Financial Abuse in Relationships

To break it down in simple terms, abuse is about control and power over someone. While abuse comes in many forms, it most often begins with the easiest route which is money. Whoever controls the purse strings has the upper hand.

In an abusive relationship, this gives the abuser much more control over the person(s) they are targeting. Through financial abuse, the relationship dynamic is never balanced and always tilted in the abusers favor. 

This manipulated power structure gives the abuser full control which overtime makes it seem impossible to escape. Financial ruin is even more terrifying than staying within an abusive relationship especially when there are children involved.

Abusers know their victim cannot leave or go anywhere and this helps to isolate them even further from family, friends or counselors that would otherwise help. It’s through this total dependency and desperation that financial abuse is the pinnacle of all forms of abuse.

What is financial abuse?

as defined by The Purple Purse

financial abuse
Financial, emotional, mental and physical abuse do not discriminate, no matter how wealthy or poor, race or religion.

Like all domestic violence, financial abuse is a pattern of abusive behavior used to control and intimidate a partner. It often begins subtly and progresses over time. Victims are often trapped in financial captivity.

If you think of the many ways in which money influences a household, you can begin to get a glimmer of just how powerful it can be as a means of control and coercion by an abuser. Often, financial abuse is about “preventing victims from acquiring, using, or maintaining financial resources,”as Purple Purse explains.

As defined by The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)’s Up to 99% of domestic violence victims experience economic abuse during an abusive relationship, and finances are often cited as the biggest barrier to leaving an abusive relationship.

Below are several ways an abuser may try to take control of their partner’s financial resources. 

Restricting daily spending

  • Does your partner decide if you can use cash or credit/debit cards or question your spending?
  • Do you need to ask permission to spend your money or provide receipts for purchases?
  • Does your partner intentionally prevent you from purchasing necessities such as food, clothing and personal hygiene items?

It’s OK if one partner manages the day-to-day finances and bill paying, but both partners should have access to financial information and together decide how to spend their money. If your partner controls your spending by giving you an allowance or budget, prevents you from purchasing necessities or requires justification for any money spent, this is a sign of financial abuse.

Preventing financial account access

  • Does your partner force you to give them access to your money or financial accounts?
  • Does your partner prevent you from accessing your own financial accounts?

It’s OK to share passwords and account access for individual and joint financial accounts But if your partner is preventing you from accessing your accounts, by changing or hiding passwords it’s a sign of financial abuse.

Sabotaging employment and education

  • Does your partner prevent you from going to work? Or intentionally make you late?
  • Does your partner intentionally prevent you from looking for jobs or going on job interviews?
  • Does your partner harass you at work? Do they call you frequently at work or show up unannouced?
  • Does your partner tell you that you shouldn’t attend class or professional training?

Choosing not to work is OK, but if your partner prevents you from working, tells you where you cannot work, or sabotages your attempts to gain employment or further your education, this is a sign of financial abuse.

Exclusion from financial planning

  • Does your partner intentionally exclude you from meetings with banks, retirement specialists or financial planners? Or plan meetings without your knowledge?
  • Does your partner make important financial decisions without you? Or tell you it’s none of your business?
  • Does your partner make you feel as though you don’t have a right to know any details about your money?

It’s OK if one partner has different values around money. But they should work together to form joint financial goals. If your partner intentionally does not include you in financial meetings, make decisions without you and doesn’t share financial information with you when you ask, this is a sign of financial abuse.

Stealing money

  • Does your partner steal or damage belongings that are valuable to you or your family?
  • Do your partner use your checkbook, ATM card, or credit/debit cards without your knowledge?

Lending and borrowing money between partners is OK, if it’s discussed and repayment is agreed upon. If your partner is stealing your money, damaging or stealing important belongings or using your credit cards without your knowledge, this is a sign of financial abuse.

Causing debt

  • Does your partner apply for credit cards, loans or open financial accounts in your name?
  • Does your partner demand that the lease/mortgage or other large purchases be in your name?
  • Does your partner force you to sign financial documents?
  • Does your partner use physical force or threats to convince you to make a purchase?
  • Has your partner ever refinanced a home mortgage or taken out a new loan without your knowledge?
  • Does your partner refuse to pay bills?

Large or long-term financial decisions should be made jointly between partners and both partners should be willing to collaborate on making payments. If your partner make purchases or opens loan without your consent, refuses to pay or contribute to bills, or intentionally is hurting you financially, this is a sign of financial abuse.

Domestic violence is an epidemic affecting individuals in every community regardless of age, economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or nationality

Are you in need right now?

I know how terrifying it is but please reach out, if you are a danger, please call 911. If you are in need of immediate response or local referrals, call a local hotline or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224.

Please click this link to find a local domestic violence shelter and utilize the resources.

Know someone in need?

The worst thing you can do is ask them “Why don’t you just leave?” If the victim had the financial means and weren’t living in continuous paralyzing fear, they would get away.

An abused person feels like they have no power. They are manipulated, put down, beat down and exhausted from hiding it all by putting on this “brave face” for the world. They’re often more terrified of the unknown of leaving than they are of the unpredictable “known” of staying.

A person experiencing domestic violence will often be afraid to openly share their circumstances for fear of retaliation from their abuser. As a friend, family member or co-worker of someone in an abusive relationship, it’s easy to feel powerless. But you can do your part by starting a conversation, offering support and suggesting ways to get help.

Remember, domestic violence most often begins with financial abuse. If you can offer someone a place to stay for a while even with their kids, dogs, cats and all, you are saving lives way more than you realize.