Amanda Gregory, LCPC, EMDR Practitioner, Symmetry Counseling Chicago

Financial abuse is often a well-kept secret. Lately, more people have been speaking up and speaking out against physical, emotional, and sexual abuse in intimate relationships, yet financial abuse is rarely mentioned. Nevertheless, it does happen.

When couples decide to marry or cohabitate, many choose to combine their finances. This creates the possibility that one partner could experience financial abuse. How can you tell if you are experiencing financial abuse? Here are some common warning signs:

1. You don’t have access to financial information. If you and your partner have combined your finances, you must have access to all of your family financial information. You should know how many accounts are open, the balance of each account, and how much money is going out and coming in. This should include any checking or savings accounts, 401(k) and other retirement accounts, investments, assets, and all other places where money or valuables are held.

2. You have no control over your finances. Your partner makes large purchases without consulting you or demands that you sign financial paperwork without an explanation. Your partner chooses—perhaps with good intentions—to pay off debt using a portion of your combined savings without talking it over with you first. Something is wrong if you are not allowed or invited to take part in financial planning and decision-making. In short, you should be consulted regarding all major financial decisions.

3. You have no access to funds. You cannot access money without the involvement or permission of your partner. You do not have ATM or credit cards, PINs, internet passwords, or other tools to use funds at a moment’s notice. If you struggle with overspending, it’s wise to have a plan in place with your partner, but that plan should include having access to your money. What would you do in case of an emergency?

4. Your name is missing. Your money is no longer tied to your name. Financial accounts and legal claims to assets such as deeds and titles are in your partner’s name alone. This might be explained by the fact that one of you had better credit or had established accounts before you combined your finances. But what happens if the relationship ends? It might be more difficult to claim your share of the funds if your name is absent from legal documentation.

5. Your accounts aren’t being paid. You may have some or all accounts in your name alone and payments aren’t made to these accounts. If your name is the only one tied to unpaid accounts, then only your credit, not your partner’s, will be negatively impacted. In addition, your partner might be using your combined income to pay off the accounts in their name. If the relationship ends, you could be held liable for all the debt associated with the accounts in your name.

6. Your spending is closely monitored, but your partner’s spending is not. Your partner keeps a close eye on your spending and sets specific expectations. Yet they do not apply the same expectations to their own spending. Let’s say you purchased a few coffees before work last week and your partner is upset, as you agreed that you’d make coffee at home to save money—but your partner also went out for coffee a few times last week and refuses to hold themselves to the same expectation.

7. You’re threatened with financial ruin. Your partner uses finances to manipulate or intimidate you: If you leave me, you’ll have nothing. If you don’t do what I say, I’ll close all the accounts. Threats are a clear sign of an abusive relationship.

Financial abuse in any form should be addressed immediately. If you are experiencing financial abuse, you could benefit from participating in individual or couples counseling. Call Symmetry Counseling today at 312-578-9990.