Abuse. You think it means bruises and physical violence. Maybe aggressive name-calling and emotional torture. But putting conditions on and tying love to money is financial abuse – and it’s a real problem in the military community.
However, financial abuse is hard to spot. It’s so often hidden as budgeting or “being smart with spending.” Exerting so much control over finances, in such a way that one partner is subservient to the other, is abuse.
And we need to start talking about it ASAP.
We Need to Talk About Military Spouse Financial Abuse
What is financial abuse?
Simply put, it’s tightly controlling the spending, earning and maintaining financial resources. This can include:
- connecting use of joint accounts to “good behavior”
- denying access to debit or credit cards
- preventing a partner from working or controlling earnings
- down to the penny accounting for spending
That’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how finances and money can be used by one spouse to control the other.
It’s Happening Right Next Door
Your neighbor. The couple you know from the squadron or unit. You.
Spousal financial abuse is literally happening all around you – and you might never know it. It’s sneaky and easy to hide.
I’ll never forget the moment when a friend told me that she had “lost” her debit card. My immediate reaction was to call her bank and request a new one.
“No,” she explained. She’d simply lost the privilege of using the debit card connected to the joint account she shares with her husband. He felt justified in removing her access to money because…
Honestly, it doesn’t really matter why he took away her debit card. Not cleaning the house to his preference was one reason supplied. Another was not seasoning dinner to his liking. Her fitness level, style of dress, socializing with others.
There were endless reasons supplied over three or so years. Each one blamed her for something he didn’t “prefer.”
It’s About Control – Not Love
For my friend and everyone trapped in an abusive relationship, it’s all about control.
Abuse, no matter what form it takes, is always about control and power. It is never about love.
What financial abuse does particularly well is to remove the abused partner’s means of escape.
Leaving often requires some money to get started. Money for a bus, plane or train ticket. Cash for a hotel room or short-term lease. Even just a way to pay for a cab.
Without access to money, the abused spouse is effectively trapped.
Military Life Seems to Make This Easier
As Lizann Lightfoot noted in an article on Military.com, military budgets are often stretched to the very limit. With payday arriving every two weeks, military families – especially those who are young or have additional debts – might structure their spending around when money arrives in their account.
Creating a budget to account for spending, debt and frequency of income – that’s normal. It makes sense, especially for families who walk a financial tightrope.
But a lot of “common” money practices aren’t normal:
- hiding “his” money to pay for basics between payday
- losing access to accounts, credit cards or debit cards
- receiving a strict “allowance” to pay for all household basics
- giving over control of your paycheck entirely
- refusing you or your children the resources to pay for food, clothing, hygiene supplies or shelter
- refusing you access to participate in the financial planning aspect of the family
These six reasons are, again, just the tip of the iceberg of financial abuse. Whatever methods the abuser takes, the intent is always about power, control and limiting their partner’s access to resources.
Military life makes it uniquely easier, in a sense, for one person to gain that level of control over the other.
Moving every three years limits many spouses’ career or job options. Without a steady salary or income, it’s not uncommon to think about “they earn it all, so they can spend it as they see fit.” It’s a justification for limiting one partner’s access to finances.
When one partner controls all the income and expenses, without input from the other, that could be financial abuse.
What Can You Do?
In our community, we’re used to relying on others for support and resources. Financial abuse is no different.
If you suspect a friend or acquaintance is a victim of financial abuse:
- offer support: I’m here for you…
- help them process: How does it feel when…
- validate their feelings: Thanks for sharing…
- offer resources: Can I help you find…
- give them a way out: Could we make a plan, just in case…
Military spouses in abusive relationships of any type have resources built-in to help support their survival.
If you are in an abusive relationship, you can make a report. Your report will either be restricted or unrestricted.
- report to Family Advocacy Program clinicians or advocates, or to your PCM
- law enforcement is not involved
- chain of command is not involved
- access to counseling and an advocate to help formulate your next steps
- law enforcement conducts an investigation
- chain of command is involved
- support available from CoC includes no-contact order or protective order
- access to all Family Advocacy Program resources
- rights to access legal services
- assistance applying for transitional compensation
By reporting to command, financial allotments can also be set up to help the abused spouse stay financially stable during this period of transition.