Many couples argue over money, but what if your spouse yells at
you for overspending, takes away your credit cards or even demands
you turn over your paycheck? Watch out: You might be married to a
Experts say financial bullying can have several causes, from
desperation to get out of debt, to anxiety stemming from past
experiences, to control issues. "If somebody is just using money
for control, it's a huge red flag," says Brad Klontz, financial
psychologist and author of "Mind Over Money."
In a 2013 online
by CreditKarma.com, one in 10 American adults in committed
relationships said they were being financially bullied by their
spouse or live-in partner.
Here are nine pushy money behaviors that could signal a problem
in your relationship. It might be bullying if your spouse:
Chides you for going over budget.
This is a common form of financial bullying, Klontz says. "Very
often, someone freaks out about spending." So, if you agreed to
stick to a $100 grocery budget this week, then splurged on fine
wine and filet, does that give your mate the right to berate you?
It's normal to get angry and feel betrayed if your spouse breaks
an agreement, he says. "But it's not OK to yell and lecture and
point your finger at the other person."
Divvies up extra cash unfairly.
Each spouse should get an equal amount of discretionary money to
use for anything from gifts to going out to lunch to getting a
new gadget, says Mary Gresham, a financial psychologist who
practices in Atlanta. So, when the higher-earning spouse takes
more than half of the disposable income, it can be a sign of a
control issue, she says. A bullying spouse might say, "I earned
it. It's mine. I'm going to feel free to play golf, but you can
forget about buying that new sweater," she says.
Controls the credit cards.
Sometimes, a spouse might go overboard and take away the plastic
to try to rein in a seriously overspending partner, experts say.
In that case, partners should talk to come to an agreement on
when it's OK to use credit cards -- such as for convenience
purchases on gas or for discretionary spending, says Katie Moore,
a financial counselor for GreenPath Debt Solutions. However,
controlling the credit cards might be the behavior of a
domineering spouse. "When you take away the credit card, you take
away their access to money," Gresham says.
Belittles you for the size of your salary.
This type of criticism tends to come from wives who stick to
traditional gender roles, Klontz says. A woman who looks at life
this way might tell her husband, "It's your job to make money,"
he says. Traditional roles are fine if both spouses agree, he
says, but being rigid about your views usually isn't healthy.
When one spouse complains that the other doesn't make enough, "I
tell them to focus on themselves and increase their own
earnings," Gresham says.
Tries to curtail your earning power.
The flip side: Some spouses, often husbands with more traditional
views, try to prevent their wives from making too much money,
says Klontz, who has done research on women who make more than
their husbands. So, for example, a husband might discourage his
wife from starting a business or going to law school. "Very
often, it's a man whose entire self worth is wrapped up in his
net worth," he says.
Demands you hand over your paycheck.
It's often the spouse with the bigger salary who can wield more
power over finances, experts say. But sometimes a spouse just
takes control, such as when one commandeers the other's paycheck.
This is a scenario Klontz has seen happen with both husbands and
wives. "It's terrible," he says.
Put you on an allowance.
In some cases, a spouse who works while the other stays home --
or one who makes more money or came into money through an
inheritance -- might give the other spouse an allowance. "Unless
both of you are on an allowance, this is a red flag," Klontz
Dictates the details of your monthly budget.
Sometimes one spouse manages the finances, and that can be
perfectly healthy, Moore says. However, in other cases, it can be
"kind of a negative thing that's going on." In some cases, a
spouse will blame the other for debts and just take over the
finances, she says. Instead, she recommends couples "look over
the situation together and look for ways to fix it."
Controls the big money goals.
Maybe he stashes money in a savings account to fund his dream of
buying a boat, but pooh-poohs her wish to take a romantic
vacation in Paris. The healthy thing to do instead? Compromise.
Says Klontz, "Agree to disagree, but find an agreed-upon
Being bullied over money? 7 tips
If your spouse is displaying controlling behaviors around money,
these seven expert tips can help deal with the problem:
Ask yourself: How bad is it?
In extreme cases, financial bullying can be a sign of an abusive
marriage, Klontz says. "The person might actually be in physical
danger," he says. If this describes your relationship, put safety
first and get help from a therapist.
Have an honest talk.
Maybe your spouse is just a bit overbearing. In that case, ask
questions to find out what shaped their attitudes and beliefs
toward money. "A lot of couples will have a dating history
conversation, but they never have a financial history
conversation," Klontz says.
Keep an open mind.
"You need to be receptive to what you're hearing and not view it
as ammunition for later," Klontz says. Ask questions and try to
understand, he says. Maybe your wife grew up poor and is afraid
of not having enough money. Or, perhaps your husband's workaholic
dad died young and never got to enjoy life, and that's why your
spouse wants to spend now.
Talk about your feelings.
Focus on how you feel rather than what your spouse is doing
wrong. "You can talk about feeling controlled and how bad that
feels as opposed to attacking your partner for being a control
freak," Gresham says.
Get money advice.
If you're at an impasse, it might be a good idea to meet with an
expert such as a credit counselor, especially if you're in debt,
or a fee-only financial planner. It's a good way to get an
objective opinion, Klontz says. "They might say, you can afford
this, or you can't afford it."
Switch roles regularly.
Often, one spouse starts out as a little more of a saver while
the other is a little more of a spender, Gresham says. A power
struggle can polarize the couple, causing each person to get more
extreme, she says. One way to solve the problem: put one person
in charge of the monthly budget and spending, while the other
heads up long-term savings. Then switch periodically, she
Seek marriage help.
Financial bullying can damage a relationship, especially if it
drags on for years, experts say. The average couple fights about
an issue for seven years before seeking help, and that can do a
lot of damage to the relationship. "I would encourage them to
seek help sooner rather than later," Klontz says.
And finally, if you're the financial bully, beware, because it
will come back to hurt the relationship and, ultimately, you,
Gresham says. "You might get your way, but it comes at a pretty big
Is it time to consider financial therapy?