One in seven (14%) GB adults in debt has hidden debt from a partner, and half of these (7%) are currently doing so, according to a new report relationship support charity, Relate. Feeling ashamed about debt is the number one reason why people hide it from their partner, with over half (51%) giving this reason. This was followed by being scared of their partner’s reaction (46%) and feeling they had different approaches to money (34%).

A poll of almost 5000 adults formed part of Relate’s report, In Too Deep: An investigation into debt and relationships, which is sponsored by Provident Financial and explores the strong links between debt and relationships. The first of its kind, the report uncovers a “relentless cycle” in which debt problems cause conflict, mistrust and relationship breakdown; and relationships contribute to debt problems and affect how people manage their finances.

The report found that 16% of adults in Britain are currently in so-called problem debt*, that’s 8.3 million people. Of these:

  • One in five (20%) has experienced the breakdown of a relationship with a partner where debt was either the main reason or a contributing factor
  • Almost four in ten (38%) says it has had a negative impact on their relationship with their partner
  • A quarter (25%) argue about money, debt, and/or other financial issues with their partner at least once a fortnight
  • Almost one in ten (9%) says they argue with their children once a week or more, which is three times as likely as those not currently in problem debt.

Amid rising levels of household debt, falling real wages, and the recent interest rate hike, the charity is warning that debt and money worries are likely to place increased pressure on the nation’s relationships for the foreseeable future. Relate is, therefore, calling for the government to fund free relationship counselling for families in problem debt who are experiencing relationship issues. Relate’s call on the government is backed up by the fact that almost half (46%) of people in problem debt said support with talking to people about finances would benefit their relationship with their partner.

The report also highlights ways in which separate financial and relationship support services may work together more closely to help families experiencing problems with debt and relationships.

Chris Sherwood, Chief Executive at Relate said: “Debt is a distressing thing for anyone to go through and your relationship can play an important part in how you deal with it. Talking about debt can be difficult, especially if you feel ashamed or have different approaches to money, but keeping things under wraps can be problematic for the relationship and make the debt harder to manage.”

“With 8.3 million UK adults currently in problem debt and so many reporting a negative impact on their relationship, there’s a clear need for support. The reality is that families in problem debt can’t afford counselling, which is why we’re calling on the government to fund free relationship support for them. Our report also highlights strong support on both sides for debt advisors and relationship counsellors to explore more joined-up ways of working.”

The report is timely, given that The Treasury select committee has this month launched a formal inquiry into household finances. Nicky Morgan MP, chair of the Treasury select committee welcomed the report. She said:

“As this important report from Relate states, ‘Debt problems can be both a cause and a consequence of damaging relationship issues.’ I know, from my work as a constituency MP how damaging persistent and unmanageable debt can be to family relationships and mental health. Early delivery on the Government’s welcome announcement about a debt breathing space is also important. This report will be extremely helpful as the Treasury Select Committee examines household finances in the weeks ahead.”

Nick Boakes, Director of Corporate Affairs at Provident Financial, said: “This insightful research from Relate brings new understanding of how individuals experience both relationship and financial difficulties. The report forms part of Provident Financial’s ongoing commitment to identifying and sharing knowledge of what contributes to customer decision making. We hope the report marks a first step towards creating a joined-up approach to financial and relationship advice. We aim to draw on the report’s findings to broaden the skill set of customer-facing staff in  Provident Financial’s businesses. We also hope it prompts a wider reflection on how business, the advice sector and Government can better support the many individuals and households who experience relationship and money challenges.”