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Money & relationships: Who’s in control?

Losing control of your finances in a relationship is rarely a good thing. At best you could lose your confidence with money. At worst it can be a form of domestic abuse, often - though not always - going hand in hand with other forms of cruelty.

It’s important to think about whether you feel like you don’t have control of your own money anymore – and work out how to get it back. But how you do that depends on how and why the control has been taken away.

The controller

For many, using money to manipulate is a means to exert power, leaving the victim isolated and trapped.

An abusive partner might seek total control of your money, from making you hand over wages and benefits through to preventing you earn your own money. They could even run up debts in your name or steal your money from your accounts.

But some of the abuse could be subtler, creating a state where the victim feels they have to ask permission before spending and then account for every penny spent. Yet the abuser doesn’t consult with you when they want to buy something.

If this feels like the situation you are in – or something you’ve spotted in a friend’s relationship – then you should seek support. The charities Women’s Aid and Men’s Advice Line have Freephone numbers you can call:

  • Women’s Aid England – 0808 2000 247
  • Welsh Women’s Aid – 0808 80 10 800
  • Women’s Aid Northern Ireland – 0808 802 1414
  • Scottish Women’s Aid – 0800 027 1234
  • Men’s Advice Line – 0808 8010 327

However, if you feel that you are in imminent danger as a result of this or other abuse, call 999.

The helper

Even if a partner’s intentions are well meant, the consequences of losing control of your money can still be substantial – and it’s easier for this to happen than you might think.

Here are a few ways you might be gradually losing control.

  • Your partner is “better with money” so looks after the savings and joint accounts
  • All the bills are all in your partner’s name
  • You both get Universal Credit as a single payment to your partner
  • Your partner earns more and makes the big spending decisions as a result
  • You don’t earn a wage (maybe you are at home looking after the kids) and are given an allowance to spend on the family and yourself
  • You don’t have your own bank accounts or credit card – everything is shared

On their own these aren’t necessarily bad things, and they might even work for you. But there are potential problems.

The less you have to do with your own money and the household finances the more likely it is you forget how to manage your money. And lower confidence and money skills are easily lead to bad financial decisions and even debts.

Plus it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture – and where your money ends and your partner’s begins. Though this might not have immediate problems, if you were to separate or your partner was to die, you’d not only have to work out what is yours, but you’d also have to learn again how to manage day to day finances.

The best thing you can do if this feels familiar is to talk to your partner and work out how you can get more involved. It’s also important to know you have access to your own money if you were to need it.

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