The burden of debt

16 June 2020

Being in debt can place a huge strain on a relationship.

Having enough money is a basic need, so when you’re under the pressure of debt, it can make you feel scared, upset, stressed and worried about the future. Some people find it can creep into every moment, and make it difficult to enjoy any aspect of their life.

Staying strong as a couple can become tough. Debt can cause one or both partners to become withdrawn and cold; for others it might lead to repeated arguments. Depending on how the debt was accumulated, it can also create issues over trust.

How might it affect our relationship?

It’s not uncommon for the stress of debt to cause couples to turn against each other. You may find yourself blaming your partner for what’s happening — especially if they were directly or indirectly responsible for the debt.

It can be tricky to talk constructively about it, because being in debt is so stressful. And it can affect lots of things that might be important to you. Your family home may be under threat or you may not be able to pay for a sporting activity your child enjoys doing.

Over time, you may find that you’re becoming increasingly withdrawn from each other — not wanting to speak because you know it’ll cause arguments. This kind of situation can expose and exacerbate prior negative communication in the relationship, making it even harder to address the debt as a couple.

Sometimes one person accumulates a debt without the knowledge of their partner. Often though there are signs that someone is having financial difficulties: you might notice they are spending more or less, for example if they start going out less or buying cheaper food.

Finding out that your partner has run up a debt without telling you can feel like a betrayal. We usually assume that our partner has our best interests at heart — in fact, it’s an assumption that’s key to the stability of most healthy relationships — so finding out they’ve done something to compromise this can have a profound, emotional effect.

If you have a debt that you haven’t told your partner about, although it’s a hard conversation to have, you need to talk to your partner. It’s difficult to address debt without both partners being involved, as you will need to look at both of your incomes and outgoings. You might like to think about getting debt advice before you talk so you can show your partner you’ve started to look at solutions and options for dealing with the debt.

It’ll also be important to find a way to address any damage to your relationship that the debt might have caused. even a small amount of pressure can cause difficulties so it’s always worth checking in with one another and talking about how you’re doing.

Sometimes, it’s necessary for one or both partners to acknowledge their responsibility for getting into debt. This can be difficult, but it’s often a crucial part of beginning to rebuild trust. If one person feels they’ve been let down or betrayed by the other, this will likely remain an issue until it’s directly acknowledged or addressed. This applies even if one person felt they were acting for the right reasons — borrowing so they could afford to pay for things for the children, for instance. It’s usually necessary to listen as much as it is to talk in this sort of discussion. You need to get a clear idea of how the situation has affected each other so you can appreciate one another’s perspective.

Getting help

If you think you may need help with rebuilding trust, relationship counselling may be a way forward. People often come to counselling for help with issues surrounding debt, and we can find you a counsellor who is trained to understand and help you discuss it. Your counsellor won’t judge you, tell you what to do or take sides — they’ll simply listen and try to help you find a way back to working together as a couple. If you’d like to talk with one of our counsellors give our friendly appointments team a call on 01234 356350.


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