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

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, %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%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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My Partner Is a Financial Bully. What Can I Do?

This is my personal favorite! Think of yourself as a regular monthly bill you have to pay. All you have to do is arrange to have a set amount of money directly deposited from your paycheck into a savings account each month.

I recommend using a separate savings account because if you have access to your funds in your checking account, you're more likely to spend them. Again, it might hurt a bit at first to take home a little less every month, but trust me, after a while you won't even notice it's gone. Here's a moment when the "set it and forget it" strategy works wonders.

It feels great to be rewarded for your hard work. And it feels even better to spend that hard-earned bonus on something you’ll enjoy, like a trip to France or an iPad. At the same time, the pleasure of a vacation or new gadget is short-lived compared to financial security.

So make a pact with yourself to put every bonus you get from here on out to good use. If you direct 90 percent of your bonuses straight into your savings account as a rule, you’ll still have 10 percent to treat yourself with (plus the comfort of knowing that you're building a well-earned safety net). I live by this rule.

OK, OK, this seems like an obvious one -- and easier said than done. Actually, most people spend money on more unnecessary items than they think. So take time to look at where your money is going in detail and begin to cut back. Saving $10 here and there could help you put a lot away in the long run.
Many banks offer seasonal accounts meant to save for holidays like Christmas. These accounts give you reduced access to your accounts, charging a hefty penalty each time you withdraw more than permitted. Since emergencies don't occur often, a seasonal account could make sure you're touching it only when needed (just make sure you're not tempted to blow it all on Christmas gifts).
I love this one. Chalk it up to my massive craving for organization, but I'm all about getting rid of things I no longer use. Rather than throwing these unused goods away, start selling them, and put that money into your emergency fund. All you need to do is post them to a site like eBay or Craigslist or Amazon and you can get rid of items from the comfort of your home. You can also take your clothes to a consignment shop to have them sold for you.
Instead of saving your pennies, put aside any $5 bills that come your way. Never spend a $5 bill again, and you'll be surprised by how quickly this silly trick will help you come up with a few hundred dollars to add to an emergency fund.
You could pick up odd jobs via websites like,,, or
If you get a cash-back reward for any spending on your credit card, just make it a rule that those dollars will be dedicated to your freedom fund. It may only add up to $100 extra each year, depending on your spending, but every little bit counts.
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