Economic Abuse – Stuck in a Bad Relationship Because of Money?

Not heard of ‘economic abuse’ before? Prepare to hear more and more about it.  The UK government has promised to change the statutory definition of domestic abuse to include economic abuse.

Which is good news, considering research by Women’s Aid in the UK shows that 52 per cent of women in abusive relationships felt they could not leave because of money.

What is economic abuse?

Economic abuse means your partner is using money and money-related issues to manipulate, diminish, and control you. Their behaviours make it hard for you to get, use, and keep hold of economic resources, leaving you financially dependent on them.

Economic abuse is a very powerful form of domestic abuse because in our society money buys us what we need to live – our food, water, and shelter. If someone is controlling your access to money, then you might believe that without them you won’t survive.

Economic abuse or financial abuse?

You might find these two terms being used interchangeably. And they both do refer to someone using money as a way to damage your life.

To be exact, financial abuse actually refers to someone illegally involving themselves in your finances, such as using your cheque book and forging your signature, making you change your will or doing it behind your back, or taking your money without your permission.

Economic abuse describes any kind of manipulation that affects your ability to provide for yourself and your children.

Who is a victim of economic and financial abuse?

Financial abusers often target the elderly. Such cases appear in the media from time to time. Financial abuse can be carried out by family members and friends, or even strangers who pretend they are there to help.

But there is a lot of financial and economic abuse that goes on that never makes the news. We live in a society where money issues cause a lot of shame, so economic abuse is often kept secret.

Economic abuse can happen to anyone of any gender. It happens to spouses and partners in what can seem a ‘normal’ couple, and it can happen no matter what cultural, religious, or social background you come from. And it’s not just something that happens to poor people. You can be from a very wealthy family, or have a very wealthy partner, and still suffer economic abuse. 

What does economic abuse look like?

  • spending your money without your permission
  • using your name to rack up debt and ruin your credit rating
  • making you rely on them for any money you need
  • leaving you to beg for that money when you do need it
  • demanding you account for every penny you spend
  • not letting you have a bank account or see your bank statements
  • stopping you from getting a job so you could be financially independent
  • not letting you get an education that would make you employable
  • making you so dependent on them financially you can’t leave the relationship
  • if you do get a job, they sabotage it for you, showing up at the workplace, calling you there when you ask them not to, making you late for your shift, etc.

Economic abuse can continue even after you have left your abusive partner. He or she can continue to intentionally and viciously ruin any hope that you might find economic stability. This can look like refusing to pay support payments, sending out emails that destroy your reputation in the industry you work in, and even things like getting your neighbours to complain about you so you get evicted.

Economic abuse and other kinds of domestic abuse

Economic abuse often happens hand-in-hand with other forms of abuse. So at the same time your partner is controlling you through finances he or she will be abusing you verbally, emotionally, physically, or even sexually.

Your abuser will use financial issues to make you allow or put up with other forms of abuse, such as:

Physical abuse – your partner threatens to hurt you if you don’t give him or her money.

Sexual abuse – your partner tells you he or she will only give you money if you perform sexual favours.

Emotional abuse – you are tormented with possible punishments, like being told you’ll get put on the street with no money, or he or she will take the children from you in court and you won’t be able to afford a lawyer, and they will refuse to pay support if you leave.

Verbal abuse – you are called stupid because you can’t manage money or make money, even when your partner blocks any attempt you make to get a job or educate yourself.

Why is economic abuse such a big deal?

Economic abuse means that you are less likely to leave your partner even if you want to. You need money to survive and get by, and if they are the only source of money you have, you can feel you have no option.

Even if you try to leave you might find it so hard to get by you go back to the relationship.

And as you can see above, if your partner is using money to control and manipulate you, then you are more likely to allow other forms of abuse as well. This is actually very dangerous.

Research shows that women who are experiencing financial abuse are actually at a higher risk of being murdered by their partner, because it means they will stay in a violent relationship longer. So your very life might be at stake – can it be more serious than that?

What should you do if you are being financially abused?

1. Don’t blame yourself.

This is not your fault. You are being manipulated in such a way that you think your very survival is at risk, and you are doing the best you can.

2. Educate yourself on your options.

Economic abuse leaves you feeling totally trapped and like there is no way out. Learning about your other options can give you the strength to believe in your future. Here are some useful charities and resources here in the UK (if you are not in the UK, Google ‘economic abuse’ alongside the name of your country):

3. Find support. 

Leaving an abusive relationship alone is extremely hard. Do you have a good friend who you trust to help you? Or a family member? If not, contact the above charities to learn about organisations that can help you. You might also want to call your local chapter of the mental health charity Mind UK, who can let you know if there is any free or low cost counselling available nearby.

If you are scared and don’t know what to do, you can also call a free mental health helpline and speak to a trained and friendly listener. Read our article on UK Helplines for more details.

Are you looking for low cost counselling as soon as possible? Our sister site now offers phone and Skype counselling for all budgets. 


Would you like to ask a question about ‘what is economic abuse’? Or do you have a story you want to share with other readers? Use the public comment box below. 

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