Is your spouse or partner a financial bully? Financial abuse is not talked about as often as other forms of abuse, yet the Center for Financial Security recently conducted a study that showed that 99% of people who experience domestic abuse also experience financial abuse from their partners. The study also found that most domestic abuse cases begin with a subtle form of financial control that escalates into physical, verbal, or emotional abuse.
Since the warning signs can be subtle and the escalation significant, I think it’s important to talk about this issue. Below, I’ll share information that I hope you will pass along, too, so that we can begin to collectively tackle the lack of education around financial abuse and bullying.
Why You Should Be Wary of a Financial Bully and Financial Abuse
When a spouse or significant other begins to exert control over your finances, you lose a great deal of freedom to get yourself out of a potentially negative situation. If you lose control of or access to your financial resources, you could become stuck in a dangerous situation. In fact, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research says that 73% of those in abusive relationships cite a lack of financial security as the main reason for staying with their abuser.
Misconceptions About the Victims of Financial Bullying or Abuse
Before we get to the specific warning signs, I want to clear up some misconceptions about victims of financial bullying or abuse:
Misconception #1: Only Women are Victimized by Financial Bullies
While women are much more likely to be victims of every type of domestic abuse, it’s important to remember that men can be victims of financial abuse, too.
Misconception #2: Women Who are Stay-at-Home Wives or Mothers are Financial Bullying Targets
Many women who work outside the home and earn their own paychecks mistakenly believe that they can’t become victims of financial abuse. In truth, even the most powerful and empowered CEO can find herself the victim of a financial bully, and this has a lot to do with the fact that this type of behavior begins very subtly.
Warning Signs You Are the Victim of a Financial Bully
Now that we’ve covered a few basics, let’s talk through the specifics. The following eight behaviors are warning signs your spouse or significant other is a financial bully:
1. Does your spouse require you to tell them about all of your purchases?
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while (or listening to my Flourish Financially podcast) then you know I’m a huge proponent of having money conversations with your spouse and other family members. If you and your spouse have made a deal to discuss your purchases each week or month, or to file your receipts where you can both view them, that’s not a sign of financial bullying.
However, if your spouse demands to see details of your spending, installs a doorbell camera to monitor package deliveries, or other similarly controlling or mistrustful behavior, this is a warning sign.
2. Do you find yourself having to ask for more money to cover everyday bills?
It’s not uncommon for one spouse to take a greater interest in and control of financial matters. However, if your spouse has you on a strict allowance that doesn’t even let you pay all the necessary bills, consider whether this short financial rope should be of greater concern to you.
3. Has your spouse ever threatened to cut you off from the money?
If you’re reliant on your spouse or partner for any financial resources you need and you’ve been threatened with being cut off or locked out of accounts, you should take this bullying behavior very seriously.
4. Does your spouse make significant investments without consulting you?
If your spouse has a bad habit of spending significant sums on things you didn’t know about, or if you find they have investments or other financial accounts you weren’t aware of, you could be in a troubling financial abuse scenario.
5. Does your spouse discourage you from furthering your career or making more money?
Since a need for control underlies financial abuse, many financial bullies feel threatened when their spouse wants to work outside the home, take a higher-paying job, or start a side hustle. If your money-making dreams are consistently dashed by your spouse, it’s time to dig deep and ask yourself what it means.
6. Does your spouse forbid you from working?
If you are reliant for financial support on someone who actively prevents you from making money of your own, this is a clear warning sign that you are the victim of a financial bully or abuser.
7. Does your spouse prevent you from having access to account information?
This can be a particularly subtle warning sign. Sometimes, a financial bully will tell you outright that you can’t have access to the financial accounts. Other times, it may be harder to pinpoint what’s going on. Say, for instance, you ask your spouse for account information for your shared savings account and, every time, they seem to have an excuse like “I forgot the password and the account is locked” or “I’m busy right now but remind me later.” If avoidance becomes a pattern, consider whether your spouse is actively attempting to keep account information out of your hands.
8. Does your spouse make poor decisions that harm your credit score?
Perhaps the most dangerous type of financial bully is the type that wants full control over the money but also is not at all educated about making smart financial decisions. It’s all too easy for your credit score to become seriously damaged if your spouse is taking out loans or opening new accounts with your information.
How to Get Help if You’re Being Financially Bullied or Abused
Knowing the eight warning signs above is important, but it’s even more critical to know how and where to get help if you need it.
Since 2005, the Allstate Foundation has operated a program called Purple Purse. Their financial empowerment programs have helped 1.7 million survivors of financial bullying and abuse to exit harmful relationships. They offer grant programs and a fantastic educational curriculum. Purple Purse is a valuable place to start if you’re concerned about a lack of control over your own finances, and it’s a resource you can easily share with a friend in need, too.
Final Thoughts on Financial Bully and Financial Abuse Warning Signs
I hope this information will help you support your own financial security and empowerment, particularly if you think you may be a victim of a financial bully. Know that you are not alone, there is nothing to be ashamed of, and help exists. Please share this article with anyone who may need it. Together, we can shed more light on financial bullying and abuse and help victims find the assistance they need.