How To Recognize Financial Abuse In A Marriage

Finances are a sore subject in a lot of relationships and marriages.

Last updated on Dec 20, 2022

shocked woman with husband wondering about financial abuse fizkes / Shutterstock

When you're married, you're tied financially to each other. Every decision and transaction affects the other, whether you like it or not.

That is why control of finances and money is a big area of conflict in family relationships and marriage. But this also means that there's a ripe ground for financial abuse[fn]Learn more about Financial Abuse. NNEDV. Accessed December 19, 2022.[/fn] (also referred to as 'economic abuse'), which you may not even realize is happening.


You will never agree on everything in deciding what to spend money on and when to save. However, disagreeing is very different from someone holding all the financial power in a relationship.

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4 Types of financial abuse in marriages and relationships

1. Controlling your access to funds and making you account for every penny.

Many women who give up work and careers to have children may feel a huge lack of financial control and independence.

Even if a husband is generous when they're out together and tells them they can have what they need, having to ask all the time can often lead some women to feel as if they're being controlled by their husband's thumb over the finances — they may even feel oppressed or victimized.

Published in 2022, researchers wrote a review of 35 studies that took place in the year 2000 or later from 14 databases, and found that "studies found significant associations between economic abuse and a range of outcomes, such as mental and physical health, financial impacts, parent-child interactions, and quality of life."[fn]Johnson L, Chen Y, Stylianou A, Arnold A. Examining the impact of economic abuse on survivors of intimate partner violence: a scoping review. BMC Public Health. 2022;22(1). doi:10.1186/s12889-022-13297-4[/fn]

In addition, they identified six types of financial abuse, which they explicitly classified as a type of intimate partner violence (which can also be referred to as domestic violence): "psychological abuse, physical violence, sexual violence, economic control, employment sabotage, and economic exploitation."


In situations such as these, where women become financially dependent on their husbands, they often feel as if they don't have a voice, let alone a way out.

Chances are, they would rather be able to speak up and be able to ask for help from their husbands to see things from their point of view, rather than outright exit the marriage.

They simply don't see a way to enter into a discussion about finances because of the power dynamics at play and their husband having the upper hand at all times.

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2. Micro-managing or constant monitoring of your spending.

For example, Michelle couldn’t stand having to always ask her husband for money for a haircut, or to buy a friend a birthday present, or even to get herself a coffee and magazine.


She also hated the way she had to report on every single purchase she made in order for her husband to make comments about it. He was always so negative and thought everything was expensive.

So, she began to fear asking him for money, and instead of asking for things, she held resentment against him instead, presuming he would react badly.

Resentment builds when financial abuse and control issues are present.

When this occurs, you need to devise a plan to structure your finances that works for both people to clear past resentments on both sides. Resentment needs to be let go of, as it kills passion and closeness in relationships.

3. Making large, important financial decisions without discussing or agreeing on them.

One of the biggest areas of resentment and conflict is how much one person is spending on their family. Couples fall out over money sent home to pay for a brother or sister's education, family medical bills, or paying for their parents' home and expenses.


When there are stepchildren involved, it can get even more complicated and tense.

Some couples believe the money they earn as a unit needs to stay within and be spent on their family unit only. Others feel obligated to help their family, and want to treat them and look after them.

These issues have to be worked through and agreed upon, because if they are not, anger, jealousy and negativity will implode the relationship. Ideally, these are the kinds of things that need to be addressed before marriage.

The key to managing finances lies in transparency and financial education.

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4. Unrealistic limits or allowances because of conflicting mindsets.

Your childhood either positively or negatively impacted your attitude about money.

You probably had ideas and dreams about what you wanted to achieve and have, or for what you didn't want.

This includes how you saw money being managed growing up, how much money you had, and what beliefs were passed on to you about having or not having money.

I grew up in a household where we didn’t have much money. I saw my mum working nights when my dad got in from work because we were struggling as a family. We had very little, and it was a stressful time for my parents. They fought over money a lot.


