Man in therapy pondering the damage debt does to his relationships

How debt damages your personal relationship(s)

Debt can cause an unbelievable amount of pressure on relationships, causing disputes, quarrels and frustration from either partner.

In a debt-ridden environment, staying strong as a couple can be challenging. Either or both partners can become cold and withdrawn from each other, leading to repeated arguments on how the debt was accumulated in the first place.


Moreover, trust within a relationship can be damaged or, worse, broken.

How does debt become a problem in relationships?

Couples get into debt for several reasons.


The most common is a significant life event, like getting married, illness or having a child. Changes in circumstances can have a considerable impact on a couple’s finances, and adjusting can be financially challenging.


Another reason is making financial commitments that they cannot keep, for example, buying a house or taking out a short-term loan that they cannot afford in the long-term.


When couples don’t have enough income, they dip into their credit cards and overdrafts, taking out new loans just to make ends meet. The debt amounts may not be huge at first, but the compound interest and failure to repay escalate the size of the debt.

How does debt affect couples?

The stress of debt typically causes couples to turn on each other, blaming one another for why they are in the situation they are in, whether they were directly or indirectly responsible for the debt itself.


In fact, according to the UK website Relate, one in four people who have been in debt say that has harmed their relationship.


Couples who don’t wish to cause further arguments end up not speaking to each other and exacerbating the debt situation because failing to talk in a relationship makes it harder for a couple to address their debt.


Debt in a relationship also causes a significant breach of trust between couples. It’s not uncommon for one partner within the couple to accumulate debt with the knowledge of the other.


The ‘betrayed’ spouse only notices when the other spends more or less. Maybe they are buying cheaper food but spending more on holidays personal gifts, or a lifestyle that they cannot keep up.


Finding out that a partner has run up debt can be a real betrayal.


Couples assume that their partner has their best interests at heart, an assumption that is key to the stability of most relationships. Finding out the opposite can have a profound effect on the individual betrayed.

What can couples do to address their debts?

If one partner has debt that they haven’t told their partner about, then they need to tell them as soon as possible. It will be a tough conversation to have. However, couples cannot address debt without being involved, as together, both will need to examine their incomes and expenses.


The next step is to begin taking practical measures to address the debt itself.

Debt advisors provide objective advice on helping those in debt and do not always suggest bankruptcy. They also are not judgemental or will blame you for getting yourself into debt. 


Whilst it can be daunting to get help, being considered reckless or irresponsible, two-thirds of people say they have taken positive actions to repay the debt or have even cleared the indebtedness after taking debt advice.


Debt advisers can help couples by


      Deal with any letters couples may be getting

      Help couples put together a budget

      Share tips on how couples can save money or increase income.


Once advice has been given and received, it is critical couples act immediately to implement that advice.


Stalling further will only increase the debt.


When it comes to paying off debts, couples must support one another. Even if the debt caused issues in the first place, couples would need to put their negative feelings aside to get back on their feet.

What about the relationship?

It’s critical to address what damage the debt has done to your relationship. The level of damage depends entirely on the circumstances of the couple concerned.


Couples can only do that if they discuss with each other how they are feeling regarding the debt and their relationship.


When one person in the relationship has more debt than the other or is responsible for the debt in the first place, the other partner can subconsciously blame them for an absence of financial decisions in their lives, e.g. buying a house, car or a holiday.


What couples must realise is that over time, the debt itself is a burden that both must carry – because blaming the other will not help them return to normalcy any quicker.


Addressing why the debt occurred in the first place is a significant factor in moving forward as a couple. Effectively tackling any debt requires working together and not obsessing over it.


However sometimes one or both partners must acknowledge their responsibility for getting into debt.


This can be difficult and often painful, but necessary to rebuild trust again. Remember that the partner concerned may have even had the best interests of the relationship or family, for example, buying things for the children.


Couples should attempt to keep the situation in perspective.

How can couples avoid sinking back into debt?

Learning how to manage finances and preparing for unexpected costs can help couples avoid getting into debt again.


Couples must learn how to budget and place aside some funds for a rainy day, whether to help maintain repayments or pay for one of life’s little emergencies. What’s vital is constant communication between couples. According to a UK website, StepChange, the partner dealing with the debt should do the following:


  1. Reassure them that they’re dealing with the problem and that they’re seeking help from a free and confidential debt advice charity. This reassures the other partner that they will not be betrayed again.


  1. Tell them that they’re making progress, especially if they are following a debt solution, and that they’re moving closer to clearing debt. Telling partners this lets them know there is light at the end of the tunnel to the current debt problem.


  1. Ask for their support in making things easier. Can their partner burden some of the household finances for a while whilst they are paying off their debts? They may say that as this is your problem, you must deal with it. However, the debt shared will not only clear the debt faster, but it will also demonstrate that your relationship is solid together.


If couples think they need help to address their relationship issues, then relationship counselling – a counsellor will help address issues surrounding trust and debts.


Debt can be heartbreaking to talk about, let alone admit that they have one. Discussing debt with those closest to you can be even worse, with 21% of people worrying they will break their family’s trust. Yet, to repay and clear the debt, it is critical for many in relationships to do just that.


Debt causes unimaginable strain on relationships, which scares couples in addressing the debt in the first place. Having a frank and open discussion will be difficult, but it will ultimately help in taking action to not only clear the debt but to help prevent getting into further debt in the future.


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