My boyfriend and I are 71 and 72 years old. He has been divorced three times and I have been widowed twice. We both have our own homes and good income.
The problem is that I am in debt to my last husband. My boyfriend always talks about being debt free, except for his mortgage. We are in love and committed to each other.
Do I have to tell you about my debt when we have told you that we don’t want to remarry? I am ashamed of the debt.
You are not obligated to disclose all aspects of your life and finances to your boyfriend. Of course, you would need to tell him that you are in debt if you were talking about getting married or moving in together. That is not the case here.
As long as your debt doesn’t affect you, you shouldn’t feel guilty about not telling them. But I wonder if you would feel better if you told him.
I’m going to paraphrase Dan Savage, the legendary love and sex advice columnist, and give you the advice he often repeats when someone is afraid to reveal something about themselves to their partner: If you tell your boyfriend about your debt, be revealing one thing about yourself. Your reaction will reveal everything about him.
What I hope is that you underestimate your boyfriend. He says he “always” talks about being debt free in addition to his mortgage. It may be that he’s just more open to talking about money than you are, so it feels like he’s constantly talking about his lack of debt.
Context matters a lot here too. Do you mention it because you are proud of the achievement? Or because you are excited about all the things you can do because your expenses are low? That is very different than if he is the type of person who thinks that just because he has no debt, anyone else who has debt is irresponsible.
Your boyfriend’s reaction isn’t the only thing to consider when making this decision. Be honest with yourself: By keeping this secret, are you spending more money because you are trying to pretend you have no obligation? When you are not honest about your financial situation, you often end up with a lifestyle that you cannot afford. You say yes to vacations and restaurants that are out of your budget because you don’t want anyone to suspect that you are struggling.
I have no idea if this is happening here. It does not say how much debt you have or if it is manageable. But if this debt eats up a significant chunk of your income and you’re a couple who tend to split things up relatively evenly when dating or traveling together, it’s something you need to seriously consider.
One of the benefits of telling your boyfriend is that opening up can be a relief. Keeping a bad situation a secret only adds to the stress. When you look at something through the lens of shame, it often becomes much worse than it actually is in your mind.
If you haven’t told anyone about this persistent debt, consider telling a trusted friend or family member first. Doing so may help you gauge your boyfriend’s reaction. You may also find that talking about this is not as scary as you imagined.
Regardless of how you proceed with your boyfriend, I hope you recognize that not talking about this debt will not make it go away. You need a plan for how to conquer this debt, whether it involves paying it off as quickly as possible or keeping the monthly payments as manageable as possible. If you haven’t already, consider making an appointment with a financial advisor or advisor to make sure your plan is sound. You may feel better telling your boyfriend that you have debt if you can also speak confidently about how he is handling it.
Not to increase your pressure, but the longer you keep this a secret, the harder it will be if you finally open up. Even the most sympathetic partner can be hurt to learn that he has kept his debts secret for years because he feared his reaction. On the contrary, if you do not react well, your pain will get worse after spending many years together.
I won’t try to pretend that knowing his debt is a deal breaker for him wouldn’t be incredibly painful. I certainly understand why the easiest thing to do is not talk about this when you are happy and in love. Still, I think it’s important to know if he cares more about you or your net worth.
Whatever you choose, I hope you can stop feeling embarrassed about your debt. It is not a character flaw. Life can throw you a lot of unexpected obstacles. Sometimes your battle wounds come in the form of debt. Hopefully, after seven decades in the world, your boyfriend is smart enough to recognize that.
Robin Hartill is a Certified Financial Planner and Senior Writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your misleading money questions to AskPenny@thepennyhoarder.com.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers around the world earn and save money by sharing unique career opportunities, personal stories, giveaways, and more. Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest growing private media company in the US in 2017.