How to identify financial abuse in a relationship

Expert explains how financial abuse can happen in a relationship

Gaopalelwe Seleka, a relationship coach based in Pretoria, explains how financial abuse can happen in a relationship.          

Couple arguing over money
Couple arguing over money / iStock

This 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, we look at a type of abuse that seldom gets the spotlight – financial abuse.

Gaopalelwe Seleka, a relationship coach based in Pretoria, says there are two types of financial abuse that can happen in a relationship.             

“Financial abuse is when you are denied financial provision. When your partner deliberately withdraws money or resources from you to make you suffer or as a form of punishment,” says Gaopalelwe.

For instance, when your partner gets angry every time you have to discuss finances or even goes as far as making threats to cut you off financially when you disagree.

She says another form can come when you are the one with the resources, but your partner ensures that you can’t use the money.

“You only work, and someone uses it for themselves. You can’t even enjoy it,” she adds.

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She says a typical example of this is when you must give your whole salary to your partner, and he or she dictates what happens with the money. Another example is when a partner demands that you ask permission before spending money but does not consult with you when they make purchases.

Some couples also must deal with extended family members asking for money every month. This can put a strain on the one partner and place him or her in a place where they suffer financial abuse. This is because they would need to carry much of the load of the family alone, while the other is supporting his/her parents or siblings, especially in the case where the other partner is not in agreement with money being sent to family members.

This is especially popular in black families where black tax is a reality for many.

Gaopalelwe says sometimes the pressure comes from the family itself where the spouse is told 'our brother was supporting us before you came onto the scene and should continue to do so'.

“In some instances, even the woman’s family can expect that she continues to support them financially, more so if she was used to supporting them before being in the relationship with the partner. The family can even say the man must be the one who carries all the financial burdens of the family. This can be abuse on the partner’s side.”  

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The dynamics of dealing with finances when married Out of Community of Property  

Being married Out of Community of Property can come with a lot of challenges when it comes to how you share financial responsibilities.

Gaopalelwe says defining financial abuse differs depending on the type of marital contract you have.

She says if married In Community of Property, then you cannot just make financial decisions alone or do big purchases that can affect your partner. This will be abuse because if you fail to pay, she/he will have to step in and pay.

However, she says when you are in a marriage where you are married Out of Community of Property, then your partner is free to use their money as they see fit.

She adds that, however, because the two people will be married, they must come to an agreement on responsibilities.

“Contribution must be on an equal scale,” she says.

This means one person cannot make the other one carry the financial load alone while they buy things that are for their own pleasure. For instance, when a partner makes the other party pay for all the big responsibilities in the house, while they spend their money on gadgets and entertainment. It becomes abuse when the other partner doesn’t have much money left after paying for things that benefit the whole household.

She says couples married Out of Community of Property should decide on their responsibilities based on love and the commitment to making their relationship work.

“Love must be the driving force. Love must win. Resources are an addition,” she says.

“If there is no love, everything can be abuse,” she says. 

Gaopalelwe, however, cautions that sometimes what one person views as abuse might not seem like abuse to the other. This is why communication is important.

For instance, if one grew up in a family where their father would give their mother all the salary, to her, expecting her partner to give her all the money might not be defined as abuse.

Another instance is where you grew up in a family that was well off and you feel money must just be enjoyed, while your partner grew up in a poor family where all they want to do is save. This can cause conflict. 

She advises that couples should talk about how they view money and seek professional help when struggling. 

READ: Broken family ties: Do you have family members you have cut off?

Image courtesy of iStock/ @SIphotography

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