Keep Your Money, I’ll Keep My Job: Sick Family Systems, Financial Abuse and Control

Are you afraid to leave a relationship out of fear you can’t make it? Does someone you know use your money without permission? If you are given an allowance, not allowed to work, or have had your opportunities to work or go to school sabatoged, you are being victimized. Read more to see what this type of abuse is.

Exploitative relationships take many shapes. If you tolerate oppression out of fear of being left in financial ruin, or if you are bonded to someone that is sexually, emotionally, or physically abusive, you are being victimized. Financial abuse is a tactic offenders use in order to keep their victims captive. While not discussed openly, it is present in 99% of domestic violence cases, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV).

Financial abuse is a set of behaviors geared to use money in order to gain power and control over another person, as reported by NNEDV. This form of domination is intended to manipulate, intimidate, and threaten the victim to trap them into that relationship. Such examples include concealing monetary information and limiting the person’s access to assets or family finances. It is also cited as the main reason victims stay with or return to an abuser.

I’ve seen this time and again in friends, family, and the workplace.  I consider myself lucky. My family of origin was the perfect model for financial withholding, intimidation, and manipulation. I caught on early.

The patriarch of my youth supposedly worked 3 jobs and was never present, except for throwing rage fits in the house and taking advantage of his family. While growing up, I questioned why if he worked so much, we lived off bologna sandwhiches and Corn Flakes. He also bought the shittiest possible coffee for our house: Yuban. That, to me, was unforgiveable.

Our 20 year-old cars and 103 year-old house were certainly affordable on one paycheck. I didn’t buy the explanations that life was so expensive. I worked jobs at age 9, started my own business, understood how to spend money wisely. I excelled at math, and nothing added up.

My father kept all our financial records secret. He held accounts no one knew about, and spent gobs of dollars on the specially chosen ones that caught his fancy. I watched as he lavished certain family members with limitless spending on brand name products while he clothed the rest with t-shirts salvaged from garbage bins.

Mother had no access to funds that my father brought in. She never hesitated to confiscate our birthday/holiday gifts from relatives, school loans, or saved allowances to furnish her lavish shopping appetite.

Given to rage fits, I also asked mother why she didn’t just leave if she was so miserable. Never a clear answer, I unconsconsciouly understood their relationship through the lens of financial power and control. She was scared, had low-end jobs and had zero self esteem. She did not want to live as a single parent. At 14, I risked homelessness and got a job. Job equaled independence, and I’ve never looked back. I took my anti-dependence with me.

I escaped the money-suck my father created, and my mother tried to stay. Desperate, she didn’t want to leave her comfort zone. It was from this situation that I vowed to never let another person control me financially. I have insisted on working since, in all my relationships, for this very reason. She willingly put her children’s lives in danger with her refusal to support herself. She was a victim on one hand, and the predator on another.

My father attempted to keep me looped in with bribes, promises of support and an easier life, and tried to buy my silence. That didn’t work. I valued integrity. Everybody knows who you are now, dad.

Into high school and beyond, I noticed couples and families who stayed together despite a deep resentment for one other. One common theme presented: money was the glue. Used as a form of power and control, those powerless had large hurdles to jump over for independence. Children in families from wealth with conditioned access to funds, spouses with no access to the family checkbook, all remained bound by the mighty green bill.

Money is used as a tool for power and control by perpetrators.

It directly impacts our nervous system state when one threatens removal of support for a financially dependent person.

This threat triggers your survival instincts. Without money you cannot pay for shelter or food. You face homelessness, exposure to the elements, lack of healthcare, and hunger. Your fear then drives you into submission and subjection to more control. Most people ask these victims “Why didn’t you just leave?” This- is the why.

Part of victim blaming includes an inability to understand the whole picture. Abusive relationships include a world of tactics incorporated by the perpetrators that work to erode the self esteem, independence, and confidence of the victim in order to establish dominance and control over that person. Remove their safety nets, and they become dependent. Threaten their dependence, they will stay closer.

The Pennsylvania Commission Against Domestic Violence (PCADV) describes this process well: “Imagine you moved in with your partner in your early 20s. This partner began isolating you from family, friends and coworkers as part of their emotional abuse. After having kids, your abusive partner insists that you are no longer “allowed” to have a job. You become further isolated with no personal or professional network. The job skills you did have start to become irrelevant as the gap in your work experience becomes wider and wider. You don’t have your own savings or retirement accounts. Your checking and credit card (if you have any credit at this point) are controlled by your abusive partner. You can forget about going back to school or obtaining job training. When you finally work up the courage to even think about leaving, you are faced with the reality that you have no money, destroyed credit, no other place to live, no job and no skills to get a job. Where would you even start? How would you leave?”

