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Home / Finances / Could Debt Cause A Break-up?


Last year I wrote a piece about ten signs that your chosen partner is a poor money manager. The article was not meant to get people to think about breaking up with a significant other, but to help people be aware that you can spot a poor money manager without having to ask. You can find that article at this link. Be sure to read some of the interesting comments.

Well, I told that story, not to toot my own horn, but to introduce this piece about some stats related to how people feel about a partner who is deeply or irresponsibly in debt.

In January 2014, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) posed a simple question to a variety of people. The question was; “If the person I loved had a large amount of debt, I would”: Here are how the answers shook out:

  • 37 percent said they would not marry until the debt was paid.
  • 10 percent said they would marry but not contribute to repaying the debt.
  • 7 percent went so far as to say they would end the relationship.
  • An amazing 46 percent were starry-eyed (my opinion) to say they would marry and help pay the debt.

Why do I think the 46 percent are starry-eyed? Years of experience being pounded down by burdensome debt. Debt that I rarely took on myself, but my chosen partner would take on eagerly, even when she was unemployed. I have also talked to many people who are struggling under crushing debt. Many of the stories have common themes like:

  • We do not talk anymore, just scream at each other about money.
  • We would file for bankruptcy, but what’s the point? So and so will only get us back in debt.
  • I have no patience. I am so stressed that everything makes me snap, even at the children.
  • We can not stop fighting long enough to even have sex anymore.
  • I would get a divorce if I could find the extra money.

Speaking to the divorce issue. Divorce does not absolve you of debts incurred during the marriage, no matter who took the debt on. The reality is that if your former partner was irresponsible with debt while you were together, they will most likely remain so after you split. That means that you will still owe the debts, but only have one income to pay them. In general, you may want to file for bankruptcy, then file for divorce as soon as it is discharged.

I spent some time searching for a single scholarly study showing that indebtedness can be a major factor in the break-up of a relationship. I also thought that finding one about the role that debt can play in depression. I was mildly shocked to find not one, but many such studies. I searched the phrase ”study showing stress of debt on marriage”. I read through some of the 9.5 million results. After reading a few of those pieces, I believe more than a few of the 46 percent mentioned above may change their minds.


About the author: Jerry Coffey


Jerry Coffey spent many years in a debt-riddled gray area somewhere between broke and desperately broke. His seemingly endless need for more and more cash led him to payday loans, repossessions, bankruptcy, and depression. After years of the same financial style, he heard a piece of advice that inspired him to find a way to change. The advice: ''The very definition of a fool is someone who continues to do the same things, but expects different results.'' This led him to a much more frugal lifestyle that sees all of his bills paid on time and a growing savings account. Even the seed of a retirement account has begun to sprout.


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