Balance of Power

We are all aware that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, but it is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month. So, this week, I want to discuss financial abuse, which is present in almost all cases of domestic violence.

First of all, if you find yourself in a situation like the ones that I am about to go through, you are not to blame and there are resources to help at the end of this post.

What is Financial Abuse?

According to Women’s Health.gov, financial abuse is defined as when an abuser takes control of finances to prevent the other person from leaving and to maintain power in a relationship. Financial abuse creates the framework to cut them off from friends, family and any resources that could help them get out of the situation.

It can be difficult to pinpoint a distinct starting point for when financial abuse starts in a relationship. What happens is that there is a slight shift in the balance of power until the control over finances is in the possession of just one person in the relationship. Keep in mind that thinking “this could never happen to me” is a disservice to yourself and puts the blinders on to what could be happening.

There are many different ways that financial abuse can occur. I’ll go through most of them here, but there could be more. So, if you feel as if you may be in this situation, please use the resources I will list at the bottom of this post.

Controlling or Blocking Access

An abuser will work to take access to finances away from you. It could start as a comment about “You’re really not good with money. I’m just going to do all of our finances.” or “You don’t like this, so I’ll just do it.” This may come off as well meaning, but being the main person to crunch the numbers should not include withholding information. A good way to test this is to request access to the shared accounts and gauge their reaction.

In general, the following behaviors can be indicators of financial abuse:

  • Creating financial plans without you, especially if this creates restrictions on your spending that you do not agree with and are not allowed to change, e.g. giving you an extremely small allowance.
  • Withholding key information from you, like account numbers, passwords and balances.
  • Making big financial decisions without your input (purchasing cars, a home, taking investment risks, etc.)
  • Refusing to collaborate on or provide access to the budget or overall picture for your life together and how your finances will guide that picture.
  • Preventing you from having your name on any shared assets (mortgage, car title, cell phones, lease, utilities).
  • Taking your paycheck and using it for household expenses, but keeping their own income separate.
  • Opening your bank statements without your permission.

In an eye opening book, “$2 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America,” financial abuse is rampant. An example is that in order to live with her aunt and uncle one woman must turn over her entire paycheck and food stamp allowance while having no say in how that money is spent. Being in this situation prevented her from maintaining control over her finances and leaving the home when the relationships eventually crumbled.

Restricting Your Spending

Even if you still have access to the accounts, abuse can still be present if there exists a double standard when it comes to spending allowed in the relationship. This may not even start from a bad place, it could be that you are overhauling your finances as a couple to get a handle on your debt. The difference will be if they are controlling everything and you are only being told what to do versus if you are working on this process together.

Indicators that the scales have been tipped in their favor:

  • You are required to account for each and every penny while they can feel free to spend as they wish, there’s something off.
  • May be required to provide receipts.
  • Demanding that you ask permission before spending money, but they do not consult you when they spend.
  • Making you feel guilty for spending time with friends or family due to the monetary cost.

Destroying Opportunities and Ruining Credit

Another aspect of your financial life that the abuser will attempt is destroying your opportunities and ruining your credit. This will help prevent you from being able to work, obtain loans and credit cards, ultimately making it impossible for you to leave. This can be done by:

  • Taking out credit cards or loans in your name then running those balances up.
  • Showing up at work unannounced to check in on you
  • Speaking to your boss without your permission
  • Preventing you from pursuing educational opportunities

All of these indicators will keep you financially stunted and prevent you from having your own money or your own means of survival outside of the relationship. Finances should be the mutual foundation that your lives are built upon, taking into account both parties’ points of view.

Resources for More Information or Help

If you feel like any of the above situations apply to you, please contact any of the following sources listed below:

As it is so important, I will be devoting next week’s post to how to create a financial structure that ensures that both parties work as a team while maintaining their independence.

Let me know your thoughts on financial abuse and if you have or know of anyone who has been affected by it in the comments below if you are willing to share.

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