Debt and Romance
Debt can be a source of pain, stress and shame for many, especially those who are so deep in it that they feel there’s no way out. One thing that many people don’t consider, however, is how it can affect romantic relationships.
It’s important to learn the statistics surrounding debt in regard to relationships and learn the best ways to manage it while keeping your relationship healthy and open.
The Stats Don’t Lie
There are several hard truths to confront when it comes to how debt affects relationships and marriages. The fact is, 35 percent of people bring credit card debt into their marriages. 45 percent of millennials do the same, and 25 percent of couples overall stated that debt had a negative impact on their relationship.
“Unpaid debts slowly can chip away at a relationship and the couple’s dreams,” marriage counselor Alisa Ruby Bash said. “In some cases, the person without the debt may lose respect or judge their partner for past irresponsibility or mistakes. And feeling limited, unsure about how to get out of your debt, and worried, is never sexy.”
It’s not just credit card debt that can impact a marriage, though. Student debt can also put a strain on newlyweds and relationships in general.
“There are a couple of previous economic studies that find student loans to affect other areas of graduates’ lives, for example their career choices, so it seemed reasonable to expect marriage decisions to be affected as well,” Dora Gicheva, assistant economics professor at the University of North Carolina, said.
Such debt can be particularly taxing on a couple if one person has an extreme amount and the other has very little.
“It does play a special role when one person is coming into a relationship with quite a bit of student loans and one person is coming in with little to none,” financial planner Karen Carr said. “I met with a couple … one had significant student loan debt coming off his personal account as a monthly payment and the other had absolutely no loans. So they really had to have a frank discussion about the fact that one person had a lot more discretionary income than the other, although their salaries were very similar.”
A recent study showed that the average amount of debt one person brings into a relationship is $4,100 — meaning that two people with that average can have as high as $8,200 in debt when they enter into a marriage.
“That’s a significant debt load, enough to put a strain on any relationship,” Kevin Yuann, general manager of credit cards with NerdWallet, said. “Add in the cost of a wedding, student loans and expenses of being a family, you are facing an uphill battle to happily ever after.”
If this is the case for you and your significant other, it’s important to identify the types of personalities between the two of you and be aware of who has more dangerous spending habits.
“Conflicts arise over money personalities: who’s the spender, who’s the saver, who likes to track their spending down to the very penny, and who is more of a flier—meaning they just let what happens happen,” Carr said. “Just because you do things differently and just because you go about saving or spending or paying down debt differently doesn’t mean you can’t exist within the same couple. You don’t have to change the other person.”
Transparency Is Key
As with any aspect of a relationship, openness and transparency is a vital part of getting over financial hurdles and not letting money destroy your marriage. It’s important to identify the real issue, like frivolous spending or compulsive buying, and deal with that right away. It’s also important to keep other aspects of your relationship strong amid financial struggles, so you don’t lose sight of what really matters.
“Spend time connecting physically and emotionally, and try to have fun,” Bash said. “Both people are probably suffering and need extra nurturing, comforting, and love. Meditate, do yoga, and find a way to muster compassion in your heart for the person who carries the debt. Try to understand what a heavy burden it must be for them, and the guilt and shame that they may feel.”
No matter what type of financial situation you’re in, there is hope for your marriage. Just because the statistics might not be on the winning side doesn’t mean that your relationship can’t survive debt. Communication, willingness to fix problems, hard work and understanding can go a long way in giving couples the chance to survive in even the worst of situations.