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Dealing with debt in a relationship

Tags: debt, money worries, relationship advice
Categories: Money

Whether it’s a credit card or a bank loan, help from a family member, a quick dip into the overdraft, or even a payday loan, almost everyone has some experience of borrowing money.

In between borrowing money and paying it back, we are in debt. As long as we have the means to pay it back, debt can be a useful way of managing money - but it can end up costing more than it is worth.

How debt affects your relationship

Money worries are one of the biggest causes of stress and arguments in UK households [1], sitting in the top three relationship strains for 55 percent of couples and for parents, it’s 61 percent [2]. A quarter of people have found money worries getting in the way of their sex lives [3] and one study suggests that couples who get into problem debt are twice as likely to break up [4].

If you are worried about debt, it’s better that your partner finds out sooner rather than later. When you are under pressure financially, your partner will pick up on it and bear some of the brunt of that strain. Many people feel ashamed of debt, or think they can handle it better alone. However, keeping debt a secret can just make things worse. By sharing the concern with your partner, you can share the burden and work together towards a solution [5].

Getting into debt

Couples can get into debt when entering a new phase of the relationship, like moving in together, getting married, or having a baby. These times are always challenging, no matter how positive and exciting the change. Your relationship is intensified and magnified as you step up the commitment and costs can escalate.

In these times, couples tend to have big expectations of the future, and how their lives will be [6]. While it can be tempting to load up a few credit cards to get the things you want, it’s important not to borrow more than you can reasonably plan to pay back.

Being in debt makes it much harder to live up to your expectations of the future anyway. The more debt you have, the more likely you are to argue, and the less time you are likely to spend together [6].

How to deal with debt

  • Talk to your partner. Get things out in the open and share the burden.
  • Put all your debts in front of you. Open your post and check your accounts. Hiding from debt won’t make it go away and could make it worse.
  • Make a budget. Look at what you are spending and where you can cut back.
  • Work out how much you can afford to pay off each month.
  • Contact your creditors to can organise a payment plan, even if it’s only a small amount.
  • Speak to a debt advice organisation. Free services like The Debt Counsellors or The Debt Advice Foundation can help you get all this information together and offer tips on how to negotiate repayment plans with creditors.

Dealing with debt takes time and understanding [7]. You can make things easier by getting help from debt organisations, but keep in mind that money issues can persist. You may need support not only with money issues, but also with the relationship strains that can accompany them.

If you and your partner want some extra support, counsellors such as those at Relate may be able to help you deal with relationship issues, whether debt-related or not [7]. The good news is that once the debt has been paid off, relationship quality has been shown to improve again [6].

References

[1] 4Children. (2016). “Britain’s Families: Thriving or Surviving?”

[2] Undy, Helen, Barbara Bloomfield, Kate Jopling, Laura Marcus, Peter Saddington, and Patrick Sholl. 2015. “The Way We Are Now: The State of the UK’s Relationships 2015.” Relate, Relationships Scotland, Marriage Care.

[3] Ann Summers & Relate. (2012). “The Sex Census.”

[4] Kneale, D., & Trinley, W. (2013). Tales of the Tallyman: Debt and Problem Debt among Older People. International Longevity Centre - UK.

[5] Falconier, M. K., & Epstein, N. B. (2010). Relationship satisfaction in Argentinean couples under economic strain: Gender differences in a dyadic stress model. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships27(6), 781-799.

[6] Dew, J. (2008). Debt Change and Marital Satisfaction Change in Recently Married Couples. Family Relations, 57 (1): 60–71.

[7] Papp, L. M., Cummings, E. M., & Goeke‚ÄźMorey, M. C. (2009). For richer, for poorer: Money as a topic of marital conflict in the home. Family Relations58(1), 91-103.

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