As you’ve likely heard me quote, if there is abuse (verbal, emotional, physical, sexual) in a relationship, then there is a 98-99% chance that there is also financial abuse. The question is, how does that happen?
How can financial abuse be so prevalent if there is any other abuse happening? The answer lies at the core of what abuse is: control and manipulation.
Abuse of one person perpetuated against another person always comes down to those two factors. Abuse is used to intimidate someone and keep them under the control of the abuser. Scared to leave, scared to speak up, paralyzed and unable to stop it.
Given that money is one of the most fought about topics between couples, it’s not surprising that if there is abuse which often involves some kind of fighting, then finances enter into the mix, too.
Think about it. If you are being verbally abused, for example, you are probably being yelled at. That alone undermines a person’s self-esteem. Add to that fighting about money, and it will often come out as “you don’t know how to handle money,” “you spend too much,” or some such mean message. Listening to that repeatedly at top volume will make you question how well you handle money or whether you are spending too much.
The message starts to seep into your head and undermines your belief in yourself.
For a woman who goes into a relationship feeling financially savvy, perhaps even having solid finances, this message can tear her down. It can leave her lacking in the self confidence she needs in order to know what to do to overcome the financial abuse.
Blaming the victim is also a classic manipulation technique used by abusers. So if they are in fact committing financial abuse, they will blame the victim instead of taking responsibility for the financial woes in the relationship. Not that financial strain is always financial abuse; it’s not. But if there is control and manipulation of finances (see resource Nine Indicators of Financial Abuse available on our website) then an abuser will typically be trying to hide what he is doing, often flipping it back onto the victim.
This is how emotional abuse becomes tied to financial abuse.
If he uses gaslighting or other manipulative techniques to convince you that the problem is all in your head or that you are the one who caused the problem, he’s emotionally abusing you. If he is spending money without your knowledge or approval and blaming you, then he’s committing financial abuse and emotional abuse at the same time.
With physical or sexual abuse, the control and manipulation are more tangible but just as real. He’ll threaten to (or actually will) hurt you if you don’t do what he expects. If he perpetrates the abuse because of a financial discretion on your part, then again, it’s both types of abuse at once.
You see where I’m going with this?
Verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse can all feed financial abuse, hence the reason the statistic for financial abuse is so high.
Let that soak in for a minute. Abuse begets more abuse.
Stopping one type of abuse may or may not stop the others, but if you are able to leave (usually the only way to truly stop abuse), then you may be able to start to recover, put some distance between yourself and your abuser, and at least diminish the problem.
Unfortunately, even after a divorce, there will be financial strings that tie you to one another. Typically, it’s in the form of child support or spousal support. This still leaves you vulnerable to financial abuse, but hopefully it will be less damaging and will eventually end.
Also, once you understand what has happened, you’ll be more equipped to fight back and assert yourself against it.
The other way that financial abuse can continue after the end of a relationship, particularly a marriage, which is legal and binding and therefore takes legal action to terminate, can be dragging out the divorce. In cases where this happens, the perpetrator will continue to cause financial distress by hiding information from the courts, running up excessive legal fees that he can afford but the victim cannot, or other stalling tactics that impact the victim financially more significantly than the abuser. This is where change in the courts needs to happen. For now, there is limited recourse; just be sure you have a good attorney.
If you’ve experienced financial abuse, then statistically there is a very good chance that you’ve endured other types of abuse as well. Remember that you are the victim. Which means you are not responsible. It also means that if you had financial security before the abuse, you have the skills inside you to have it again.
Recovering from financial abuse is a process that takes time. Recovering from any type of abuse is a journey that takes grit. Give yourself grace as you take the necessary steps to reclaim your life. Regaining your self-confidence and self-esteem will go a long way to you becoming the strong confident person you deserve to be. And figuring out how to be financially savvy, either for the first time, or again, will be a huge shift in your life and move your recovery along in tremendous ways.
Sherry Lutz Herrington is the owner of Sherrington Financial Fitness, a business consulting and accounting firm specializing in strategic business planning and solid financial accounting for businesses. She is also the author of Strong Women Thriving (https://strongwomenthriving.com/), a blog which focuses on empowering women to be financially savvy, particularly after experiencing financial abuse. Sherry is currently writing a new book that both shares her personal story and addresses financial abuse. She can be reached at email@example.com. Join our FB group https://www.facebook.com/groups/womensurivingfinancialabuse