Money as Power: As I sit here trying to figure out what to write, the stories I’ve heard from women as I’ve talked about financial abuse float through my head. It is amazing to me the hurtful things one person can do to another. Not having been an abuser myself, I must wonder if the abuser is cognizant of what they are doing and doing it intentionally. I would hedge to bet that often they are, but that just as often they don’t do it with malicious intent. Either way, when someone decides to exert control over another in regard to money, the result is financial abuse.
The scary thing about financial abuse (or any kind of abuse), is that it is ultimately about control. If you are married or in a committed relationship and the other person makes more money than you do, or is the sole breadwinner, then they are in a position to exert control. That doesn’t mean that they will. Hopefully, they won’t.
But if someone is insecure, suffers from a mental illness or addiction, or for some reason is broken in a way that they don’t know how to be a healthy loving partner, then sometimes they turn to manipulation and control to make them feel powerful.
In keeping others down, they gain a feeling of importance.
Lording their position of power over someone else is often insidious. It may not be completely obvious, even to the victim. For example, if the primary breadwinner insists on managing the joint finances, it may seem like a loving gesture. However, if he hides a spending habit that is causing financial devastation, then it is abuse. Keeping secrets while saying all the right things makes it hard for the victim to realize something bad is going on.
The key for the victim is not assuming that everything is being taken care of and pretending not to see any warning signs. Usually, the victim gets a feeling that something is not quite right. They may not be able to put their finger on it, but not ignoring that feeling is important.
If the victim is willing to acknowledge that they do not know what is going on and is willing to confront their partner, then the path to finding the truth unfolds.
If there is abuse going on, then the victim will likely get resistance when she tries to question the situation. For example, if she asks to see the credit card statement and he poo-poos her, then that may be a red flag that he is hiding something. Financial control and manipulation is a form of abuse. Statistically she is probably being abused in other ways, so proceed is a delicate matter. Each situation is unique and must be assessed by the victim as to how best to deal with it.
If there is physical abuse or sexual abuse being perpetuated already, confronting an abuser about financial abuse will likely escalate the situation and put the victim at further risk. The dynamic is sensitive, and a confrontation needs to be approached carefully.
As the saying goes, pick your battles.
Tread lightly in order to not raise awareness with the abuser. Instead, try gathering information as quietly as possible. Ask innocent questions and then assess the answers to see if they should raise concern. Now, back to the credit card situation. If she asks to see a statement and gets blown off, then I suggest trying to get online access. Or call and ask for a digital statement to be sent to a secure email address. Be careful to cover any tracks just in case there is cause for concern that the abuser make seek retribution. The victim could use a friends’ phone to call the credit card company. She could ask to have information sent to that friends’ email address as well.
Again, if there is nothing going on, great! But, it’s best to find out and not assume that your partner is telling you the truth. If there is nothing to hide, then asking to see the information should not cause a problem. Sharing the documents will not be an issue.
Remember, financial abuse is about control and manipulation. Ultimately, it’s about having power over someone else. A loving relationship does not involve any of that. It is open and honest. Learning to communicate about finances is important to any healthy relationship. Keeping secrets is not healthy.
Honestly evaluating one’s situation is about courage. Learning to see what’s really going on and figuring out the safest way to address it is key to owning one’s own financial power. Listing to one’s intuition and being willing to address any concerns is empowering. Always take it one step at a time and proceed with caution. If you empower yourself financially, then you take back your own power and learn not to give it up to anyone else.
If money is power, then living in awareness is empowering and smart.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.Join our FB page https://www.facebook.com/groups/womensurivingfinancialabuse