Financial abuse from intimate partners — a lament, stories and tips to protect oneself
[August 4, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]
(Proverbs 13:23 ESV) The fallow ground of the poor would yield much food,
but it is swept away through injustice.
(Proverbs 28:3 ESV) A poor man who oppresses the poor
is a beating rain that leaves no food.
(Proverbs 28:24 ESV) Whoever robs his father or his mother [and by extension any family member whom he has a duty of care to support and protect]
and says, “That is no transgression,” is a companion to a man who destroys.
In church services we often hear about money and finances in regards to the offering plate or tithing or support for missionaries. What is less commonly heard in conservative churches is the discussion of how money and finances relate to justice. The liberal churches are good at that talk; they have made the ‘social gospel’ their primary message while neglecting or perverting the Bible’s warnings about the perilous state of the unregenerate sinner before God and the call to confess, repent and trust in Christ for salvation. But the conservative evangelical churches generally only touch on how money and finances relate to justice when they are preaching through the book of James.
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? (James 2:15-16 ESV)
However, conservative churches rarely make application of this passage from James to domestic abuse that is hiding in the pews; they are much more likely to apply it to the poor in foreign countries, or those ‘unwashed’ people from the wrong side of the tracks where welfare dependency and crime are higher than where we are.
Domestic abuse exercised through financial abuse is a scourge. It’s like a withering hot wind. Or a driving hailstorm that destroys the crops. Or locusts that eat the new shoots before they can bear edible grain. Or creeping mildew that corrodes the fabric of a building. Or white ants (termites) that eat through the timber frame of the house but can never be seen because they only eat from the inside so their little channels and passages are invisible when you walk through the house, they only become visible when the walls of the house are torn down.
It has so many forms. It may be the abuser overtly demanding full control of the money, or making the target account for every cent spent with receipts, or putting the target on a tight budget for household expenses while flagrantly spending money on his own pleasures (these are only a few examples). But it may not be so overt. It may be the abuser hiding some of his income so the target never realizes he is withholding joint funds from the family.
Domestic violence practitioners have coined the term ‘sexually transmitted debt’. That is when the abuser craftily makes sure that all the debt is in the target’s name so if they split up, she (assuming the target is female) is stuck with the debt while the abuser walks free with no blight on his financial reputation.
And then there’s financial abuse post-separation, and that can take many forms too! Some abusers are so clever and devoted to this that they seem to pull endless rabbits out of the hat, new tactics and strategies to keep their X in poverty and behind the eight ball financially, for years. It is very powerful way of maintaining continuing control after separation, and gratifying the abuser’s craving to punish his target for leaving him. And then add in the effects this can have on the children….and the way the abuser can manipulate the kids to make them blame mum for being penny-pinching and mean financially….the possibilities are endless, for the creative and determined abuser! And often the courts are unwilling to get very involved let alone hold the abuser accountable for all this financial skullduggery, especially once the divorce has been finalized.
I must be naive. It was only a few years ago when I was shopping for a wallet as a Christmas gift for my then-husband. I noticed a feature that is quite common in men’s wallets, though not in women’s wallets. I asked the shop assistant about it. She explained that the man’s wallet is often designed with two compartments for the notes (bills). One compartment is relatively shallow in depth so that the top edges of the notes are visible when you open the wallet. The other compartment is deeper and may have a zip as well, so that when the man opens his wallet the notes in that compartment are not visible to anyone watching. Not visible to his wife. That is the point of this design. It’s purposely designed for men who want to conceal how much money they have in their wallet when their wife or partner asks them to buy something. “Look, sweetheart!” the man can confidently say as he flips open his wallet to show her he is short on cash, “I’ve only got a five dollar bill!” But he may have hundreds hidden in that other compartment.
Okay. Over to you. Do you have stories you want to share? Tips you want to pass on for how to protect yourself against financial abuse from an intimate partner? Other Scriptures that relate to this topic?
[August 4, 2022: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to August 4, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to August 4, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to August 4, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (August 4, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]
Relationship Problems and Money: Women Talk About Financial Abuse — A useful resource.
It’s a fairly long report and is mostly written for DV professional practitioners and policy developers. Sections 3 and 4 of the report would be of most use to survivors of abuse as those sections have lots of anecdotes from women who have experience financial abuse from their husbands / partners.
The report comes from Victoria, Australia, so some of the details may not be pertinent to all areas and jurisdictions. But overall, experiences of financial abuse are probably similar no matter where you may come from. The only things that may not be similar are the different laws that apply in different areas, laws which may help hold abusers accountable and protect victims.
This resource has been added to our Understanding Abuse Resources page.