Terry visited our website because his partner accused him of “economic abuse” in their relationship. He committed himself to learning about economic abuse or anything he needs to change to heal his relationship with her. Understanding how we might harm our loved ones, and therefore our relationship with them, is a great start for Terry, you, and me.

What is economic abuse?

When one person deprives their partner of financial resources or the ability to make money, it’s called economic abuse. This creates a financial dependency, which is a way to control them or prevent them from leaving the relationship.

Financial dependency is a way to control a partner or prevent them from leaving the relationship.

Economic abuse could involve:

  • Putting your partner on a strict allowance
  • Requiring your partner to justify money they spend
  • Limiting your partner’s access to cash, bank accounts, debit or credit cards
  • Forcing your partner to ask (or beg) for money
  • Preventing your partner from finishing their education
  • Preventing your partner from getting or keeping a job or getting a better one
  • Threatening to evict your partner and/or children from the house without financial support
  • Making your partner poor by creating debt or intentionally blowing joint resources
  • Threatening to end the relationship unless your partner buys you something
  • Using your partner’s property or taking their money without their consent

By the way, the last one on the list is illegal and is also called financial abuse.

Doing harm

Since “abuse” means someone is harmed, how is harm done? When adults lose their ability to make their own choices and pursue their own interests, they lose their sense of autonomy and well-being. Forced deprivation destroys a person’s sense of self and builds anger and resentment toward the person controlling the purse strings.

Creating conditions where your mate can’t leave for financial reasons is the worst possible way to keep a relationship. We all want to be needed, but that kills intimacy, likely the thing we want, very quickly. There is no good ending to that strategy: either they stay and hate you, or they eventually leave because you drove them away.

Is it a “money issue” or economic abuse?

Couples argue about money more than any other issue. Economic abuse differs from common disagreements about finances, however. It requires some discernment to see the difference, so let’s take a look.

Expecting your partner to stick to a budget could just be wise money management. I know many people who can’t seem to limit their spending or pay bills on time, which creates stress for everyone involved. Limiting spending or designating a person to handle the finances is okay IF both parties agree to the arrangement.

However, unreasonably withholding funds by using “I’m just trying to be smart with money” is economic abuse. Test the difference by seeing if both you and your partner sacrifice equally. Vastly uneven resources, especially if only one person is deciding the allocation, is an indication of excessive financial control.

I make the money in our household, why shouldn’t I decide how to spend it?

“I make the money in our household, why shouldn’t I decide how to spend it?” At first glance, this question seems fair. It ignores the concept of a partnership, however, where each individual brings something unique for the mutual benefit of both.

Earning and spending are two different roles. Being the breadwinner does not give us any more or less authority over spending. Providing for the basic needs of everyone in the family is always the first priority and is non-negotiable. Then, deciding how discretionary money is spent is a joint, equal decision in healthy relationships, regardless of who earned it.

Thinking differently about money

How should we think about money in a relationship? In a healthy partnership, both individuals should have access to the resources they need. And, you and your partner should have equal say with regard to finances.

Both partners should have access to resources and equal say in financial decisions.

Each might contribute something different, but both parties will freely give their best. You bring home the bacon, but your partner fries it up in a pan, provides love and affection, or a hundred other non-financial benefits. Different, yet equal.

Generous people are universally liked and respected. True generosity is giving with no expectation of recognition or return—just the internal satisfaction of doing the right thing. While giving unselfishly means we don’t expect anything in return, doing so is often rewarded with appreciation and repaid with kindness.

These strategies not only help us avoid causing harm through economic abuse, but they set us up to succeed in our relationships. Like other forms of abuse, economic abuse not only hurts our loved one, but it also hurts us.

Faith note

God our creator is lavishly generous. He meets our basic needs by providing us with air to breathe, food to eat, and everything else we need to survive. But he also blesses us with companionship, the beauty of nature, pleasing scents and tastes, comfort when we need it, and guidance when we stray.

When someone does us a favor, we naturally want to return the kindness. That’s how it feels for millions of people like me who follow Christ (Christians). Once we realize how wonderfully God has blessed us, we want to show our gratitude. We do that by following his example of being generous to others. Then, in a way that defies worldly logic, God returns our generosity through great relationships and a feeling of internal joy.

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