It’s thought that 8.3 million people in the UK are in debt and one in seven of these have hidden money problems from their partner, according to relationships charity Relate.
A poll of 5,000 adults by the charity revealed that the top reasons for not opening up about debt issues were: feeling ashamed, being scared of a partner’s reaction and feeling their partner had different approaches to money.
Nicky*, 49, from Gloucester, and her husband got into debt when remortgaging to pay off credit cards and personal loans. It almost cost them their marriage.
“Bringing up our three children was expensive and it was ridiculously easy to get into debt,” she said. “We found it easier to ignore the debts and carry on spending than confront each other about it.
“When we eventually did start trying to talk about it we’d approach it in the wrong way which meant we’d argue and, ironically, go out and spend more money.
“We are paying off the debt now but we had a lot of slip-ups and it could have destroyed our marriage.”
The poll formed part of Relate’s report ‘In too deep: an investigation into debt and relationships’, which uncovered a “relentless cycle” in which debt problems cause conflict, mistrust and relationship breakdown.
The report found that 16% of adults in Britain are currently in ‘problem debt’, when you are unable to keep up with payments and it spirals out of control. Of these, one in five (20%) experienced a relationship breakdown because of debt and almost four in 10 said debt had a negative impact on their relationship.
Worryingly, one quarter admitted to arguing about money or financial issues with their partner at least once a fortnight.
In light of the report’s findings, Relate has warned that debt and money worries are likely to place increased pressure on the nation’s relationships for the foreseeable future. It has called for the government to fund free relationship counselling for families in problem debt who are experiencing relationship issues as a result.
How to talk to your partner about debt
Talking about money worries can be tough, but it’s very important. Relate counsellor, Martin Burrow, told HuffPost UK that deliberately hiding debt problems can have the same effect on a partner as having an affair.
“Debt is a stressful thing for anyone to go through, but keeping things under wraps from your partner can cause more problems in the long-run,” he said.
“Hidden debt can increase conflict and mistrust and put extra pressure on the relationship. If you tell them now, they may be angry at first but it will allow you to tackle the issue together as a couple and seek the support you need.”
Here is his advice for discussing money worries with a loved one:
:: Start by saying you have something to tell them and arrange a time to speak when you have no distractions.
:: Explain what has happened and how long this has been going on for.
:: If you’ve put off telling them for some time, say that you wanted to and explain what was holding you back.
:: Be prepared for them to be angry and give them time to process what you’ve told them.
:: Be proactive in coming up with a joint plan to tackle the issue.
:: You may want to speak to Relate about what support is available in your area. Do seek support on the financial side of things too from an organisation such as Christians Against Poverty, National Debtline, StepChange, Citizens Advice or Money Advice Service so you can begin to tackle the debt together.
:: Keep communicating about finances regularly going forward to ensure it isn’t a taboo subject. Honesty and transparency is important to regain and maintain trust.
*Nicky’s name has been changed to protect her identity.