Does your partner micro-manage your spending, and exclude you from financial decision-making? Or, does he max out your credit cards and force you to shoulder the financial burden alone? Then you could be experiencing financial abuse – and that hurts more than your bank balance. Find out if you’re living with a cruel controller or a self-centred spendthrift, and what that means for you.
What do financial abusers do?
Like any other form of soul-shattering domestic abuse, financial abuse is driven by one person’s need to establish and maintain power over their partner. Generally, this manifests in one of two personality types – or even a combination of both, depending on which tactics the manipulative abuser finds most effective (and personally satisfying).
The cruel controller:
- Persuades you to give up your job, or makes it impossible for you to work
- Gives you an allowance, which he withholds when ‘punishing’ you for not complying with his ever-changing rules
- Monitors every penny you spend, and goes through your bank statements and receipts
- Checks the mileage on your vehicle against where you say you’ve been
- Excludes you from financial decision-making, and prevents you from seeing bank statements
- Refuses to give you money for essential bills
- Does not allow you to share in any mutual assets – for example, you may contribute to paying for a joint home, but he will not allow your name on the mortgage
- Reminds you regularly that he’s the breadwinner. You are expected to be grateful.
The self-centred spendthrift:
- Doesn’t contribute to household bills, leaving you to shoulder the burden
- Splurges on selfish whims without consulting you
- Cannot hold-down a job
- Runs up debts or hits your credit cards without telling you
- Borrows money from you without ever paying it back
- Seems to be constantly short of money or in a crisis – and only you can bail him out
- Buys you expensive gifts – and expects you to respond in kind
- Steals from you or sells your stuff without your permission
- Expects you to pay for his risk-taking lifestyle, which can include drug-taking or excessive drinking
- Puts your job at risk with his extreme jealousy and expectation that he is your only priority.
The cost of financial abuse
Financial abuse is devastating. It takes away our self-reliance, and leaves us more dependent upon our abuser than ever. Without financial resources, we feel less able to escape a toxic relationship.
My ex abuser was mostly the spendthrift type. He skipped merrily through our latter years, blowing any money he did earn on drugs, gambling, and extravagant spending. I was left to tote the weight of keeping us afloat, bailing him out like he was an irresponsible teenager and worrying about how long my savings would last.
I fought hard to resist his pressure for me to stop working – a piece of spectacular cognitive dissonance on his part, as he claimed he would provide for our family whilst doing less than nothing to actually do so. Then, he cost me my job by insisting we relocate hundreds of miles away. By the time I finally escaped, he’d cost me thousands – though I now figure it was a small price to pay for my freedom.
Preventing and coping with financial abuse
The only way to prevent financial abuse is to leave your abuser. Contact your local domestic violence service for support in dealing with the aftermath of financial abuse, and to find out about any government support or hardship grants you may be entitled to as a result (for women in the UK, Women’s Aid provide a useful guide to money issues).
If you’re not ready to take that step, there are ways to reduce the impact of financial abuse. Think about:
- Opening a secret bank or checking account, in just your name. You can use this to stash money away – cash that you’ll need to gain more financial independence, or to use as an escape fund. If you have a trusted family member, perhaps you could give their address so financial correspondence never comes to the home you share with your abuser. Or, consider an online account, which you can access wherever you are and don’t come with the worry of him finding your paper bank statement.
- If you already have your own bank account, change your PIN and consider opening a new one instead. This will protect you if he tries to empty your account or siphon off cash to pay for whatever illicit habit is currently flavour of the month.
- Think about whether you can get your name taken off any joint credit cards. If there are any deals on credit cards, perhaps you can suggest that he does a balance transfer (preferably solely in his name) to get that good interest rate!
- If you have your own credit card, go ahead and get that PIN changed so he can’t use and abuse it.
- If you’re currently out of work, start looking at employment or training opportunities. You may need this if you choose to leave.
*** Although these actions will improve your ability to achieve freedom, they may also increase your risk. For this reason, only take these steps if you can do so in secrecy or with confidence in your safety ***
A healthy relationship does not include financial abuse. Even if you are a homemaker and your partner earns mega-bucks, a relationship is a partnership where both parties have an equal say – and an equal stake. The only way to effectively escape financial abuse is to consign your abusive partner to the Old Accounts file. But, if you’re not ready for that step there is still proactive action that you can take to reduce the damage and open up an escape route.
Have you had a partner who used the purse strings to keep you tied to him? How did you get out of the red?
ALSO SEE: Dangerous myths that fuel stigma and silence in 5 Things everyone should know about domestic abuse.
© Avalanche of the Soul, 2013-14