It took me a long time to realise that I was being abused by my ex-partner.
Eventually, of course, it sank in that physical violence wasn’t the norm. But it still took space, time and plenty of therapy before I gradually began to realise that his behaviour had gone deeper than making me feel physically unsafe.
I’d spent two years with my ex constantly on edge, terrified of setting off his childish fits of rage, though the violence was only a factor for the last ten months. And while it was the violence that led me to eventually end the relationship, I now realise I had been abused for far longer – emotionally and psychologically.
An unexpected twist, though, was that although I should have had far less money after he moved out, leaving me alone in a flat designed for two, I actually had more money. And as I dug into my finances to try and understand, I began to gain a new perspective on my old relationship – I had been financially abused too.
The power of pounds
Financial abuse wasn’t something I really thought about until it happened to me. While domestic abuse comes in all shapes and sizes, for a long time, I only thought of it in terms of domestic violence. The reality, though, is that abuse is multi-faceted, with physical violence only one small part of it.
Indeed, while there’s little reliable data on domestic abuse, the Crime Survey of England and Wales suggests an estimated 1.6 million women suffered abuse in the year to March 2019, resulting in 100 police calls an hour. A further 60,000 domestic abuse incidents are reported each year in Scotland, while thousands more are believed to go on behind closed doors.
Lockdown has further exacerbated the problem, and as more of us are furloughed or lose our jobs, the door to financial abuse has been thrown wide open. Women’s Aid reports that two-thirds of women in abusive relationships have now experienced economic abuse.
The usual conversation around financial abuse features men who control the money in a relationship. Often, they’re the primary earner, with their victim responsible for the home and/or childcare. When you’re dependent on your partner to earn money, it’s very easy for that to be taken advantage of.
Financial abuse is another way that abusers exhibit control or gain power over their victim of choice. It could be being forced to account for spending, being prevented from accessing money or accounts, being forced to hand over your salary or even being pressured to put all accounts into your name so that you’re legally responsible for them. And although it’s often the abuser who has more money, I’m an example of it being the other way around.
What’s mine is yours
I was always the one with the cash. I bought the flat in which we lived, it was my name on the mortgage and deed (thankfully), and he paid me half of the mortgage as ‘rent’. But although I had savings, I didn’t have much income. We had the same job, earning a pretty pitiful salary each, yet while I managed to get by, he never seemed to have enough money at the end of the month to pay his share.
My outgoings were far higher than his, covering not only my half of the mortgage but also the expensive service charge, and I should have been in a much worse position than him. But when I look back at my statements, I was transferring him money on an almost bi-weekly basis. Always small amounts, maybe £20 or £30 at a time.
They say hindsight is 20:20, but I’m not sure it is in this case. Rather than having a clear understanding of the past, it’s more like a fog that is slowly thinning. First was the realisation that I was being physically abused, then the understanding that I was also being emotionally manipulated, and finally, the realisation that he had been using that to leech money from me.
While some of those transactions were for things like groceries, others definitely weren’t. I remember an incident not long before I broke up with him that perfectly exemplifies the dynamic. He needed a haircut, pretty badly, and had run out of money two weeks before payday.
Unsure how he’d managed it, I sent him £100 to tide him over. Then that ran out, and he still needed a haircut. Running low on cash as well by this point, I sent him £50 – half of what remained of my monthly pay cheque. He spent it all on weed.
Initially, when I voiced my anger, he was apologetic. But later that day, he blew up at nothing, more aggressive and violent than ever. This was one of the many incidents that finally got through to me and helped me realise that how he was treating me wasn’t right.
Passing on shame
My ex was ashamed of himself and his spending habits, but he would use me to fund them regardless, then take his shame out on me as anger later. My savings gave me a source of independence that he couldn’t easily take away, so he removed it by making me feel bad about it.
He resented that I had money, that I was able to buy a flat for us to live in, that I could afford to take us on the occasional holiday. I already had a complicated relationship with that money, having gained it through the loss of a parent, but I was prepared to use it if I needed or really wanted to. He amplified those complex emotions, my feelings of guilt and resentment – it was all I had left of my father and I felt bad about spending it – and turned them to his advantage.
I was constantly guilt-tripped into living as if I had much less money than I did. I frequently did without basic necessities, simply because he said it was “unfair”. It may have been unfair, but life isn’t fair. I had a savings account instead of a father, while he had two healthy parents.
Nonetheless, I was lucky, because I was in the unusual position of retaining some control over my money despite his best efforts. For many, this is not the case. Often abusers use financial dependence to retain control over their victim even after the relationship has ended – one reason financial abuse is so hard to escape from.
It’s important to remember that even if you leave your abuser, sometimes they don’t leave you.
But it’s also important to remember that, if you are being abused, no matter how hard it is, it is always better to leave.
There are lots of resources for help with domestic and financial abuse, and a growing number of banks have protocols in place to help you extract yourself from joint accounts and improve your financial security.
The Women’s Aid website has a section on financial abuse, and the Money Advice Service has helpful information for protecting yourself against monetary control. The UK and devolved governments also offer a range of resources, such as crisis grants and service referrals, for anyone leaving an abusive relationship. Visit Gov.uk for more information on the help available in your area.