The Devastation of Financial Abuse and How to Recognize it


I want to draw attention to a lesser-known and insidious form of emotional and psychological abuse that may be occurring in households despite no one being physically harmed.

With many in compliance with the Stay-at-Home Orders related to the Covid-19 quarantine along with high unemployment numbers, there is a rise in the numbers of domestic violence calls. However, financial abuse could also be growing in numbers despite not being reported. It’s largely misunderstood and hard to prove an abusive relationship.

Unemployment and lack of resources can mean that victims are less capable of leaving the situation or removing their children. An additional concern is not being able to run to the home of a friend or family member because they are quarantined and concerned about exposure or lack of transportation to a shelter if someone makes a plan to leave.

What is Financial Abuse?

Financial abuse is when one partner coerces their partner by blocking or controlling their financial assets.

The abuser systematically destroys the victim’s ability to leave the situation by depriving them of the financial means either through monitoring their level of access or by sabotaging their ability to gain credit or employment.

It can first sound like a considerate offer to take care of all the bills or a casual request to borrow money. It builds slowly until either the partner is shut out of knowledge of the finances or depleted of funds to the point that they can barely afford the basics.

What are some signs of a Financially Abusive Relationship?

• One partner puts the other on a budget with no input or gives them an allowance.
• A partner is prevented from seeing financial statements; is heavily questioned on their spending or has no access to their own money and accounts.
• One partner pressures the other to quit; sabotages their work responsibilities.
• Opens credit, loans or uses their information without their knowledge; maxes out credit cards or doesn’t repay bills and loans in their name.
• Prevents partner from obtaining higher education; take training or otherwise advance your career.
• Lives in their home without working; doesn’t help with household tasks; cannot maintain employment.
• Hiding and lying about money or assets.

The actions of the abusive partner keep the victim or family in or close to debt so they barely have enough to live on no matter how much money is being made.

It may seem like it would be in a breadwinner situation, but a financial abuser can also be someone who sabotages the other’s ability to make or benefit from their own money. Such as a partner who continues to lose their job which requires the remaining partner to use their money to take care of combined living expenses. They can also lie about trying to find employment keeping the other partner in distress about the bills.

The Toll of Financial Abuse

Financial Abuse can affect the victim long term. Along with the financial issues, there can also be attacks to their self-worth. The victim will be denied to do many things they would if they had more money. They might be ashamed to talk to others or seek help about their money issues. They may self-isolate or be isolated from others. Some may be berated by the same partner that is manufacturing the money problems through criticism of their desire for a better situation.

Some victims face verbal abuse for asking questions about how the money is being spent.

Abusers warp reality until victims don’t believe they can leave the situation and not be homeless or in poverty.

They may sabotage their partner’s ability to gain employment by showing up at their job and causing a scene, forcing them to call-out, even stealing their keys so they can’t go to an interview. Some may refuse to watch children or not show up at an agreed-upon time so the partner can’t leave.

If a partner does decide they want to leave, they can find that their credit has been ruined which can prevent them from getting credit, a loan or even renting or obtaining a home. They may discover their accounts have been overdrawn and closed or bills in their name haven’t been paid for long periods of time.

Lacking of resources can lead someone to return or be afraid to leave the financial security provided by the abusive partner.

Recovery is Possible

Awareness is the first step. You have to understand and see that this is not healthy relationship behavior and the distress you feel is valid. Recognize this is domestic abuse.

Untangling yourself from someone you have given access to your financial life may require covert action, but as with any type of abuse it needs to be done carefully. An abuser is not going to willingly give up control. Victims of Financial Abuse can be male or female. If you are a male, do not assume services aren’t available for you.

Seek resources: https://esme.com/resources/domestic-violence/writing-escaping-financial-abuse

https://allstatefoundation.org/what-we-do/end-domestic-violence/

You can repair your credit. You can rebuild your finances. You can heal from the abuse.


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Photo courtesy iStock

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