The relief that comes from resolving financial difficulties has a generative power. A marriage that survived the challenge -- without the casualties of lost respect or bitterness -- will likely grow stronger, says Stovall. The process of paying off debt also encourages couples to communicate more honestly. Dlugozima says his organization frequently receives calls from people who want to fix big financial blunders before their spouse finds out. But for couples such as the Hildebrandts and the Bosticks, full disclosure allows partners to attack the problem -- not each other.
If a couple is functioning better, "that absolutely has a trickle-down effect on children," Stovall says. What's happening on a psychological level is a massive reduction of stress, making the parents less anxious or depressed. As Bostick drew near to paying off her debt, her adult daughter told her that "I was a lot nicer to be around. I wasn't as snappy."
Kinney finds that parents also become more vocal about teaching their children responsible financial behavior and sharing their success story with neighbors, friends and even strangers. When Hildebrandt shared her story with a few publications, she received letters from folks who heard her story and were encouraged. "They said, 'What you did in four years is somebody's house!' One said, 'I don't have that much debt; I'm going to start paying off my mortgage sooner.'"