Are you in a relationship with a financial bully?

Published On: Feb 23 2014 08:03:16 AM EST   Updated On: Feb 24 2014 06:20:00 AM EST
NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla -

Having a relationship with a financial bully isn't simply squabbling over finances.  Experts say this kind of bullying is a serious problem.

Maxine Browne is now in charge of her own credit and debit cards, her checking account and her cash, and she's thrilled about it.  But for years, it wasn't like that.

"I had no access to money whatsoever," she said.

Browne says her husband controlled all their cash and credit.  She says his money monitoring started slowly.

"When you get married, you add this person to your accounts," Browne explained. "So that's what I did.  And then he said, 'I can do the banking for you.'"

Eventually, she says her husband took over everything, including which groceries she bought and the amount of gas in her car.

"When you control all of the money you really do control the movement of everyone in the household," Browne added.

A Credit Karma survey reveals Browne is not alone. One in 10  respondents classified their significant other as a "financial bully". 

Relationship therapist Rachel Sussman, who consulted on the survey, says squabbling over money happens in many relationships, but bullying is destructive.

"I've seen several instances where the bully, who is generally a very insecure person, tries to trap their partner in the relationship by taking away all their power around money," said Sussman.

So how do you recognize a financial bully?   Sussman says it's important to look out for warning signs, like your partner limits your spending or your access to credit cards, or refuses to let you go shopping alone. But, she says there's a bigger red flag.

"If you find yourself changing your behavior to please your partner, hiding things from your partner, doing things that you wouldn't ordinarily do," she added.

Kathleen Sachs, a certified financial planner, says something couples should ordinarily do is make sure they each have a good understanding of their money.

"If I say to you how is your financial health and you say to me, 'I have no idea my spouse is in charge of that,' you have put yourself at risk," she said.

At risk because if something happens to your partner, or you split up, you'll be at a huge financial disadvantage.  Sachs warns make sure you always know your financial basics, including what bills are owed each month, how much debt you owe and how to access the bank and retirement accounts. 

Experts say if you don't know the answers or feel like you're being bullied, speak up. 

"There's a lot of power in communication and even saying to your partner, 'I wont take this anymore.' You know, if that produces good results, great. If it doesn't, get some counseling and if, if that doesn't work, get out of the relationship," advised Sachs.

That's what Browne did.  She says now she controls her purse strings, and values every cent.

"I cannot walk past a coin on the street with out picking it up," she said.

The Credit Karma survey also found the percentage of men and women who report being financially bullied is almost equal. The organization created a quiz to help you determine if you're dealing with a bully.  You can find it at creditkarma.com/financial-bullying.