There are bullies on the playground, in the classroom and at the office. Or perhaps right beside you at home.
Financial bullying among couples, whether they’re married or not, is a less visible but insidious type of intimidation and control. It can take many forms, from withholding money from a spouse’s bank account to demanding to see receipts for every shopping trip.
And it may be more common than we think. One in 10 respondents say their spouse or partner is a financial bully, according to a recent survey by CreditKarma.com, a personal-finance website based in San Francisco.
With money often cited as one of the top causes of divorce, it can be extremely important to sort out the financial conflicts that trouble a marriage or long-term relationship.
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“It comes down to using money as a weapon of power,” said Peter Cole, a Sacramento, Calif., chartered financial consultant, who also is a marriage therapist. “Financial abuse is used in almost identical ways to verbal, sexual or physical abuse — to control somebody and express anger and unresolved emotions.”
Battling over money can run the gamut, from financial bullying at one extreme to mere grumbling and irritation over mismatched expectations.
When there’s a clash of money-management styles, it can breed resentment, arguments and worse.
A lot of it is simply how we were raised. Someone who grew up in a frugal, tightfisted household can’t understand why their partner spends so freely, which feels wasteful and financially risky. On the other hand, the person who grew up with plenty of money “cannot understand why their partner is being such a control freak,” Cole said. “A lot of times they just stop talking about (money) … but they’re disgruntled with each other.”
Miscommunications and misunderstanding may not rise to the level of financial abuse, but they can create tension and bad feelings.
The cure, experts say, is to talk: Talk about your past and how it affected your attitude toward money. Discuss a budget and establish shared priorities on spending.
Listen to one another in order to reach compromises. And, experts say, these conversations should take place in a calm setting, not while you’re still steamed up over the latest credit-card bill.