My Husband Abused Me Financially—and I Almost Starved

Updated: Jun. 30, 2022

Spousal abuse does not always mean bruises and broken bones. For some, it means denial to money and hidden bank accounts. A new book exposes the dark secrets of financial abuse, a rarely-discussed and damaging form of psychological manipulation.

Gender wage difference concept. The miniature men and women are standing on the coin tower.Hyejin Kang/Shutterstock

You don’t hear much about financial abuse, but it’s domestic abuse and it can be every bit as terrible. Spouses, parents, adult children—all can be perpetrators or victims. Some abusers might hide their income in private bank accounts, refuse to contribute earnings to their family, or forge signatures to gain control over shared assets. It can even be life-threatening. In Shannon Thomas’s book, Exposing Financial Abuse: When Money is a Weapon, Gem and her teenage children barely survived their experience of financial abuse:

“I slept on a mattress on the floor my entire pregnancy because [my husband] said we couldn’t afford a bed. We had no water in our home because he said we couldn’t afford it. He would be gone 90 percent of the time so it was me and my children living in this environment. He made over $8k a month but the money went to his affairs. I was given $300 a month for food and necessities as my allowance to provide for me and my two teens.”

Gem and her husband were together for several years, yet she—and he—thought of the money he earned as his, not theirs. Like many abusers, Gem’s husband lacked empathy, and it allowed him to take advantage of his wife and children. Thomas explains in her book that financial abusers care nothing for propriety, family, or ethics. In one example, Gem’s husband used their son’s name and debit card to create an account on an adultery website. Find out the 9 signs you’re in a toxic relationship.

Gem’s husband’s contempt for his family did not end there. “My husband loved insurance fraud. I owned my house but the home insurance was in his name. He kept telling me to make claims, and have the payments mailed directly to him. Instead, I contacted the company and got the policy canceled,” she explains. Domestic violence encompasses so much more than physical abuse–these facts about spousal abuse are unavoidable.

Luckily, Gem finally found the strength to stop him.  Often, the victims of financial abuse face a moment when they realize with they are being victimized and they begin to ask for receipts, bank statements, or proof of financial expenditures. With help and support, victims are able to break free. To fully end the chaos, a victim will need to work with experts to gain protection on paper and in person from their abuser. Thomas warns that financial abusers typically move onto threats—from verbal abuse to physical violence. (Here’s how to leave an abusive relationship.)

“Writing this book was a labor of love, mixed with intense respect for the survivors who chose to share their private stories,” says Thomas. “I wrote Exposing Financial Abuse because it’s time we start discussing this form of exploitation. Very little is published on this topic and I wanted to help fill the gap in knowledge.” By identifying the problem, victims can begin to understand that they are not alone and that it is not their fault. Then the healing can begin.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest