Abusive behaviour of any kind is unacceptable in a relationship.

However, financial abuse can be damaging as the practical consequences can be very serious – in the most extreme cases, involving people being denied access to funds, losing thousands of pounds, getting into severe debt or even being declared bankrupt.

What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse is any circumstance where someone’s treatment of their partner’s finances (or their shared finances) results in their partner feeling controlled, trapped or undermined.

This kind of abuse can be conscious or unconscious. It might be part of a pattern of behaviour designed to keep someone from having too much independence and making decisions for themselves or this may be the unintended consequence of generally damaging behaviour. However, irrespective of intention, as with any other form of abuse – including physical or emotional – it’s the effects, rather than the intent, that define the behaviour as abusive.

Financial abuse can vary in terms of seriousness. At one end of the spectrum, it might simply be habitually unhelpful or inconsiderate behaviour, such as occasionally spending money from the joint account without talking about it first. There’s room for debate here around whether the behaviour is abusive or simply unproductive. However, the way in which the other person is affected is crucial. If their self-esteem or ability to control their finances is seriously impacted, then it’s likely that an abusive pattern has formed.

At the more serious end of the spectrum, financial abuse might involve things like not allowing someone to access money as a way of limiting their ability to do things for themselves, repeatedly taking significant amounts of money from a joint account without thinking about the consequences or taking big risks with shared money without talking about it.

Gambling addiction is a common cause of financial abuse. This kind of addiction can cause people to spend significant amounts of shared money with little thought about the consequences. This can often be accompanied by a lot of secrecy: the gambler may try to conceal what they’re doing by hiding statements or letters. This kind of situation can also develop when someone takes risks with finances in order to start or maintain a business.

Similarly, partners experiencing drug or alcohol addiction can wreak havoc on a relationship, spending shared money to support their (often) secretive habits.