Recently Women’s Agenda reported that the not for profit women’s service WIRE estimates nearly two million Australian women have been financially abused by their spouse.
This estimate is likely to be extremely conservative because often a person will not recognise that they’ve been financially abused until after the relationship ends. Even then, many are too ashamed to admit it’s occurred, making it near impossible to accurately measure the extent of the problem.
As it is often very subtle and insidious, this behaviour is mostly invisible, sometimes even to the victim – and it’s certainly rarely talked about.
Financial abuse can range from one partner being kept in the dark about how family money is spent, to being made to feel guilty for spending money, a stay at home parent being given minimal access to the family’s finances, through to much more serious cases.
The person may feel a sense of being trapped in their situation – unhappy but so dependent they feel they can’t leave.
As a financial adviser I regularly help couples to talk about money and form a financial plan. It is sometimes – though not always – apparent when there is a power imbalance in a relationship, where one partner is not allowing the other to have a say or dominates the decision-making.
Although I’m by no means a counsellor, I do help couples work out where differences exist by asking the right questions and helping draw out information. One person might be comfortable with taking high risks when investing while the other can’t sleep at night when the stakes are so high. I work with these couples to help them meet at a common ground, before creating a financial plan.
Even if you don’t feel you are being financially abused but have concerns that your spouse does not see you as a financial equal, you must know that there are steps you can take to improve things.
Here are my top tips on becoming a financial equal in your relationship:
1. Knowledge is power: brush up
Become informed. Read widely on managing personal finance – there is plenty of information online, in book stores and in newspapers and magazines. You could also book onto a course to learn about building and managing wealth or on the basics of investing. Do whatever it takes to brush up on your knowledge – it’s the first step towards taking back the financial reins.
Whatever you do, don’t coast along for years thinking your partner knows more and assuming they are therefore going to make better decisions for the both of you. If you want to be a financial equal you have to act like one and believe in yourself.
2. Communicate or seek therapy
Voice to your partner that you intend to take a more active role in the household finances and then collect the key information you need to develop a budget, review your insurances, consider your superannuation and investments held outside of super.
If this makes your partner uncomfortable – or they become defensive, secretive or critical then consider seeking help from a professional psychologist.
A psychologist can help you in many ways – from becoming more assertive to working with you as a couple on healthier communication, to resolving childhood issues that may be impacting now.
They can also help give you the confidence to leave a relationship that is not working, where efforts to change the dynamic are in vain.
3. Ask the right questions and share your views
Although money talks are tough, they are usually incredibly useful when you’re in a relationship. Here are some good talking points – and remember don’t let your partner do all the talking, take turns and put forward what you think too.
· What are our plans and goals – where do we see ourselves next year, in five years, ten years and longer term?
· What is really important to us in life? What are your values and priorities – and what are mine?
· How did your families of origin manage money and debt? What do you think worked well and what would you change?
· Where does our money really go – on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis? Start tracking spending for several months if you don’t know the answers.
· How are we currently invested? What level of risk are you comfortable with and am I comfortable with? Are our investments aligned with how we both feel about taking risks?
Again, if this causes tension then think about seeking professional help.
4. Create a plan together
Put in place a financial plan – and do this task together. It can help to see a financial adviser together to guide the process and help you both articulate what you want to achieve and detail how you can do it. This is also a great way to make sure that all information is put on the table so that you know exactly where you stand financially and that you have a say in financial decisions.
Ultimately, whatever action you take in this area is positive – every step is one step closer to living an authentic life and honouring yourself and your relationship. Good luck!
IMPORTANT! Sometimes financial abuse takes place in relationships where other forms of abuse are going on. This advice is not intended for people in relationships which are violent or at risk of becoming so. If you are experiencing or are at risk of domestic violence call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – this national counselling line is open 24 hours. Australia’s campaign to stop violence against Women, the White Ribbon campaign, also has useful information on its website.
*Claire Esmond is an Authorised Representative of AMP Financial Planning Pty Ltd, ABN 89 051 208 327, AFS Licence No. 232706. Any advice given is general only and has not taken into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. Because of this, before acting on any advice, you should consult a financial planner to consider how appropriate the advice is to your objectives, financial situation and needs.