Yes, Financial Abuse Is Part Of Domestic Violence
Domestic violence is a beast that takes many different forms. Emotional manipulation, walking through your life on eggshells, and financial abuse. Have you ever felt compelled to explain to your partner each and every purchase you make? Like when you’re at the grocery store, you buy your favorite treat but have to make sure it’s finished by the time you walk in the door? Because if they knew you’d spent money on yourself — yes even $2.99 — a never-ending rampage would ensue.
Why are you so selfish? Don’t you think about anyone but yourself? Is it more important for you to have things than your children? Even though it was the first three dollars you had spent on yourself in months. Even though you work, and it’s your money too. They always seem to forget that. This is what financial abuse can look like, but it’s something that we don’t talk about enough.
Unfortunately, many people learn about it after they are out of it. I know because I lived it. I was young and didn’t know the facts. Because the reality is, financial abuse occurs in 99% of domestic abuse cases. Financial abuse is when one person leverages power and creates an imbalance, and uses fear to keep the other person down: exactly where they want them.
My parents had joint finances. My grandparents had joint finances. Isn’t that just how things work when you are married? What’s mine is ours, until it wasn’t. I had never been unemployed since I’d been able to work, but this was the first time I seemed to have no control over my finances.
After the first few months of marriage, no sooner did my paycheck come into my account, it would all be gone, except money for groceries. And not money for whatever was on my list. No. This was a very specific, very set amount. Not a penny over. I remember pushing my cart through the supermarket frantically, running a total on my calculator of every item I put in my cart.
Even though it has been years, I remember it every time I go shopping. There was nothing more terrifying than watching the cashier ring up my purchases. I would hold my breath and hope with all my heart that after my coupons and savings, my math added up right. I’m sorry dear cashier, please just keep taking items off my bill until it hits exactly $150.00. Can you imagine the humiliation of having my card declined?
Of course, this was only the beginning. Financial abuse isn’t only about controlling the money in the relationship. It’s also about keeping the victim from being able to be financially dependent enough to ever leave. One way to do this is by sabotaging your employment. An abuser sabotaging your employment can look different for everyone. In my case, my partner couldn’t afford to keep me from working altogether, but his interference made it difficult to do my job and do it well.
My direct deposit from work always went into a joint account owned by my partner and I. During the entirety of my marriage, my partner expected I would print my check subs and turn them over. It never made sense to me why I would do this, but they claimed it was for taxes at the end of the year. I mean, isn’t that what W-2s are for?
For years I did the painstaking work of editing my check stubs to reflect the directly deposited into our joint account. On the side, I was hiding money. The money I had set aside for myself. The money I would later use to escape this relationship. Every other week I was terrified I would be found out and made myself sick over the potential consequences.
While the lengths I went to may seem extreme, it is also important to understand being able to do this was an extreme privilege. I worked a job where I could open a free bank account without all the strings to keep it fee-free. I also had access to edit these check stubs. The truth is, I never had to do any of it. The money was mine, earned by me, for working a job. But when you’re in it, nothing makes sense.
As easily as he withdrew the funds from our joint account, I was well within my rights to do the same. But when you’re involved in an abusive relationship, the fear of what could happen is so immense and so overpowering you forget what your legal rights are all together.
His monitoring of my spending, sabotaging of my employment, and refusal to let me access money I had earned, all were signs of financial abuse. Your abuser purposely instills this fear into you. They make the lines between what you are being told you can do and what your legal rights are so blurry, you are too overwhelmed and terrified to do anything at all.
Anytime you are in a relationship that is meant to be mutual, but your partner leverages finances and money to exert power and control over you — well, love, that is abuse. So often, other versions of abuse are passed over. It’s easy to see what physical abuse looks like. Because that’s tangible. Something you can see, something you can touch. When it comes to emotional, verbal, and financial abuse, the coercion is so insidious.
You reach out to people and explain it to them and are met with, Well, why don’t you just leave then? Bless your heart, but it is so much more complicated than that. It took me years — I’m talking, like, over a decade — to find a way to leave that made me feel safe enough and worthy enough to do so.
To the person who hears my story and relates to it all too much, we see you. We know you’re struggling, and I promise you aren’t alone. Please always remember, you do not deserve this. You did not do anything to provoke this. You deserve to be cherished, and loved, and respected.
And yes, it can and will get better.
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