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54% of people believe a partner with debt is a reason to consider divorce — here are other ways debt may affect your marriage

"Debt can cause conflict in a marriage but it's all about communication," says Dr. Regine Muradian.

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skynesher | E+ | Getty Images

Is your marriage experiencing problems and stress around money? You are not alone.

According to a SunTrust Bank survey conducted online by Harris Poll, 35% of people blame finances for the stress they experience in their relationships — and, often, at the heart of many couples' financial strife is debt.

Being in debt can cause you to forego the things you would really like to prioritize as a couple, which can lead to a delay in you reaching various goals. In fact, recent findings from National Debt Relief report that 38% of couples miss out on dating and date nights when in debt.

People have such strong negative feelings around debt that 3 in 5 Americans have considered putting off marriage to avoid inheriting their partner's debt, according to the same study. And what's more is 54% of respondents believe that having a partner who is in debt is a major reason to consider divorce.

"Debt can cause conflict and friction in a relationship, but it's all about communication and how each partner views their debt," explains Dr. Regine Muradian, a psychologist and National Debt Relief Financial Wellness Board Member.

While these indications seem dismal, there are some steps couples can take when it comes to paying down debt together. Here's how debt can affect your marriage and what you can do about it:

Disagreements on how you spend money

Considerable amounts of debt can lead to partners disagreeing on how to spend disposable income. Like maybe one person wants to aggressively pay down debt and throw extra money at the couple's balance, but the other person wants to take more vacations together. These differing goals around debt, budgeting and spending can make partners feel as though money isn't being used in the way they would like.

And these disagreements can be prolonged if high-interest charges make it feel as though you'll never completely pay off your balance. Without additional debt, however, you're able to put more of your money toward other goals, like saving for a house, investing or taking more vacations together each year.

Financial infidelity and secrecy around spending

Financial infidelity is when a partner deliberately chooses not to tell the truth regarding money. A survey from U.S. News & World Report reveals that the biggest money-related lies that pop up in relationships are secretive purchases (31.4%), hiding debts (28.7%) and dishonesty about income (22.6%).

Partners who already feel the strain of high debt may feel inclined to hide any additional debt — or lie about their true debt balance — to avoid shame and alleviate some of the stress on their partner. In fact, TD Bank's 2019 Love and Money survey found that 43% of respondents hide substantial credit card debt from their partner.

Furthermore, stressful amounts of debt can make one or both partners feel like they need to hide some of their spending — like daily coffee runs or other purchases they really wanted — to avoid the disappointment of their spouse.

Feelings of shame and low motivation

Debt can be a powerful tool to help you reach your goals but for the most part, people tend to feel a sense of shame or embarrassment around carrying debt. A NerdWallet survey found that 87% of respondents would be embarrassed to take on credit card debt.

There are many reasons for this. For one, debt has become associated with the image of overspending and irresponsibility when it comes to one's personal finances. The sentiment has been that if you carry debt, you're irresponsible with money. According to that same NerdWallet survey, 60% of respondents believe that the most common way to rack up credit card debt is to spend more than you can afford.

Additionally, high amounts of debt can lead to feelings of isolation. According to the American Bankruptcy Institute, debt carriers may avoid interacting with friends or family because they feel like they don't have extra money to spend on a night out or an activity. Married couples in debt may also feel isolated from their friends and family members if high amounts of debt are forcing them to be more restrictive. Eventually, this could lead to one or both partners feeling hopeless, depressed and even like they're alone on this journey.

"Debt can directly impact a person, specifically causing depression-like feelings such as low motivation and feelings of hopelessness and shame," Dr. Muradian explains. "If discussions regarding these emotions do not occur, the relationship will begin to seem to be impacted."

Feelings of resentment

In some cases, a partner who has low or no debt can become dissatisfied and resentful if their spouse carries enough debt that it's putting a strain on the things they want in life. Resentment may also occur if paying down their spouse's debt makes a partner feel like they're making considerable sacrifices.

Because of this, it's also important to remember that while marriage can make it easier to obtain some financial goals, your spouse shouldn't be your Plan A for becoming debt-free.

"Setting expectations and boundaries around each person's financial debt before marriage is vital in preventing tension, stress and arguments," Dr. Muradian says. "For example, the person entering the marriage with debt should recognize that their debt is their responsibility and should not place dependence on their partner to incur this debt."  

