My Partner Is a Financial Bully. What Can I Do?

One in 10 adults in committed relationships say their partner is a financial bully.

My Partner Is a Financial Bully. What Can I Do?
By Bethy Hardeman

Bullying doesn't just occur in the schoolyard or the NFL; it happens in committed relationships, too.

The difference is that this kind of bullying has to do with money. It's called financial bullying, and it happens more often than you might think.

The Basics of Financial Bullying

Financial bullying occurs in a committed relationship when one partner uses his or her power or influence to control the other financially. Financial bullies use tactics such as:
  • Making his or her partner feel guilty about purchases
  • Limiting monthly spending
  • Making his or her partner show receipts for all purchases
  • Keeping his or her partner from having credit cards
  • Not letting his or her partner go shopping alone
While some of these tactics may be present in relationships with healthy communication around finances, the difference lies in how the communication occurs. If one partner is in complete, imposing control, it's likely he or she is a financial bully.

Younger Couples Feel Bullied Most Often

One in 10 adults in committed relationships classify their spouse or live-in partner as a financial bully, according to a June 2013 study by Harris Interactive and Credit Karma,
which surveyed 1,036 U.S. adults. This type of bullying is even more prevalent in younger couples -- of those ages 18 to 34, nearly one in five claim their partner is a financial bully.

An equal number of men and women reported being financially bullied, but the numbers changed when it came to younger adults ages 18-34. Of those couples, men were actually more likely to feel financially bullied than women (33 percent versus 7 percent).

Survey respondents were also asked the following question: If money were no object, would you seek a divorce? Young adults stood out once again, as 22 percent replied in the affirmative.

Take Back Control

So what can you do if you feel you're being financially bullied? It depends on the severity of your situation. Here are some basics guidelines; choose the one that best suits you.

If your communication needs to get back on track ...

Maybe you don't believe your partner to be a bully, but you see some controlling habits forming. Keep the lines of communication open, and get comfortable with expressing any concerns you might have to your partner. Sit down with your partner, and re-evaluate how you're handling money as a couple. Agree to check in on your finances together once a month. Having a regular conversation can help stifle controlling tendencies before they get too serious.

If you partner seems somewhat controlling ...

It's time to make sure you're aware of your own financial situation. Start with a simple financial monitoring tool such as Mint, Credit Karma or LearnVest. Being informed about your own finances will help you take back some of the control you may have lost. If your partner is willing, you also might consider couples' therapy. You can use the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy's therapist locator to find a professional near you.

If you think you're dealing with a financial bully ...

It's important to address issues as soon as possible. If your partner is unwilling to change his or her ways, take steps to protect yourself and your finances. Talk with someone you trust, like a friend or family member, or consider getting professional guidance. Be prepared to take some serious steps to stop financial bullying, such as changing the PINs or passwords on your financial accounts or putting a fraud alert on your credit.

The bottom line: Financial bullying can cause serious damage to your relationships. Watch for warning signs to catch it early on. Most importantly, don't remain in a bullying relationship if your partner refuses to change. Seek the support of friends, family and professionals to help you out of a dangerous situation.

Bethy Hardeman writes about personal finance, credit and the economy for, a free credit monitoring website that helps more than 21 million people access their credit score for free.

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December 22 2013 at 8:04 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

go live on your own

December 21 2013 at 8:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hard for me to fathom as I have never encountered that. My wife and I do everything jointly. All our earnings and such go into one account and that account has both our names on it. There has never been a problem if I buy something or she buys something that either she nor me have discussed. We know what we have in the account and whatever we buy fits into the budget. I never ever say she cant have this or that and she does the same for me. She is a keeper!!

December 21 2013 at 7:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Money is the No. 1 issue that couples fight about.

Before you get married or get into a committed relationship of any kind, you had better be absolutely certain that you and your partner have the same attitudes about money. If you don't, you are headed into a mess.

Many men (and a lot of women, too) view money as the ultimate symbol of power. This type of personality wants to control ALL the cash in a relationship. It's their way of maintaining control over another person.

The article asks what you can do about being victimized by a financial bully. The answer is: Not much, except get out of that relationship if you can. The controlling partner isn't going to change. He/she is obsessed with using money as a weapon to maintain control. Also, money is the last taboo. Most people avoid discussing it.

If you have already been foolish enough to give someone else access to all your financial resources, you may well be up the well-known creek without a paddle. Every person should always maintain an individual cash bank account and one credit card that only they have access to. If your partner throws a raging fit about this, that is a big red flag that your relationship might not be as great as you think it is.

December 20 2013 at 3:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Valerie's comment

There's actually an easier way to avoid the financial bully, it's called "Get a J-O-B". Control your own money and contribute equally.

December 21 2013 at 5:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Why is this article so sexist, portraying the male as the bully?

December 20 2013 at 7:11 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jdykbpl45's comment
Alex Denton

The article was very non biased towards both sexes. In fact it stated that from surveys its showed that men feel more bullied than women.

December 20 2013 at 8:48 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply