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

US News

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 CreditKarma.com, a free credit monitoring website that helps more than 21 million people access their credit score for free.

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