On our first Valentine’s Day together, he told me he loved me. He saw our relationship lasting forever, and he promised that he would do everything in his power to keep us together.
On our second Valentine’s Day together, he asked to have access to my credit card. I handed it to him eagerly. After all, he had convinced me that he was better with money than me. He convinced me that I was too stupid to understand how credit cards worked — I would only screw it up. Earlier, he had already begun managing my checking and savings accounts. The financial abuse had started. It was just a matter of recognizing the signs.
On our third Valentine’s Day together, I was ready to leave. As I sat in the movie theater with his hand wrapped tightly around mine, I could only dream of a way to escape. Unable to access my money or take out cash without him knowing, that all seemed impossible. Even running out the door of the theater would require money — money he wouldn’t let me have in fear that I would use it against him or against his wishes.
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It wouldn’t be until months later that I fought my way out of the relationship and to freedom. To this day, I still wear the very real scars of what happened during my physically, emotionally, and financially abusive relationship.
The Prevalence of Financial Abuse and Infidelity
According to CentSai’s 2017 survey of 2,000 responders, nearly two-thirds of millennials reported a partner manipulating their access or use of money to control or gain power over them. The same number of responders reported being lied to about their partner’s spending, savings, or earnings.
A year ago, I interviewed several women on this subject. Much like my story, many of the women talked openly of physical abuse and, in extreme cases, torture. Others experienced financial abuse in the form of deception. A stolen wallet was used for a drug habit. Another used his wife’s card to pay for dates with a mistress.
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The Signs of Financial Abuse
The abuser almost always gained control by expressing a desire to take care of his or her partner. Breadwinners would do it under the guise of being better at managing money. One kept telling his partner that she wasn’t intelligent enough to handle a budget. That was similar to my own previous situation.
Money may not be a fist, but when used in such a troubling way, it can pack a near-deadly punch.
One woman I spoke to confessed that she couldn’t even buy the supplements her son needed to treat a vitamin deficiency. When I last spoke to her, she was still unsure how she would be able to afford groceries and the child’s medicine when her husband gave her only $20 a week for spending.
For these abusers — including mine — controlling money is a way to keep a partner in her place. Without cash, there’s no way to put gas in the tank. A turned-off phone means no calling home for help. Hidden or unauthorized debt racked up on a “borrowed” credit card or on another person’s credit makes permanent dents in the victim’s financial future (including her ability to get a loan, lease an apartment, or have affordable monthly payments on debts).
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During my financially abusive relationship, I couldn’t see my credit dwindling or my cash disappearing. I was so “in love” that I failed to see that without money in my bank, I could never have real, true freedom to escape the relationship. It wasn’t until too late that the mistakes I made on those first Valentine’s Day dates came back to haunt me.
For many, even once they escape the cycle of financial abuse, their credit is ruined, leaving them with a difficult road ahead. If you find yourself in this situation, learn how you can get help repairing your credit.
Recognizing the Signs of Financial Abuse
Today, I have learned some hard truths about love and money. First and foremost, love does not control, nor does it manipulate. And it is not a power struggle.
Love is not insistence or pressure to take something from another that is rightfully theirs. Love is not physical pain or harsh words repeated over and over again like a broken record. And love is not a romantic date on February 14 from which you can’t walk away.
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If your spouse or partner is withholding money or other financial necessities from you, we recommend that you contact the free National Domestic Violence Hotline and request information about what you can do to break free from the cycle of financial abuse.