Understanding if it's abuse

What are early signs of financial abuse?

If you are worried that you might be experiencing financial abuse or manipulation, you are not alone. Financial abuse is very common, and it happens in 99 percent of domestic abuse cases. This article will help you identify early signs of financial abuse so that you can make a decision about your personal situation.

What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse happens when someone uses money or finances to control and manipulate another person. It's a form of domestic violence that can happen in any relationship, even if everything else seems normal. Domestic abuse takes many forms, and it is not limited to physical violence or verbal abuse. In fact, physical abuse is often the very last thing to happen in an abusive relationship. Many other things can happen first, including verbal, sexual, or emotional abuse, as well as technology and financial abuse. Because financial abuse is one of the most common types of domestic abuse, it is very important to be able to recognize the early signs. Keeping an eye out for the early signs of financial abuse and addressing them before the relationship progresses can stop the abuse from getting worse or escalating to other forms of abuse like physical violence. 

Financial abuse is often disguised by the perpetrator as being protective or loving, so it is important to think about whether your partner’s “love” is limiting your financial freedom. “Love bombing” may be a buzzword on social media, but it is a real red flag for abusive behavior. If you are unsure whether your partner is taking too much control of your finances, here are some common red flags for the very early stages of financial abuse. Red flags covered include:

  1. Your partner acts strangely when you bring up finances
  2. Being overly controlling about money
  3. Getting in the way of your career or job or discouraging you from working
  4. Requiring you to ask permission before spending money, even for small purchases

1. Your partner acts strangely when you bring up finances

Depending on the relationship, this warning sign can look like many different things. It is up to you to decide what is abnormal, but it can include things like refusing to talk about money, becoming irritable or upset when you bring it up, or hiding information from you. In a safe relationship, both partners should be able to communicate openly, even about money. If your partner acts strangely when you bring up money or refuses to talk to you about financial decisions that impact you, these are red flags.

If your partner demonstrates any of these behaviors, keep an eye out for signs of escalation, which could include the following:

  • Not sharing passwords to joint financial accounts with you or changing passwords without telling you
  • Hiding information about retirement or investment accounts from you
  • Unexplained money loss from shared or personal bank accounts

2. Being overly controlling about money

Even if your partner is willing to discuss finances with you, it could still be a sign of financial abuse if they are too controlling or don’t let you have input on financial decisions. If your partner tries to manage your joint finances on their own or micromanages your personal financial decisions, this is also a red flag. Be aware of excuses for this behavior, such as “I just want to take care of you” or “I’m better than you at managing finances because of my education/job.”

If you are a woman in a heterosexual relationship, be aware that a male partner might try to justify taking control of finances with traditional gender roles by claiming that the “man” should be in charge of money or by telling you that women aren’t good with money. Don’t let these excuses get to you – you have a right to understand and control your own finances.

3. Getting in the way of your career or job or discouraging you from working

Be wary of your partner interfering with or sabotaging your employment. Being unemployed causes many survivors to become financially dependent on their partner and leaves them without the financial resources to leave when they want to break up. This may be what your partner wants, so that they can more effectively control you in the future. Watch for signs of escalation such as sabotaging educational or work opportunities or deliberately mishandling child care so you are forced to miss work or stay home.

This warning sign can be hard to spot because it is often disguised as kindness or empathy. For example, your partner might encourage you to quit your job every time you complain about your boss. This might seem like they’re just sympathizing with you, but if it is repeated often or makes you uncomfortable, it could be financial abuse.

Another example is if your partner encourages you to miss work so that you can spend time together or go on vacation. It might seem like they just want to spend time with you, but if it happens so often that your job is at risk, it could be love-bombing and intended to make you lose your job.

Your partner might also claim they want to “take care of you” by providing for you and allowing you to stay home or to work less. Although this appears to be a gesture of love, it can be another way for a harm-doer to remove your financial independence and safety net, leaving you vulnerable to escalating abuse. 

Abusive partners also often express concern about their partners being alone and “unprotected” at work, saying things like “You’re so beautiful, someone at work is going to steal you away from me” or “You need to stay near me so I can keep you safe.”

Although your partner might make excuses for why they want you to stay home, if you want to work your partner should not keep you from doing so. 

4. Requiring you to ask permission before spending money, even for small purchases

Your partner might make the excuse that you should always make financial decisions together, but this can severely limit your freedom, which may be what your partner wants.

Even if you and your partner share finances, you should both be able to make reasonable purchases, like buying groceries or getting a coffee, without asking permission. If your partner gets upset when you spend without permission or asks you to contact them before every purchase, this is a red flag. For example, one survivor told FinAbility that she was reprimanded by her harm-doer for buying tampons without permission.

Watch for signs of escalation, like being given a strict allowance or being asked to pay only for necessities when your partner is free to spend as they like. Your partner might try to justify giving you an allowance by saying that you need to learn to budget or that money is tight, but that is not okay and can be very dangerous. For example, another survivor was given a weekly allowance that wasn’t enough to cover her food expenses. Undereating and malnutrition then severely impacted her ability to work.

Need more support?

Every relationship looks different, and it’s often hard to determine if you’re experiencing financial abuse early on. If you notice any of these signs or if something feels off, consider talking to someone you trust or find an advocate online. Remember, there are people who can help you get out of a dangerous situation and find the resources you need to stay safe.

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