Last week we posted this piece on Twitter: A Story of a Fuck Off Fund. It struck home for a lot of women. It’s particularly important, I think, because it paints a powerful picture for young women, and how decisions and actions early on can have long-term repercussions.
Many people hold misconceptions about domestic violence and abusive relationships. Bruises and broken bones are black and white, so to speak. But physical violence is just one kind, and is often the least insidious, because it’s easiest to detect.
Some people can stretch their understanding somewhat to include mental and psychological abuse. You can’t see it, unless you witness it happening, but everyone knows how bad it feels when someone says mean things to you. (That’s a huge over-simplification, but you get the idea.) But abusive behaviour and control tactics can go far beyond those.
The role of finances in abusive relationships can come from a couple of angles, but the effect is the same: you are trapped.
In many cases, the abused person’s partner controls the purse strings, whether they have vast resources or exist below the poverty line. Could be a stay-at-home mom whose husband is the only one working outside the home at the time and earning an income. Or a wealthy society wife who has minimal education, no work history, and a whole lot of appearances to keep up. Or a family experiencing poverty, where even essentials like food, clothing, and shelter are constant struggles.
In an abusive situation, the partner who has the money asserts control by doling it out (or not) to the other partner. By deciding what purchases are allowed. The one without financial resources has to wait, rely on, and sometimes beg for money to manage things ranging from running the household to purchasing anything for themselves. Withholding money can, and is, also used as a punishment.
It also significantly discourages the abused partner from leaving, since they don’t have money for a place to stay, food to eat, or even gas for the car or a bus ticket. Those in rural areas can be even more isolated when there’s little access to public transportation or shelters, for example. Combined with the abuse tactic of socializing isolating one’s partner from friends, family, and others, helplessness can be nearly insurmountable.
For a woman whose educational background or work history is limited, she has few options for earning an income, and nearly all of them don’t pay very well, except for roles like sex work, which comes with its own issues and dangers.
As in the Fuck Off Fund story, even when a woman has worked hard from school on into her career, it’s really easy to end up in a situation of not having enough, and extremely hard to dig yourself out. In the mean time, due to that precarious state, you become willing to put up with uncomfortable or abusive behaviour you never would have thought you’d accept, whether at home, at work, or elsewhere. Living like this grinds you down over time and make extricating yourself even harder.
The key is to start planning early, but make no mistake, this is not easy. When you barely have enough money, it’s not easy to find money to save. Bits and bobs here and there don’t add up very quickly, which can be disheartening (especially if an emergency comes up to deplete that fund). Plus, when you’re young, especially once you’ve escaped being a poor student, you want to live it up a bit and assert adulthood. You want to have nice things. Plus, you need decent clothes to look appropriate at the office. You want a car that doesn’t break down all the time so you can reliably get to work, etc… It’s a pretty trap.
Even for those of us not in abusive situations, how many actually have the 3-6 months or more of savings to cover living expenses that we’re advised to have? Many don’t. When you’re single you don’t have much choice but to fend for yourself, but when you’re in a relationship and have become accustomed to splitting expenses (and need to to maintain your lifestyle), trying to figure out how to get out and manage on your own can seem insurmountable.
Add children to the mix and the challenge becomes exponentially harder. Especially when the abusive partner has the money and you don’t, that person may also have the money for good lawyers and whatnot, making issues like custody battles and spousal support harder to manage.
Money is one of the most common sources of stress even in generally healthy relationships. In addition to enabling people to live and thrive, it is inextricably linked to issues of gender and power. Time passes and more women are remaining single longer, getting educated and building careers, and managing their own lives. Unlike in the days when women were expected to remain at home, raising families, we can hope there are fewer women who end up in dire straits when suddenly alone, like after a spouse dies or they’re divorced, or after fleeing an abusive relationship.
But as noted, abusive relationships and using finances as a manipulative tool or weapon can happen to anyone, at any socioeconomic level. No one ever wants to dwell on the idea of a rainy day, let alone the first time your partner backhands you. But we have a responsibility to ourselves (and our kids, for some) to be smart about our lives.
Taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and financially doesn’t mean you don’t love or trust your partner, and that you’re not dedicated to your relationship. On the contrary. It means you love and value yourself, and know how to be dedicated and disciplined, which makes you a better partner, too.