How to manage debt as a couple

Managing debt — especially larger amounts — can feel daunting and difficult but Dr. Muradian outlines a few impactful steps you can take to get things off to a strong start.

She notes that it's important to keep communication open around how much money is okay to spend.

"Avoid criticizing each other's spending habits and instead, work on finding solutions together," Dr. Muradian explains. "Each person can separately draft what their spending plan looks like then they can come together and merge the plan for a great path to success."

She also asserts that it's helpful to create specific and clear goals together.

"For example, you can say 'by this date, we will have paid off this much by creating monthly savings together.' This way, the relationship is cushioned with teamwork and support. The couple will feel motivated since they're achieving this goal of being debt-free together," Dr. Muradian says.

There are also many tools available that can help you pay down debt even faster. Balance transfer cards allow you to transfer high interest credit card debt onto a new card and make interest-free payments for a set period of time — usually for at least six months and up to 21 months.

During this introductory 0% APR period, you can pay down your principal faster since you won't accrue interest charges. The Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card and the Citi Simplicity® Card offer an introductory 0% APR offer for 21 months on balance transfers from date of first transfer (after, 18.24% - 28.99% variable APR on the Citi Diamond Preferred and a 19.24% - 29.99% variable APR on the Citi Simplicity). All transfers must be completed in the first four months for both cards.

Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card

On Citi's Secure Site
  • Rewards

    None

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for 21 months on balance transfers; 0% for 12 months on purchases

  • Regular APR

    18.24% - 28.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    5% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum. Balance transfers must be completed within 4 months of account opening.

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See rates and fees. Terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Balances can be transferred within 4 months from account opening
  • One of the longest intro periods for balance transfers

Cons

  • 3% foreign transaction fee

Citi Simplicity® Card

On Citi's Secure Site
  • Rewards

    None

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% Intro APR for 21 months on balance transfers from date of first transfer and 0% Intro APR for 12 months on purchases from date of account opening.

  • Regular APR

    19.24% - 29.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    There is an intro balance transfer fee of 3% of each transfer (minimum $5) completed within the first 4 months of account opening. After that, your fee will be 5% of each transfer (minimum $5).

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

And if you have various types of debt, personal loans can be an effective way to consolidate your debts into one simple, organized monthly payment at a lower interest rate.

So, let's say you take out a loan like the LightStream Personal Loan or the SoFi Personal Loan: You'll apply for a specific amount that's enough to cover the total of all your debts and the lender will send a specified amount to each of your creditors to pay off those debts. Then, you'll only be responsible for paying back the personal loan in the form of fixed, equal monthly payments plus interest. This can sometimes be more doable for those who feel like managing multiple monthly payments to multiple lenders is overwhelming.

SoFi Personal Loans

  • Annual Percentage Rate (APR)

    8.99% - 29.49% when you sign up for autopay

  • Loan purpose

    Debt consolidation/refinancing, home improvement, relocation assistance or medical expenses

  • Loan amounts

    $5,000 to $100,000

  • Terms

    24 to 84 months

  • Credit needed

    Good to excellent

  • Origination fee

    No fees required

  • Early payoff penalty

    None

  • Late fee

    None

Terms apply.

LightStream Personal Loans

  • Annual Percentage Rate (APR)

    7.49% - 25.99%* APR with AutoPay

  • Loan purpose

    Debt consolidation, home improvement, auto financing, medical expenses, and others

  • Loan amounts

    $5,000 to $100,000

  • Terms

    24 to 144 months* dependent on loan purpose

  • Credit needed

    Good

  • Origination fee

    None

  • Early payoff penalty

    None

  • Late fee

    None

Terms apply. *AutoPay discount is only available prior to loan funding. Rates without AutoPay are 0.50% points higher. Excellent credit required for lowest rate. Rates vary by loan purpose.

However, it's extremely important to have discussions about money prior to tying the knot so each partner is clear on what their financial picture could look like.

"Conversations couples have around debt and finances are just as important as discussions around other topics such as starting a family," Dr. Muradian says. "Prior to marriage, couples should know if their partner is in debt, and have an understanding of how their debt incurred. Additionally, knowing their plan to pay off their debt is just as important as it can impact their financial planning as a couple."

Catch up on Select's in-depth coverage of personal financetech and toolswellness and more, and follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter to stay up to date.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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