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Ask Dave

Acknowledge the Weirdness

Brian and his wife married six months ago. Brian has $30,000 in debt, and his wife has $40,000 in savings. How do they use her savings to pay off the credit card debt without leaving a bitter aftertaste?

QUESTION: Brian in Chicago just started the Baby Steps. He and his wife married six months ago and would like to combine finances. Brian has $30,000 in credit card debt, and his wife has $40,000 in savings. How do they use her savings to pay off the credit card debt without leaving a bitter aftertaste?

ANSWER: One thing is there’s that reality. You just say that out loud. This sucks. It just does. It feels bad. Why? Because it’s bad. It feels awkward because it’s awkward. You’re like, “I just married this woman, and so she’s writing me checks.” That just really feels bad. I don’t like the way that feels.

Here’s the other thing. She knew all this, and she figured you were worth it. You didn’t lie to her. You didn’t hide any of this. You didn’t spring this on her later. She went into this full-on knowing that for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health.

The way I look at it is this is a little bit behavior-oriented, but some of this you’re the victim of in your case. It’s just the situation, and so it’s kind of like you say you know what? I’ve got cancer. I don’t think it’s really bad. I think it’s survivable, and the doc is saying we’re going to have to go through like a year of chemo. Then I’m going to be okay because it’s like stage 1 or whatever. And she says, “Well, okay, I want to marry you anyway.” Are you supposed to feel guilty about that? There are going to be parts of her life and parts of her that she’s going to be leaning on you. This is marriage.

It does feel weird. I think it’s okay just to say it out loud that it just doesn’t feel right. The other option is to just try to live separate lives, and that’s just not a quality marriage situation. Acknowledge the awkwardness of it and say that it feels weird and say that it makes both of us kind of angry at the ex—as long as we don’t leave anything tucked in our spirit to where you turn shame into guilt or she turns discomfort into bitterness. It’s just got to be a clean transaction. The way you do that a lot of times is you just say it out loud. But I’m also not going to say I did a bad thing by making sure that my daughter didn’t leave the state. I think that was the right kind of move.

Maybe you even wait a little bit more time after you’ve been married a little bit longer. Maybe you wait six months before you pay it off or something. Sometimes the way to handle weirdness is just to say out loud there’s weirdness in the room. Then it is a little less weird the more we say it out loud. It is what it is. I don’t know anything else to tell you. I can tell you that a year from now, 100% of the time I would pay the credit card debt off and ask you two to get over it. If you want to wait a little bit of time and let some of this settle in your spirits as you go through, I would be okay with that to kind of get used to the weirdness. But I’m not going to go forward with separate finances as a long-term process. It’s not profitable. Couples need to work together. They need to be there for each other. They need to be willing to take a bullet for each other. That’s how marriage works. It’s not a joint venture.