What Does Debt Do to Relationships?

These days it is easy to become immune to the scale of the statistics quoted by news programmes, websites and in the media. Those concerning debt are a prime example.

Consider this: according to research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, in 2015 1.25m adults and 312,000 children were destitute in the UK. That is 1.56m human beings who found themselves, at some point last year, totally impoverished and unable to afford the absolute basics for survival. These statistics are startling and horrific enough but consider that these are actual families and children, and the mental and emotional pressures that come with issues of chronic debt.

Debt and relationships go hand-in-hand

We recently discussed the growing issue of debt – the average UK household debt is projected to hit £2.5 trillion by 2021* – at a workshop during the Money Advice Scotland conference.  The theme ‘What does debt do?’ considered the wider context of debt in terms of the significant emotional and mental health issues often created. A relationship counselling charity like The Spark might seem out of place at a conference discussing debt but in reality, debt and relationship problems often go hand-in-hand.

Conversation at the workshop highlighted that if relationships (and we mean relationships in their broadest sense) are going well, are balanced and feeling positive, that debt would challenge even the strongest of connections. Issues of debt and the pressures they place upon relationships – between partners, parents and children and within families – are increasingly common amongst the clients we support with counselling and relationship advice at The Spark. But what about those strained or volatile relationships? What would debt do to an already pressurised situation?

Debt and volatile relationships

“People who had experienced destitution said that they felt ‘demeaned, ‘degraded’ and ‘humiliated’ by having to get family, friends or charities to provide basics like food and toiletries. Destitute parents often went without things themselves so that they could provide more for their children. Many felt that destitution had a negative impact on their relationships with their children and with other family and friends, leading to social isolation. Destitution took a toll on many people’s mental health, and some reported physical health problems.” Joseph Rowntree Foundation Study, 2016

Reflecting on the potential impact on already volatile relationships gives us an insight into the lives of the people highlighted in the Joseph Rowntree Foundation research. The workshop then threw up a number of further queries including:  What does this mean for children and families? How can we support people more effectively? And what if that is out with my area of specialism?

As we explored at the workshop, many people are receptive to support. They recognise when they need it and know how to access it. However, it is not easy to ‘admit’ that you need help. Sometimes people are resistant to support, even if they know they need it, or they avoid the problem until it’s of a monumental scale.

Often, they are frightened to talk about the issue for fear of being judged. How we behave when faced with stressful experiences is often as a result of our life experiences to date, our learned behaviours and how we saw our parents deal with problems. If it worked ok for them surely it’ll work for me?, individuals will often reason.

A significant outcome from the workshop was the conclusion that we are better able to cope, more resilient perhaps, to challenging life circumstances, such as debt and relationship difficulties, if we have support around us. Be that family, friends or specialist support.

*Source: Office for Budget Responsibility

For advice on dealing with debt contact Money Advice Scotland and get help for money worries.

If you are being affected by any of the issues in this blog, The Spark provides counselling services for individuals, couples, and families across Scotland or visit your local counselling centre.


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