Liam Croke: Don’t allow yourself be bullied financially

I was doing some financial seminars for a company in the north west of the country last year and after one talk I gave, a woman stayed back afterwards and asked could she speak to me for a few minutes.

I was doing some financial seminars for a company in the north west of the country last year and after one talk I gave, a woman stayed back afterwards and asked could she speak to me for a few minutes.

She explained her situation to me and it wasn’t a good one. She was in arrears on her mortgage by a couple of months and she was finding it difficult to make ends meet.

She advised me that her problems started about 18 months previously just after her husband lost his job. The company he had been working for shut down but given that he had a reasonable length of service with them his severance package was good, it was close to €40,000.

She thought this would give them quite a bit of breathing space before he got his next job, because finding a job suitable for him and his skillset, in their part of the country were few and far between. However, he had different ideas, rather than putting the money on deposit as she wanted him to do, what did he do? He used €25,000 of his package to buy a second hand jeep. She said she pleaded with him not to buy it but he didn’t listen to her and off he went and bought the jeep.

Fast forward 18 months and the jeep, is parked outside their house. It isn’t insured or taxed and has been that way for the last 6 months, so it can’t be moved and it hasn’t even been started she said in three or four months.

She asks her husband every other day can they not sell the jeep and even if they got €5,000 for it wouldn’t it be something? But no, he is having none of it, if he isn’t going to drive it no one will. And he is well aware, by the way that they are in arrears but he still won’t sell it.

This woman, by the way, works night shifts in a pharmaceutical company; she has to if she wants to keep the roof over their heads and her children fed. Her husband hasn’t worked since he has let go 18 months ago and has sort of given up on ever getting a job again. However, he still smokes his 20 cigarettes each day funded by his wife’s income and he justifies this by saying that they are the only pleasure he has in his life – he feels very much the victim in all of this.

After telling me her story, this lady broke down crying when she said that after she pays as much as she can towards their mortgage, groceries, her husband’s cigarettes etc. that she has €5 left for herself that has to last the whole week. What life is that to have, she asked.

And to make matters worse every night when she leaves home to go to work, she passes that jeep sitting outside their home, a jeep that if her husband allowed her to sell would make their lives a little bit more tolerable for a short period of time at least.

The reason I am telling you this story is because this women is the victim of a bully, a financial bully.

When we refer to bullying, we think of teen bullying, online bullying or bullying in the workplace, we never think that someone’s partner could be a financial bully.

How wrong are we to think that way because a survey carried out recently by discovered that 1 in 10 married couples believe that their spouse was a financial bully. And according to the research, bullying is an equal opportunity offence – just as many men feel bullied as do women.

But what exactly is a financial bully? By definition a bully is someone who uses their influence or strength to intimidate others and force them to do what they want and financial bullies are no different where they intimidate and manipulate their partners by controlling all of the household finances.

According to a relationship therapist expert - Argie J. Allen Ph.D. “financial bullying is all about power and control” and she adds that “it’s also a sign of trouble to come; the less financial freedom a person has, the more vulnerable they are in the relationship”

So what is construed as financial bullying?

Making you feel guilty about what you spend your money on is probably the biggest one. But do you have anything to feel guilty about? It’s OK to splurge once in a while and you wouldn’t be normal if you didn’t want to treat yourself. And if you are in charge of your family’s finances and your partner is always complaining about how much is being spent on groceries and on the kids or whatever it is you do to keep the household running, ask your partner to switch roles for a week – see how they get on and it will surely open their eyes to just how expensive it can be.

Another trait of the financial bully is where they want to see receipts for all of your purchases; how controlling is that? But it does happen and sets up what is referred to as the parent/child dynamic and this between two adults is very unhealthy on a number of levels.

Another thing the bully does is not letting their partner have access to bank accounts they have and unless they get their partners consent they can’t withdraw funds from the account – absolutely awful.

Back to the woman I met last year, and my advice to her was not really financial. I told her to speak to someone she trusted because she had bottled this up for so long she needed to tell someone and I just happened to be that anonymous person she could confide in without feeling she was being judged.

Now however she needed to speak with someone she knew and trusted and most importantly she needed to confront her husband and seek professional help. My advice to anyone reading this who feels they are being financially bullied by their partner, would be exactly the same.