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Financial Abuse: The Elephant in the Room

by | Mar 6, 2019 | Uncategorized


By Guest Blogger:  Michelle Buonincontri, CFP®, CDFA™

Part1 – Financial Abuse, Abuse REALLY?

Financial Abuse: the elephant in the room

Financial abuse can be a subtle manipulative, ‘wooing” process that wears us down slowly so that we start to normalize the behaviors. Or it can be overt, demanding, intimating, or a combination of all the above. It begins in the dating phase, and it un-hooks us from our “gut-brain” or intuition. I’ve seen this increasing and occurring repeatedly with too many smart, educated women as women continue to earn more and advance in the workforce – myself included, which is why I want to address this important topic. It’s not just the stay-at-home mom.

In its most straightforward form, when one person deprives another of access to financial resources or the ability to make money this is called economic abuse. Financial abuse can also be a partner dissipating finances for personal uses or guilting their partner into agreeing to financial decisions they are not comfortable with. Any erosion of the financial health of the partnership which depletes another’s access to resources, in the long run, is a form of this abuse. Controlling or depleting resources creates a dependency, which is a way to control a partner from leaving the relationship.

Unfortunately, when most women get to this point, they have already ignored so many warning signs and are now in the fire and asking “How did I get here?”.


Research shows that victims eventually become so concerned with how to provide for themselves and their children financially that they feel trapped and stay. It also shows that financial insecurity is one of the top factors that women return to these relationships. Most times, emotional abuse accompanies economic abuse and victims feel inadequate and unsure of themselves as self-worth erodes over time and confidence wanes. It can also leave the partner vulnerable to physical abuse as well.  They take on the responsibility of trying to “fix it”, “make it work”, as their partner has used ignoring, manipulation, sabotaging, belittling them or their family, gaslighting, etc. to make them question their worth and power. Because it was found that 99 % of domestic violence cases also involved financial abuse, according to a study by the Centers for Financial Security, young women need to be made aware and educated about “this elephant in the room”.

How can having a budget be wrong?

Having a budget, a spending plan, and knowing your cash flow is awesome – but both parties need to agree and have this knowledge. If one partner is hiding purchases for fear of reprisal, one partner can’t control their spending (retail, gambling, etc.), or one partner conceals the financial information as they are “handling everything” or “better at it, then the other partner” there is a problem.  Saying, “I’m just trying to be responsible” could be a way to justify abuse. A good test would be to ask yourself, ”Are both of us, as partners,  sacrificing equally?” Unequal resources or unequal decision-making can be a sign of unequal financial control.

But I make more, shouldn’t I have more say?

Earning more than another does not give someone the right to deprive another. Everyone is entitled to food/clothing/ shelter and partnership in a relationship. After those things are provided, discretionary expenses (like dining out, Starbucks, vacations, etc.) should be agreed to together in a healthy relationship. There should be joint decision-making with your partner.

As family values have eroded, this sentiment seems to become more and more prevalent. I see this even in long-term marriages when working with couples that divorce. All of a sudden they seem to “forget” the agreements they made and kept while married. This is why it is so important to understand your ”Money Mindset”,  values, financial history & the status of you and your partner while dating, before co-mingling assets. Having conversations and outlining these values and priorities in a more formal way, with a pre/postnup agreement in marriage or a contract of sorts in a  domestic partnership agreement can be key to the success of that relationship.

What now?

Splitting”, by author Bill Eddy, is a great read that discusses pattern recognition, strategies for dealing with high-conflict partners, and navigating the maze of negotiating and separating from these individuals more successfully. Click here to listen to Mediation Talk, as I discuss “How to Recognize Financial Abuse” with Host Diann Wilson. Learn the financial warning signs in dating, marriage and tips on how to protect yourself financially in the upcoming Blog – Part2 – Financial Abuse- What women need to know

If there is a concern and you do not have a trusted counselor, pastor, or qualified professional who can help, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.


Michelle Buonincontri, is a Certified Financial Planner™(CFP®), Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA™), and founder of Being Mindful in Divorce. As part of her commitment to families in reducing the emotional and financial impacts of divorce and promoting alternative resolution models, she is trained as a Mediator and a Collaborative Divorce Financial Neutral; working with singles, couples and as a family law case expert. Michelle is also a Leader of the 2nd Saturday Divorce workshops, and a volunteer at Fresh Start Women’s Foundations and Savvy Ladies. Michelle may be reached at 520-369-3380 or Michelle@BeingMindfulinDivorce.com

This article is not meant as counseling, investment, tax, or legal advice, but rather as information. It is always advisable to seek out and work with a qualified professional in their area of expertise to determine your unique situation and what particular options are available to you.




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