at your spending and determine exactly why you have these debts. Do you need to cut way back on spending? Do you need to get a second job to increase income? What exactly is the problem and what are you going to do differently to make sure you never create this kind of problem again?

Once you figure how you’re going to keep your spending in line with your income, you have to work out a plan to fix your debt problem. One way to do that is by reducing your interest expense by rolling the debt over to lower-cost alternatives like Lending Club.

However you do it, make sure that you have a plan worked out that will A) get you out of the debt you currently face and B) make sure you never recreate this kind of problem ever again.

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3. Accept Responsibility

One you’ve worked out the solution, you are ready to speak with your spouse. Show him or her the exact nature of the problem. Pull out the credit card bills, get your credit score and share that as well — don’t hold back and don’t try to sugar coat it.

Explain how the problem was created and what steps you’ve taken to solve your debt problem. Above all, accept responsibility. Don’t try to blame anyone else; just own up to what you have done.

See: 10 Things To Do Now If You Have a 500 Credit Score

4. Empathize

When you run up debt and don’t tell your spouse about it, you’ve actually created two problems: The first problem is the debt, of course. However, an ever greater problem is your lack of transparency.

I know you thought you could fix the problem before it got this bad. I know you never meant to hurt or deceive your spouse, but your husband or wife may not understand this. Take a moment to trade places and imagine how the other person is feeling. Tell your spouse you understand how badly you would feel in their situation and how sorry you are.

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5. Promise To Never Do It Again

It goes without saying that you’ll have to make sure this never happens again if you want to keep your relationship intact. But put something behind those words. Have duplicate statements of your bank and credit cards sent to your spouse, too. This will eliminate the need to trust you on blind faith – your spouse will have the records.

Everyone makes mistakes. If you run up serious debt and then have to tell your spouse, it doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed. Take responsibility for what has happened. Do whatever is required to fix the problem. Put in safeguards to make sure your spouse is never kept in the dark again. Do these things and you might come out of this with an even stronger relationship than ever.

Have you ever had a big financial problem that you had to spring on your spouse? How did you tell him or her? What would you do differently today?

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Last updated: Sept. 14, 2021

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About the Author

Neal Frankle, Certified Financial Planner (r) launched Wealth Pilgrim in 2009 in response to the financial turmoil that resulted from the economic crisis of 2008.
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