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Emotional and Financial Abuse: More Common Than You Think

You can’t see it. Sometimes it’s so subtle you don’t even realize it’s happening. But left unchecked, it can erode your self-esteem, wreck your finances, and leave you feeling as if you don’t have a way out.

And it happens to so many of us: young, old, stay-at-home moms, successful businesswomen... I’m talking about domestic abuse, and particularly, emotional and financial abuse.

Being a family lawyer for 15+ years has allowed me a rare view into the most intimate of relationships. Here’s just a sample of the things women have told me they’ve endured in their marriages:

  • Being called stupid, lazy, unattractive, fat

  • Being cursed at with every bad word under the sun

  • Hearing she isn’t good enough, doesn’t know what she’s talking about, is “crazy”

  • Being put on an “allowance” that barely meets basic needs

  • Not being allowed access to bank accounts or tax returns (and often having no idea how much money her spouse earns)

  • Having her credit damaged by charges she didn’t make

These things and more have a name. They’re called abuse.


October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Divorce in Good Company is committed to help raise awareness in our community of this serious issue.


Today we’re talking about emotional and financial abuse. They often go hand in hand with, and scarily, can be a precursor to physical violence.

Emotional abuse can include constant put downs, name calling, “crazy making” (as in, your partner is making you think you’re going nuts), treating you as inferior, isolating you from family and friends, excessive jealously, and watching where you go and who you talk to.

I’ve known talented, intelligent, beautiful women who thought they weren’t valuable humans because they’d been told by their partner they were “less than” so many times, they actually believed it was true.

Financial abuse is used to intimidate and manipulate a significant other by controlling their financial resources. It can include things like being pressured or guilted into not working, being denied visibility into the finances, monitoring the spending to the point you feel trapped, and threats of leaving or denying financial support.

It can also mean a woman is the sole support system but her spouse controls all the money and she never sees it. Whether she’s a breadwinner or not, financial abuse leaves a woman feeling afraid that she can’t survive on her own.

I’ve heard many women refer to their partners as “controlling” when describing these very behaviors. And they’re right – this is all a form of control. But at its deepest core, it’s abuse. And it’s not excusable just because it doesn’t leave a mark.


Financial abuse is often one of the main reasons a woman stays or returns to a physically abusive partner.


Research indicates that financial abuse occurs in 99% of domestic violence cases.  Victims of physical abuse state that concern about their ability to financially support themselves and their children was one of the top reasons women stayed with or returned to their abusive partner.*

What we want you to know: Both emotional and financial abuse often begin subtly and build over time. Learn the signs of abuse. If your gut is telling you that something is wrong, listen to it. You’re not crazy or making it up. No matter how bad it feels right now, it’s never too late to improve your circumstances. The first step is being willing to admit that something needs fixing.

What we want you to do: Talk to someone. Even if you are scared or intimidated or feel trapped. Especially if you're scared or intimidated or feel trapped. Even if doesn’t feel like it will actually do anything.

There are excellent resources that provide direct help to victims of abuse, including the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Network to End Domestic Violence. Also check out AllState Foundation Purple Purse, which has teamed up with tennis star Serena Williams to help end financial abuse.


Have a Safety Plan


If you believe you’re being emotionally or financially abused, you need to develop a safety plan. We talk about them for physical abuse, but safety plans are also important for protecting your emotional and financial health. A safety plan can include many things - here are three good places to start:

  1. Find a counselor. Talking to a counselor in a safe, confidential environment can help you figure out what’s going on, build your confidence, and make a game plan. If you’re at all hesitant about seeing a counselor, you’ve got to read our article Do I Need a Therapist? (Yes, You Do).

  2. Contact the National Domestic Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE to learn about local resources that may be available to you, like emergency assistance funds, shelter, and affordable housing.

  3. Obtain a copy of your credit report and set up credit monitoring so you can prevent further damage. We have helpful info and links to make this easy to do in our “Top 10 Things to Do First” downloadable pdf on the homepage.


Don’t Go It Alone


I promise no matter how you’re feeling right now – be it embarrassed, fearful, angry - another woman is feeling the exact same way. Maybe even a woman you know. Help is available, but you’ve got to start by reaching out. Remember, you do not have to go it alone – that’s what Divorce in Good Company is all about.

*Source: National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV)

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