As the old saying goes, the quickest way to get out of a hole is to stop digging. When couples feel overwhelmed by school loans, making a commitment to get rid of that debt can strengthen their relationship bond and ease their anxiety.

"Finding practical strategies feels empowering," said Catherine Solheim, who teaches personal finance in the Family Social Science Department at the University of Minnesota.

Solheim recommends that the couple sit down with their bills, pay stubs, bank and loan statements and tax returns and have a clear-eyed conversation about the state of their finances.

"They need to do this when nobody's tired, emotional or angry," she advised.

Then it's a matter of developing a disciplined strategy to cut expenses, earn additional income — and agree to consistently dedicate every possible dollar to easing the debt.

To keep the motivation, Solheim suggests creating a chart to show their efforts.

"It's kind of like losing weight. You need to see your progress," she said.

Setting joint goals and achieving them together can cement the partnership, Solheim said, but both parties have to be equally committed for the plan — and the relationship — to succeed.

Kevyn Burger