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5 Financial control behaviors that are red flags for relationship abuse

Here’s how to tell when financial control is the start of an abusive relationship.


t Dear Amanda:

t I’m in a relationship with a man who is very controlling with money. In the beginning I was fine with that, since I was never great with a dollar. But now it’s like I can’t even be my own person. Both of our paychecks go into one account that only he can access. He transfers money into my account each week, but it basically just covers the gas I need to get to and from work, and something for groceries (which he checks on my monthly statement). If I want to meet a friend for lunch I have to go to him for extra or ask my friend to treat me, and both are so embarrassing that I hardly even bother anymore. I’m not allowed to question how he spends the money or how much we have in savings. He says he’s making investments for us but I’m not sure. He tells me that he does this to take care of me and to keep me from wasting my money, but it makes me uncomfortable. What should I do?

t Your gut feeling is 100 percent correct. Your partner’s behavior is a major red flag.

t When someone uses money as a means of control, it is a not only a clear sign of an unhealthy relationship, it can be the beginning of an abusive one. Here is how money is often used to create and maintain an abusive situation.

1. Your partner determines your access to money.

t You mention that your paycheck is deposited into his account, and that you are on a strict allowance. A partner who does not have free access to his or her money is dependent and therefore subject to the other’s control.

2. Your partner forbids discretion or privacy around spending.

t You have only enough money for gas and food, and he makes you go to him to ask for anything else. Not only is this humiliating, but it allows him to reinforce the idea that you’re wasteful and he should be in charge.

3. Your partner uses money as a way to socially isolate you.

t It is clear that his financial control has made it more difficult for you to spend time with friends, both because it’s excluded from your allowance (it’s no accident that your budget for gas only gets you to and from work) and because you find it embarrassing for your friends to know how your partner has made you financially dependent. The cycle of abuse often begins by making one person feel like she has no one outside the relationship to whom she can go for help or support.

4. Your partner keeps you in the dark regarding earning, spending, investing or giving.

t There is an important difference between being in a relationship where someone takes a more active money management role versus someone who is keeping you financially dependent. With the former, you may not be as hands on in the day-to-day operation, but there is complete transparency and access to information. You can choose to become more involved at any time. Even if your partner’s behavior is not the precursor to abuse, it is still wrong. At the very least you are vulnerable to mistakes he could make or decisions you might not agree with. You have a right to know and determine everything that concerns your money.

5. Your partner makes it financially difficult or impossible for you to leave the relationship.

t One of my main concerns about your situation is that, should you decide to, you do not have the financial autonomy to leave. This is often the main reason that people remain trapped in an abusive relationship.

t couple arguing about money

Photo credit: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/360/Getty Images

t Here’s what to do:

t Your safety is my primary concern. You do not mention that your partner has ever been violent or abusive, and I sincerely hope that such a thing never occurs. Regardless, the behavior you describe is neither healthy nor loving, and I hope that you will give serious thought as to whether you want to remain in this relationship.

t Reach out to your friends and family. You have nothing to be ashamed of. Be honest about what has been happening and about your concerns. Make sure your partner knows that you are in contact with others. If this causes him to take other steps to try to isolate you, it shows that his financial control did indeed have an abusive purpose.

t Make a plan to regain control of your money. It is fortunate that you work and have your own source of income. Open a separate bank account in your own name, and have your paychecks deposited there.

t Only you can decide what is safe for you to communicate to your partner regarding these moves toward independence. Often the attempt to leave a relationship can cause an abuser to escalate their efforts to isolate and control or even to turn violent.

t If your partner reacts to any of the above steps with anything other than complete support or if you sense that it is not safe to tell him, take steps to leave this relationship. I understand that this can be a complex, emotional process. There are many resources that can help you understand the dynamics of abusive relationships and why it can be so hard to leave. Start here, here, or here.

t You did the right thing to listen to your instincts and reach out. Please take care of yourself and take your safety seriously. You are fully able to be in charge of your money. You deserve a partner who supports you, not one who controls you and calls it love.

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