Financial Abuse in Relationships

Financial Abuse in Relationships

When you think of abuse, more overt examples may come to mind, such physical or emotional abuse. If you aren’t familiar with the concept of financial abuse, you’re not alone – 78% of Americans weren’t aware that financial abuse was a form of domestic violence, as indicated on the Financial Abuse Fact Sheet by the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

It’s more common than you might think. Research shows that economic abuse actually occurs in 99% of domestic violence cases, which is a pretty staggering rate. Abusers often target their partner financially, because this further limits a victim’s ability to escape. It’s another way for an abuser to gain control and power.

Acts of love can actually be the veiled beginnings of financial abuse. To victims of financial abuse, the fact that it’s happening may not be obvious for a while because it can unfold in a series of subtle manipulations that seem like caring gestures at first.

For instance, a spouse might encourage their partner to quit working and offer to be the sole provider for the family. Of course, there are situations where one spouse doesn’t work – on it’s own, this isn’t financial abuse. This will be recognizable as abuse if this gesture is rooted in a desire to control the other person.

Another act that may seem harmless initially is when an abuser offers to completely manage the family’s finances without involvement from their partner. Again, it’s not uncommon for one partner to manage the finances in a healthy relationship, but the difference in an abusive situation is that the other partner is intentionally excluded and kept in the dark about the finances.

Financial abuse may be accompanied by gaslighting, as the abuser needs to undermine their partner’s feelings of competence. This happens over time, not overnight, and has nothing to do with a person’s intelligence. Often these acts are so covert and subtle that it’s hard to recognize them initially.

Sooner or later, it becomes clear that something’s not right. A financial abuser may exhibit some of the following behaviors (NNEDV):

  • Interfering with a victim’s ability to access gainful employment or advance their career.
  • Accumulating large amounts of debt on shared accounts.
  • Not granting their partner access to bank accounts or assets.
  • Excluding their partner from financial decisions.
  • Not paying bills on time or at all.
  • Not contributing to household income or being unwilling to work.
  • Demanding an explanation for how the victim is spending every cent of their money.
  • Providing the victim with an allowance and otherwise blocking access to finances.
  • Avoiding or refusing to pay child support.
  • Lying about how much they earn or refusing to disclose their own financial situation.
  • Stealing from the victim.

Financial abuse prevents victims from being able to access safety and escape the situation, which perpetuates a cycle of abuse and makes starting over that much more difficult. If someone is able to successfully leave, they likely face the task of having to repair extensive damage resulting from the abuse.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive situation, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline by visiting or calling  1-800-799-7233.