We can easily overlook the more negative aspects of our partners, particularly in the early ‘honeymoon’ period of our relationships or when blinded by love. However, there are some negative traits – which might display as an initial ‘ick’ (or even a ‘red flag’) – which may actually be revealing bigger underlying issues of potential abuse. Dismissing the signs of potential financial abuse is one of these examples. According to FCA insight from 2021, one in five women and one in seven men has suffered some form of financial abuse, typically at the hands of their partner.
To discover the key signs of financial abuse in different relationship types, we collaborated with Louisa Whitney (accredited family mediator at LKW Family Mediation) and Callisto Adams (certified dating and relationship expert at HeTexted). We discussed what financial abuse is, the main red flags to look for, giving advice on how people can avoid/get out of these situations.
Here’s what we found…
Financial abuse is a form of abuse representing a person demanding power over another person’s (or more) financial assets or resources. Financial abuse is essentially where one person seeks to exert control over another through financial means.
A few examples portraying financial abuse include but are not limited to: demanding all the money or income you make be yielded to them; imposing or forcing decisions on your financial choices; forcing you to quit your job or other sources of income; withholding funds; or inflicting financial damage.
Here are a few example scenarios:
- If one person in the relationship doesn’t work, then they may be reliant on the abuser for money for their day to day living costs. Restricting such funds enables the abuser to restrict what the abusee is able to do – and crucially whether they are able to leave the relationship
- Even if the person being abused does work or have access to money the abuser may organise things financially to ensure they are in control of the finances in the relationship so that the other person’s access to money is still restricted
- The abuser may persuade their partner to take out loans, or other credit commitments in their own name on the basis that they will fund them and then refuse to fund them leaving the victim with debts that they struggle to pay, and a potential impact on their credit rating
Financial independence is crucial for a person to be able to live on their own and be independent of another person (be it an abuser or not). The abuser gets more control over the victim by practicing financial abuse on them, making it difficult for the victim to choose the way out of the relationship.
Crucially it often leaves the victim in a situation where they are unable to leave the relationship because they don’t have funds to secure alternative accommodation. They may not even have credit to make phone calls, or the means to transport themselves to a place where they can seek sanctuary with friends, family, or a refuge. Financial abuse can also impact on the victim’s credit rating, resulting in bad credit and impacting their ability to make ends meet – even after the relationship has ended – because they are having to meet credit commitments they took out for the abuser. It often leaves the person abused feeling isolated, scared, and anxious.
The reasons for abuse are complex – it may be due to a personality disorder, or a need to constantly be in control within the abuser. Such issues can stem from difficulties and abuse in the abuser’s own childhood. The important thing to recognise is that this is a form of domestic abuse in the same way that physical and emotional abuse are.
Red flags to look out for in romantic relationships include if your partner restricting your access to money or leaving you in a situation where you do not have the funds to meet your basic outgoings. This is not the same thing as asking a partner to make budget cuts to accommodate a tight financial situation. Another flag might be one partner being expected to manage very frugally whilst the perpetrator has a huge budget to buy expensive things with. Feeling that your partner is pressurising you to take on additional credit commitments or to make financial changes you don’t feel comfortable with may also be a red flag. Other red flags include if they speak in demanding tones when it comes to your personal financial decisions, they don’t seem to like the fact that you have a job, they demand access to your cards, or if they are finding ways to make you voluntarily quit your job or lose it by making it difficult for you to go to work (e.g. losing your car keys, showing up at your work in attempts to humiliate you, etc).
For family members, red flags might include if there’s a sense of fear when it comes to you making a financial decision, or you’re forced to declare every single financial decision you make. Your family member (the abuser) might also demand you and/or other members of the family to give all (or part of) your individual income to them, or you might feel pressured to ask for permission to purchase an item. For friends, red flags might include if they’ve stolen money from you, they pressure you into sharing your card details, or they borrow money never to return them.
What to do
There can be lots of things we’re told as children that affect our relationship with money, so some people can find it difficult to talk about. In a loving and supportive relationship both parties should try to be open and honest with each other about their financial arrangements and aim to manage money in a way that works for both of them. Both parties may decide they feel it’s better if one person manages money, but if you feel your partner is secretive or obstructive in discussions about money then this might be something to explore further. Ultimately if you feel that are being pressured to make decisions about money that you don’t feel comfortable with then this should be something to reflect on further.
Setting your boundaries can help people avoid these situations, however, it’s the knowledge that can really save you from such a form of abuse. Learning the signs and educating yourself more on financial abuse can help you spot the early signs of it before you get too involved with the abuser. Being aware of red flags also enables you to deal with situations that arise and to tackle situations. For some couples one person giving up work can make financial sense when a baby comes along but it’s important to understand what the financial impact will be on both of you and how you will meet new outgoings and manage this situation. It can be useful to see these life changes as a trigger to look at your relationship with money and whether you’re managing it in the most helpful way for you and your partner. What worked well or was right previously, might not be right or best now.
As with most things avoiding a situation is easier than having to extricate yourself from a situation, so having conversations at an early stage in a committed relationship about money is often helpful. Ideally most couples will discuss and be comfortable with how they will manage money together ahead of big changes such as moving in together, getting married, or having a baby.
If you have recognised the signs of financial abuse and have decided it is time to leave, then it can be useful to make a detailed escape plan by relying on your support system, and (if/when needed) contacting the authorities. There are institutions that support victims of abuse with food, shelter, and therapy, and you can always reach out to them if you don’t have a support system that involves friends, a therapist, or family members.
There are a number of domestic abuse charities around the country, with local ones as well as national ones. They are able to support victims of abuse and to assist in a way that is safe and supportive. They are always mindful of the difficulty of the situation and seek to support victims sensitively. You can find domestic abuse charities online or via the government website. They can support victims to leave abusive relationships by helping them with practical arrangements and emotional support.
This information is brought to you by the secured loans team at ABC Finance.
*Expert insight gathered in February 2023