There are many reasons people seek divorce, but you might be surprised to learn that debt is a prime reason. A recent study found that 54 percent of people felt that a spouse’s debt was a reason to consider divorce.
A couple’s net worth or income does not make them immune to debt. In fact, the top one percent of income earners in the U.S. hold 4.6 percent of all debt and 2.1 percent of all consumer debt. Fighting about financial matters makes a couple 30 percent more likely to divorce. Debt can be a pressing concern no matter a couple’s financial status.
Debt Creates Stress
Large amounts of debt can create stress within a marriage. Both partners may be impacted by the stress of being over-leveraged, which can contribute to conflict, shame, and self-worth struggles. They may blame each other for the financial problems and find their marriage on rocky footing.
If the debt is only one person’s responsibility, the indebted spouse can feel enormous stress which may impact the couple’s relationship. The indebted spouse may feel shame at accruing large amounts of debt which may cause them to emotionally withdraw. The other spouse may feel resentful that the indebted partner has created this situation, question their judgment, and have a lack of trust moving forward. This, in turn, harms the relationship between the spouses.
Business debt can also weigh on a marriage, and the stress of a financially draining business can affect both partners and upend financial stability.
Disagreements About Spending
When debt is an issue, the couple may find it difficult to agree on expenditures. One partner may have no problems with spending, while the other may feel that debt should influence their joint decision-making. These two different approaches can place a strain on the marriage, with the couple consistently disagreeing about spending and budgeting.
When debt results from one spouse secretly spending joint funds in a way that the other spouse would not agree to, it can damage the trust that exists in the relationship. Alternately, hiding debt from the other partner and not keeping them informed can demonstrate a lack of respect for the other partner. The spouse who is left in the dark may feel betrayed, cheated, and tricked by deceptive financial maneuvers designed to conceal debt and spending.
Conflicting Goals and Financial Approaches
If one spouse is comfortable with a lot of debt and the other is not, the couple may have different goals when it comes to finances or a different approach to money management. Often debt is necessary to grow a business, or it may be part of a financial strategy that requires leveraging assets or obtaining financing. One spouse may feel comfortable with that strategy while the other simply feels uncomfortable with the idea of debt, and large debt in particular.
If the couple has different tolerances for financial risk, it can be difficult to come to an agreement about debt. One partner may see it as absolutely necessary and an inherent part of a growth strategy, while the other may feel the exposure is unacceptable.
Different approaches to debt are challenging to manage in a marriage, just as differing approaches to parenting, fidelity, shared responsibility, and intimacy may be. What seems reasonable and normal to one spouse may strike the other as unmanageable. As always, if the couple cannot find common ground, mutual understanding, or at the very least accept that they think differently about an issue, the marriage may be in trouble.
Prevent Debt from Ending Your Marriage
If debt is creating conflict in your marriage, all is not lost. Try these strategies to keep your relationship on track:
- Set joint financial goals. If you create a plan together, you can work in concert to achieve it. Debt management is a part of that plan.
- Understand your money personalities. You and your spouse may have completely different financial approaches, and until you reveal them, compare them, and work on melding them, you will never find agreement. A marriage therapist can help you work together.
- Be honest. If you keep secrets from each other or simply neglect to share all the information about your financial situation, it can compromise your mutual trust.
- Revamp your financial arrangements. If you have differing approaches to money, it’s not too late to start with a new approach. Instead of having joint finances, you can create two separate financial profiles. It is also a wise idea to create a postnuptial agreement designating what assets and debts are joint and separate. If you do divorce, there is a clear agreement to follow that will clarify the financial settlement if a divorce, in fact, becomes necessary.
Debt can create tension and rifts in any marriage, but when debt is substantial, it is challenging to navigate as a couple.