I was involved in the start of several relationships like this throughout my 20’s. However, when the other began to exert control, I refused to hand it over. I understood that no one could make decisions for my life other than myself. So, when I heard anything resembling the phrases of:

  • You don’t have to work.
  • Who will take care of the kids?
  • Why do you need that much money? What would you be spending it on (even if I earned it)?
  • What are you going to do with all that education (this one was my favorite)?

Or anything of the like, I was out. Any statement that neared suggestion I was incapable, or that having these qualities of independence were abnormal, told me that this person had harmful intentions.

The biggest red flag of all of them was based on the fact that the other never asked about my wants or needs.

This was never a consideration.

I thought I was never going to get married.

However, it happened. And, that brought on a whole host of other stuff.

My husband is amazing and wholly supportive (he doesn’t have any other choice). But, this attitude did not carry over from his family. I found it funny when his maternal side always had a criticism for my career or a disproval for choices made for my future. These sounded like: “Go back to work? Who’s going to take care of the kids? Why would you invest in that- I don’t think that’s a very good idea. Do you really think you’re capable? Why do you need to work when your husband has such a great career?! He’s all you need. You’re children are going to suffer…blah blah blah.”

Too familiar.

My response: I’ll make my own money.

These centuries-old guilt and shaming tactics just never worked on me. These are the signs that people are not healthy. With no intention of respecting my boundaries, I reinforced walls.

My children have two parents. Not one. And, I refuse to raise them in a household where the father is absent- at work all the time- while the mother does all the caretaking. This is what creates trauma, imbalance, and makes up for the meat of the stories for those who I see for trauma. My daughters will witness me standing up for myself, carrying a balanced lifestyle, and communicating my wants and needs in a healthy manner with my egalitarian partner.

Part of the silence society uses to support abuse includes the devastating impact this has on our economy. PCADV estimates that in 59% of domestic violence cases, the victim’s credit was harmed, 70% were not able to have a job, and 53% lost their job due to their abuser. So large a problem, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) calls domestic violence the nation’s #1 public health issue. The health, financial, and psychological consequences have a ripple effect that directly impact our economy. SO, why do I work? Statistics speak for themselves.

I trust my spouse 100% and I do not believe this would ever occur in our relationship. I made sure of this with my inability to accept less from the start. However, I breathed domestic violence for 2 decades. It’s in my blood to be independent. I practice balance in all things, since balance is the hardest goal I will likely never reach.

Financial abuse is not limited to sexually-based relationships. Children, relatives, and even workplace financial abuse occurs on a regular basis. Kayla Sloan defines financial abuse in her article on as using someone’s property or money without their knowledge or permission. In her article What to do About Financial Abuse in the Workplace, Kayla explains several employee-business and business-employee examples of financial abuse. For instance, an employer cutting an employee’s funds without knowledge or using a company credit card for personal purchases as an employee are both illegal and damaging.

Too bad we can’t make stiffing your server illegal. I consider that exploitation.

Workplace financial abuse is a relative problem, even in the United States. Fortunately, we have laws against this- but there are always loopholes. Awareness is power. Never be afraid to exercise your rights. Seek a lawyer for protection if you have to.

Parents may manipulate their children into submission through threates of withdrawing financial support should the offspring make unapproved decisions. Ie. If you don’t go to college to be a doctor or lawyer like I think you should, I won’t pay for it. This can occur to both minor and adult children.

Elderly or vulnerable adult populations are at risk for this same corruption. Caregivers that force elderly or vulnerable adults to hand over financial information, steal personal property, or acquire by coercion any aspect of the vulnerable adult’s  private assets is considered financial exploitation. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) expands the definition of financial exploitation. They describe it as the unauthorized use of money from neighbors, caregivers, family and friends, or professionals that is not repaid, where services are not delivered as promised, or there are extensive charges for services.

Financial abuse can be reported to the local authorities, the District Attorney’s office near you, and to the Adult Protective Services in your area.

If you believe you are in a domestically violent relationship, or experience abuse in any way, reach out. Ask questions.

Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233 if you believe you are in a financially abusive relationship.


  1. “About Financial Abuse.” The National Network to End Domestic Violence. Accessed 11/14/22 from:
  2. “Financial Abuse.” The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Accessed 11/15/2022 from:
  3. Sloan, K. 2017. What to do About Financial Abuse in the Workplace. Accessed 11/15/22 from:,Withholding%20or%20Lowering%20a%20Paycheck,In%20addition%2C%20it%20is%20illegal.
  4. “Reporting elder financial abuse.” Consumer Financal Protection Bureau. Accessed 11/15/22 from:
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