As a child, you remember the small things; I resented what we had to do to survive as a result. So, for me personally, extreme tightness is very unattractive. At the same time, too much extravagant spending concerns me, especially if done on credit.

I want to make sure that I'm never in a situation where I don’t have enough money. That’s why if I was in a relationship where my partner was not transparent about money or did not see the value in saving, it would be a challenge for me to have peace.

This isn’t about me not trusting a partner. It's because of years of living through financial pain and stress and seeing my parents fight over it.

You can love someone, but if you're polar opposites financially, you have a high likelihood of conflict causing tension between you.


types of financial abuse

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What to do if you’re experiencing financial abuse in your marriage

1. Understand your own financial personality.

What are your rules around money and saving? Are you a "fake it 'til you make it" kind of person, or do you try to live within your means?

What about your financial dreams? Do you have any? Is your partner aware of them — are you aligned? Are there things that currently frustrate you about the way finances are run in your family?


Some people hate the thought of budgeting and want to be free to spend everything they get.

They see something they want and get it, even if it’s on credit. They're not worried about the future or saving; they feel confident they'll get by.

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2. Communicate and make decisions collaboratively about finances.

You have your own relationship with money. That's why sharing financial concerns and dreams early on benefits couples.

Financial abuse and control have nothing to do with love.

In their article, published in the journal Violence Against Women, researchers explained that 'financial abuse' is "part of the pattern of behaviors used by batterers to maintain power and control over their partners."[fn]Adams AE, Sullivan CM, Bybee D, Greeson MR. Development of the scale of economic abuse. Violence Against Women. 2008;14(5):563-588. doi:10.1177/1077801208315529[/fn]


Are finances causing conflict in your relationship? Do you feel resentful about the financial choices your partner makes? Do you feel controlled or free financially? Is it time to change the way your finances are working in your relationship? Is there respect and appreciation when it comes to how money is managed?

The more both partners in the relationship take an interest in the finances and work as a team, the better equipped they are to deal with life and its unexpected costs.

When a couple feels happy about the way finances are being controlled and organized in the relationship, they feel more peace. A financial agreement is key, because not having enough money and financial insecurity causes fear and stress.

RELATED: What To Do If Money Stress Is Impacting Your Mental Health


3. Come up with solutions to financial disagreements as a team.

In another example of opposite mindsets about finances, we have Tony. Tony wanted to change a few things in his relationship. He wanted to know what to say to his wife, because her spending was dwindling all of their savings. She loved to shop and go on holiday, and he wanted to please her.

Tony didn’t know how to bring it up and feared her reaction. He also felt, as the provider and man of the household, that his wife and children should have whatever they wanted.

For years, there was no financial control on his part. She had the power to buy whatever she wanted. But when he was out of work for a year, it was no longer sustainable.


Tony had to learn how to give her a budget and the responsibility to pay for things out of it. She could keep what she saved, which incentivized her to cut back on the things she wasn’t bothered about and prioritize what was important to her.

He also gave her access to see the savings grow and discussed the pension and his retirement dreams.

Even if you're "money opposites," there is a way to work things out without financial abuse being involved.

Even if only one spouse is earning the money. In order to have financial peace, you must both have an agreement on how to spend and save it.

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Humans are the only species that have to pay to survive; no other species does. That is why it's critical to have enough money to live sustainably.


As with all things, the key to connection and commitment is involvement. The more you involve your spouse in your financial decisions and make them together, the closer you will be.

It doesn’t matter what the financial conflicts are about. You need to listen to each other wholeheartedly without judgment, be honest about what you can and cannot afford, and find a middle way.

While that might seem obvious, it may not translate when it comes down to speaking with your spouse about finances. Protect your relationship from financial abuse, resentment, and constant fighting about money.

Finances should be a partnership; no one person should have the final say-so without their spouse's input.


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Nicola Beer is a life and marriage coach and the founder of the Save My Marriage Program.