Three signs you may be in a financially abusive marriage and what to do about it

Three signs you may be in a financially abusive marriage and what to do about it

Manal Fouz
Chief Compliance Officer

Financial abuse, like emotional abuse, is far too common in many relationships. It’s not unique to any generation, culture, or faith. Seldom discussed, it can make its victims feel anxious, powerless, and resentful. I guarantee that you know at least one couple currently experiencing it.

Financial abuse can occur when one spouse exerts complete control over the other’s access to financial resources. In the case of a husband and wife, the husband is almost always the guilty party. The wife’s ability to be financially self-sufficient is greatly reduced, resulting in a power dynamic that is unfairly slanted in favor of the husband. This power imbalance can result in the loss of trust and emotional intimacy in the marriage.

The good news is that, unlike other forms of abuse, couples have a high chance at overcoming it with just a few changes. Here are three signs of financial abuse in marriage, and some things you can do about it:   

1. They deny you access.

When one spouse controls all the money (income, credit cards, investments, etc.) in an unhealthy and manipulative way, that’s financial abuse. When you deny your partner access to marital assets, it’s a power play. And usually, when you’re trying to assert your dominance, it means you don’t view them as an equal.

Consider how unprecedented this verse from the Qur’an must have been to listeners in the seventh century CE, And do not covet that by which God has made some of you excel others; men shall have the benefit of what they earn, and women shall have the benefit of what they earn. (Chapter 4, Verse 32)

Husbands who give an allowance to their wives need to tread carefully. An allowance can be healthy if both spouses still have access to the family’s marital assets. Consider depositing most of the family’s income into a joint bank account. Then each spouse can have individual bank accounts where they receive their allowance. This is money either spouse can spend, no questions asked. 

2. They feverishly monitor your spending, but forbid you question theirs.

Setting up a household budget is important for a family’s financial success. However, it’s unhealthy for one spouse to make all the spending decisions or to react angrily whenever money is spent. A spouse who vigorously tracks every purchase and gives just enough money to complete a task, is a spouse with major control issues.

There can also be a fine line between being cheap and inflicting financial abuse. For instance, if a wife spends money on herself for clothing, entertainment, food and other needs and her husband goes nuclear, that’s financial abuse. If he refuses to spend money on her medical or dental needs, that’s financial abuse. Allah declares, “Men are the caretakers of women, as men have been provisioned by God over women and tasked with supporting them financially.”(Chapter 4, Verse 34)

An abusive spouse isn’t always cheap. In fact, they will sometimes make a large purchase with your joint money after you’ve purchased something for yourself. A massive, unexpected purchase after an argument can be a symptom of financial abuse. Remember, it’s all about control.  

3. They keep you in the dark.

A husband who maintains secret financial accounts from his wife is committing financial abuse. Keeping you in the dark like that is sometimes referred to as financial infidelity. This is where a spouse lies about their money or hides something important, such as debt, investment losses or even large purchases from their partner. They may use their spouse’s credit information to open these accounts and then ruin their credit history by running up charges and not paying bills.  

The unassuming spouse can develop a false sense of security. When financial infidelity is discovered, a deep sense of betrayal is inevitable. Honesty and open communication are vital to maintaining a healthy marriage. This includes communicating about money issues.

So, what can you do if you feel you’re being abused?

Talk to your spouse. They may vehemently disagree with your characterization but be firm. You should consider counseling, whether it’s individual or marital, with a therapist who specializes in financial abuse. A therapist can help you feel more empowered by showing you how to self-advocate and set healthy boundaries. 

Hopefully, your spouse is willing to make some changes. They should start by sharing and reviewing with you all financial accounts. This includes bank accounts, investments, credit cards, etc. Your spouse should give you access where access wasn’t previously granted and name you as a joint owner. Password management applications like LastPass are a great way to store joint access information securely.

Next, consider starting a financial plan for a complete picture of your finances. It’ll help organize your liabilities (expenses) and assets all in one place. From there, it’ll help you make decisions on how to spend your marital assets. Then make it a rule to meet with your financial professionals (e.g., accountant, financial planner, or banker) as a couple rather than individually.

Lastly, change your mindset. Marriage is a union, a partnership. Try to do everything you can to foster that partnership. A caring and compassionate spouse will remember Allah’s words, “And among His signs is this, that he created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in peace and tranquility with them. And He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): Verily, in that are signs for those who reflect.” (Chapter 30, Verse 21)

Note: If you’re experiencing financial abuse that is part of even more serious physical or emotional abuse, please seek immediate professional help.

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