When I was younger, I would wonder why women wouldn’t just walk out of abusive relationships. I didn’t judge their choice to stick around; I felt confused by it. Why would anyone knowingly choose misery over happiness? Here is the thing about maturity and becoming less idealistic: your thinking becomes more balanced. You realize that life isn’t all black or white. Every individual is unique, and so are their situation and choices.
A friend of mine knows that her husband is cheating on her. It is common knowledge that he has a mistress in a different city, and had even bought a house for her. This illicit affair has lasted more than a decade. But when you see this family’s social media posts, you can’t see the fractures.
My friend, a homemaker, she chose to not be involved in her family’s finances. At first, she was not just caught unaware by the affair but also about the monetary situation. How was the husband able to afford two families and mortgages? When she threatened to leave him, the guy told her that she won’t be able to afford her lavish lifestyle as a single woman. Her own family warned her about the stigma of being a divorcee and the incumbent financial challenges. Lack of support, lack of access to finance, fear of suffering, and, voila, she is still with him.
Financial abuse is powerful. You might not see any physical bruises and scars, but it does plenty of damage and doesn’t create headlines. Like my friend, many women are trapped in terrifying situations because they believe that escaping their abusive relationship will subject them to constant financial insecurity or poverty.
“Financial abuse, whether you’re talking about ruining her credit, getting her fired or hiding the money, is just as effective in controlling an abuse victim as a lock and key,” Kim Gandy, president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, told The Huffington Post.
If a survivor can learn to navigate the financial world independently, the rest of the future may not seem as daunting. Reality is that financial empowerment programs can make the world a little more manageable and financial independence a realistic goal. This October, it’s important to acknowledge financial abuse as a significant part of violence against women.
I spoke with Ruchi Pinniger, the founder/CEO of Watch Her ProsperTM, a small business service and advisory firm helping women business owners become prosperous and powerful through their finances. She is based in New York City and partners with clients throughout the United States. These are her suggestions:
- Open a separate bank account and credit card. This will ensure you have money on hand when needed. You can open the bank account with money that would otherwise go unnoticed. One client who was in an abusive relationship used a medical reimbursement check from her insurance company to open the account and when she was ready to leave her spouse, she had these funds available.
- Stay involved in the family finances. Make sure to have an active role. Be present with knowing where your joint funds are.
- Make a financial plan. Understand what you will need to get yourself set up independently. As a starting point, think through costs for renting a place to live (security deposit, first and last month’s rent) and basic living expenses. Save 3-6 months of the funds you’ll need and map out your future income and employment situation.
- Assess your current financial account situation. Ensure you have access to your cash, investment and retirement accounts and are listed as an owner. Keep copies of the most recent statements, as well as other important documents such as passports, birth certificates and tax returns. Find someone you can confide in to talk to (advisor, banker, friend) if you need support.
- Trust money and trust yourself with money. Don’t allow your past “stories” to hold you back. You’ve got this.
Ladies: financial abuse is one of the most powerful methods of keeping a victim trapped in an abusive relationship. We see you, we hear you. There are several resources available aside from Pinniger’s advice. Let no one stop you from standing on your feet, empowering yourself, and finding the resources that are out there.