Three Signs of a Financially Abusive Marriage

Everyone should be financially literate

By Manal Fouz

January/February 2022

Financial abuse, like emotional abuse, is far too common in many relationships. It’s not unique to any generation, culture or faith. Seldom discussed, it can make its victims feel anxious, powerless and resentful. I guarantee that you know at least one couple currently experiencing it.

Financial abuse can occur when one spouse exerts complete control over the other’s access to financial resources. In the case of a married couple, the husband is almost always the guilty party, for the wife’s ability to be financially self-sufficient is greatly reduced. This reality, an unfair power dynamic slanted in the husband’s favour, can result in the loss of trust and emotional intimacy within the marriage.

The good news is that, unlike other forms of abuse, couples have a high chance of overcoming it with just a few changes. Here are three signs of financial abuse in marriage and some things you can do about it:

Denying access. When one spouse controls all the money (income, credit cards, investments, etc.) in an unhealthy and manipulative way, that’s financial abuse. When you deny your spouse access to marital assets, it’s a power play. And usually, when you’re trying to assert your dominance, it means you don’t view them as equal.

Consider how unprecedented this verse must have been to the Prophet’s (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) contemporaries: “And do not covet that by which God has made some of you excel others; men shall have the benefit of what they earn, and women shall have the benefit of what they earn” (4:32).

Husbands who give their wives an allowance need to tread carefully. An allowance can be healthy if both spouses share access to the family’s marital assets. Consider depositing most of the family’s income into a joint bank account. Each spouse can set up an individual bank account for this allowance and then spend it with no questions asked.

They feverishly monitor your spending but forbid you to question theirs. Setting up a household budget is important for a family’s financial success. However, it’s unhealthy for one spouse to make all the spending decisions or react angrily whenever money is spent. A spouse who vigorously tracks every purchase and gives just enough money to complete a task has major control issues.

There can also be a fine line between being cheap and inflicting financial abuse. For instance, if a wife spends money on herself for clothing, entertainment, food and other needs and her husband goes nuclear, that’s financial abuse. If he refuses to spend money on her medical or dental needs, that’s financial abuse. As 4:34 states, “Men are the caretakers of women, as men have been provisioned by God over women and tasked with supporting them financially.”

Abusive spouses aren’t always cheap. In fact, they will sometimes make a large purchase with your joint money after you’ve purchased something for yourself. A massive, unexpected purchase after an argument can be a symptom of financial abuse. Remember, it’s all about control.

Keeping you in the dark. A husband who maintains secret financial accounts is committing financial abuse. Hiding something important from one’s spouse, such as debt, investment losses or even large purchases, is sometimes referred to as “financial infidelity.” They may use their spouse’s credit information to open these accounts and then ruin their credit history by running up charges and not paying the bills.

The unassuming spouse can develop a false sense of security. When financial infidelity is discovered, a deep sense of betrayal is inevitable. Honesty and open communication are vital to maintaining a healthy marriage. This includes communicating about money issues.

So, what can you do if you feel you’re being abused?

Talk to your spouse. If he/she vehemently disagrees with your characterization, be firm. Consider counselling, whether it’s individual or marital, with a therapist who specializes in financial abuse. Such a person can help you feel more empowered by showing you how to self-advocate and set healthy boundaries.

Hopefully, your spouse is willing to make some changes. Demand that he/she starts by sharing and reviewing with you all bank accounts, investments, credit cards, and other relevant financial accounts. Demand access to formerly off-limit or secret accounts and that your name appears as a joint owner. Password management applications like LastPass are a great way to store joint access information securely.

Next, consider starting a financial plan for a complete picture of your finances. Doing so will help organize your liabilities (expenses) and assets all in one place, as well as make decisions on how to spend your marital assets. After this, make it a rule to meet with your financial advisor (e.g., accountant, financial planner, or banker) as a couple rather than individually.

Lastly, change your mindset. Marriage is a union, a partnership. Try to do everything you can to foster that partnership. A caring and compassionate spouse will remember God’s words, “And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in peace and tranquillity with them. And He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): Verily, in that are signs for those who reflect” (30:21).

Note: If you’re experiencing financial abuse as part of an even more serious physical or emotional abuse, please seek immediate professional help.

Manal Fouz is the chief compliance officer, Azzad Asset Management.