Debt and your relationship: the struggle is real

It’s a fair to say that money worries, budgeting, and debt are among the main causes of conflict and stress among couples and parents. It will come to no surprise then that couples who enter problem debt are more likely to experience relationship breakdown compared to other couples. Debt allows individuals to consume at a higher level than their income warrants, but at the price of having less future financial and time options[1]

 


Stats that speak...

Research has found that parents in couples have reported that a lack of money and working out how to budget with what they have are among the main causes of arguments and stress in their households[2].

A study using data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing looking at the experiences of older adults in the UK reported that those who entered problem debt were over twice as likely to experience marital breakdown[3].

Relationship stability

Where one partner is under financial strain, it is likely that the other will be affected, whether it is due to increased stress in the household or shared debt. The financial strain leads to more conflict, which impacts on relationship satisfaction and stability.

Research suggests that in the context of couple’s relationships, when one partner is under financial strain, the other partner is also likely to be experiencing some financial strain due to crossover effects, the presence of common stressors, or both[4]. Furthermore, when under financial strain, partners tend to become more hostile and psychologically aggressive with each other, which in turn may lead to relationship instability and/or dissatisfaction[5].

Newlyweds and debt

A study has found that for newlyweds – although expectations for the future were high after marriage, debt may make it harder for them to make their reality match their expectations[6]. As couples assume debt, they are more likely to spend less time together, argue more about their finances, and feel that their relationship is unfair[7]. Changes in these behaviours and perceptions may then drive down marital satisfaction.

Clearing debt can improve relationship quality

Topics such as debt that cause disagreements or conflicts for couples may require additional time, empathy, and guidance[8]. It’s important to note that money differences are likely to persist and they do require explicit attempts at effective communication and problem-solving – handling this strain well may require more effort than other issues[9]. It’s interesting to know that research found that couples who had completely paid off their debt experienced significantly improved relationship quality[10]. 

Dealing with debt and the issues around it will likely take time and understanding. Couples may also require external guidance from debt organisations such as The Debt Advice Foundation. Couples may need to be aware that money issues are likely to persist, and they may need support with this. Relationship counsellors at Relate may be able to help couples deal with relationship issues as a result of debt. The good news is that research suggests that relationship quality improves once debt has been paid off.

 

Feel the need to talk this through further? You could start by talking to us on our online forum, from the 32,000 dads on forum - you’ll probably come across someone who has been in your shoes but a little further on in the journey to be able to offer you support.

Want to read some of our related article on this subject? Take a look at this one...

Debt Advice

 

References 

[1] Clarkberg, M., & Moen, P. (2001). Understanding the time-squeeze married couples' preferred and actual work-hour strategies. American Behavioral Scientist, 44(7), 1115-1136

[2] 4Children. (2016). “Britain’s Families: Thriving or Surviving?” http://www.4children.org.uk/Page/Thriving-Or-Surviving

[3] Kneale, D., & Trinley, W. (2013). Tales of the Tallyman: Debt and Problem Debt among Older People. International Longevity Centre - UK. http://www.ilcuk.org.uk/index.php/publications/publication_details/tales_of_the_tallyman_debt_and_problem_debt_among_older_people

[4] 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 Relationships, 27(6), 781-799

[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 Relationships, 27(6), 781-799

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

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

[8] Papp, L. M., Cummings, E. M., & Goeke‐Morey, M. C. (2009). For richer, for poorer: Money as a topic of marital conflict in the home. Family Relations, 58(1), 91-103

[9] Papp, L. M., Cummings, E. M., & Goeke‐Morey, M. C. (2009). For richer, for poorer: Money as a topic of marital conflict in the home. Family Relations, 58(1), 91-103

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

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