How Debt May Affect Your Massachusetts Marriage

by | Mar 18, 2022 | Divorce |

Is your Massachusetts 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 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 (after, 13.74% to 23.74% variable APR on the Citi Diamond Preferred and 14.74% to 24.74% variable APR on the Citi Simplicity). All transfers must be completed in the first 4 months and there is a balance transfer fee for both cards, 5% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum.

Should you be in the midst of a divorce or contemplating divorce, contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar at 978-844-4095 to schedule a FREE one hour no obligation consultation.

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