Economic Abuse

Mable C. Dunbar, Ph.D., L.P.C.

Traditionally, a man (father) was considered the “bread winner” for his family. He was the financial manager for the home as well as in business affairs. His role was to make sure that his family received the best he could offer with his income. However, today a working woman can have responsibility for her financial affairs and enjoy a comfortable or affluent lifestyle whether or not she is married or single. In some instances she is able to earn more than her husband or partner. In mutual relationships, a couple seeks to support each other and work together to create financial stability for their family.

In abusive relationships, one partner sometimes seeks to control or minimize the ability for the other partner to become economically stable. This is economic abuse. Some ways in which it is accomplished include:

  • Keeping the partner from getting or keeping a job
  • Taking partner’s money
  • Preventing partner from having a say as to how the money can be spent
  • Making partner beg for money, or setting up conditions for him/her to receive money
  • Preventing partner from continuing his/her education
  • Not providing adequately for the family

It is important to note that anyone can be abusive. But historically, a woman was dependent on her husband to take care of her economic needs while she was responsible for the welfare of their children and home. In situations where a man seeks to control the finances in the home, we have this counsel to a husband, “you must help each other. Do not look upon it as a virtue to hold fast the purse strings, refusing to give your wife money.” Ellen G. White in Letter 65, 1904. She also states in Letter a157 in 1903, “give your wife a share of the money you receive. Let her have this as her own, and let her use it as she desires. She should have been allowed to use the means that she earned as she in her judgment deemed best. If she had a certain sum to use as her own, without being criticized, a great weight would have been lifted from her mind.”

Ellen also encourages husbands to provide conveniences in the home to lighten the labor of his wife. “I tried to show him that it was necessary for the health as well as the morals of his children that he should make home pleasant and provide conveniences to lighten the labor of his wife.” Letter, 9, 1888. For example, if a couple can afford it, unless they choose, a washing machine would help to lessen the burden of having to wash clothes by hand.

It is also important that a woman be educated so that she can be economically independent as becomes necessary. “Women should be trained to some business whereby they can gain a livelihood as necessary.” -Adventist Home, p. 91. Obviously we must keep these statements in context. I do not believe that the statement is encouraging a woman to neglect her family and get a job at all costs. Obviously there are situations where it is feasible and necessary for a woman to work, especially if she is a single parent, there is economic hardship in the home and there are not other means or support. Or she has gifts and talents that can be utilized to better humanity, etc. We need to keep in mind the broad principles when we consider what economic abuse really is. It is not necessarily the acts of keeping a tight budget, or being frugal about spending. It is the motivation behind the act. That of trying to control the economic potential of another so that he/she can be manipulated and controlled. It is the deliberate attempt to keep someone so dependent that he/she is unable to make decisions regarding money, continue his/her education, or seek and keep employment.

Stereotypical beliefs contribute to economic abuse in subtle ways. For instance, an abusive man might feel intimidated by his wife’s ability to earn more than he is able. So he undermines her skills by making her feel guilty if she has a job outside the home. Declarations such as “what kind of women would want not want to stay home with her children?” or “a woman’s place is in the home” tend to define a woman’s role and limit her potential.

Women as well as men (partnership) need to keep in mind that they should nurture and support each other. They should encourage each other to accomplish that which will help build each other’s economic power so that they can maintain a comfortable home environment for all family members. There should be continuing dialogue on ways to earn, spend, and invest their money. As trust is felt between the couple, there will be the freedom for each to feel safe and confident in one another. When two people enter a marriage contract, their lives become one. They share. They work together. They build together. They plan together. They reap the rewards of their labor, together.

It is God’s intent that we flourish and prosper. “Beloved, I wish above all that thou mayest prosper and be in health.” 3 John 2. When Christ is abiding in the heart it does not matter who make the most money, who has the most prestigious job, or who has the higher degree. What matters is that each treats the other with respect, dignity, and forbearance, while giving each other the freedom to grow and expand as they explore their potential God has given them.

Possessions & Treasures:

You possess a job...you possess your family
You possess a house...you treasure your home
You possess a bank account...you treasure your friends
You possess a car...you treasure your health.
You possess a wardrobe...you treasure your health
You possess an appointment book...you treasure your time
You possess a heart...you treasure love
You possess net worth...you treasure the opportunity to serve.
-Leonard Sweet

Whatever God has blessed you with, use it to glorify, and bless others.