Love and Money: When is Fair not Fair? Recognising Financial Abuse
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Love and Money: When is Fair not Fair? Recognising Financial Abuse

Jozica Kutin

Jozica Kutin

26/03/2021 • 6 minute read

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Trigger Warning: This article contains references to domestic abuse and may be triggering for some readers. If you or someone you know is affected by domestic violence, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).

Falling in love can be an amazing experience. The surge of excitement, the connection, the sex. Your partner is perfect – and the good news is, they think you’re perfect too. Before you know it, you’re planning all sorts of things together – week-long festivals, tropical island holidays, co-owning a dog and maybe even moving in together. It’s all going to be awesome.

Until it comes time to talk about money.

After all – and despite its importance – talking about money isn’t very romantic. It leaves you cold. It’s comparable to going out with your bank manager (and speaking of, do they even exist these days?)

So you’re between a rock and a hard place. How do we balance out our need to be financially-fit with our burning desire to be the best partner ever? 

Growing up with traditional money management models. 

Money and finances are not topics that are openly discussed. We mostly learn about money from watching our parents. For example, we may see our dad as the top earner and consequently making the major financial decisions for the household. Or we may see our mum handle the shopping and household spending.

In real life, there are many different ways families and households manage money. However, talking about money (and our attitudes around it) was, and probably still is, one of those taboo topics. It’s right up there with politics and religion; it makes people uncomfortable and has the potential to be volatile.

It’s worth reflecting on what you’ve learned from your parents about money, either directly or indirectly. For example, ask yourself, was money something you talked about at the dinner table? Did your parents show you how to save, or how to find the best bargains? Did they drill it into you that it was important to send to support your family, and you should save for others accordingly? Or did they shush you up when you asked about money and say, ‘that’s private?’ There’s a good chance their attitudes and beliefs around money have shaped yours. 

Getting to know our new partner’s likes, dislikes, and secret Netflix binges are all part of the excitement. But we’d humbly submit there’s an equal and important way to understand your partner. And that’s to understand their money values and history.

Why is being financially open so important? 

The answer is simple, money is one of the three big relationship busters, in addition to sex and trust. Often, it’s the most important.

You probably find it quite difficult to share your money stresses, worries or dreams. So how do you keep the finance side of things healthy?

It’s no surprise to hear that the answer to this – and most other issues– is communication. Open, honest, fair, respectful communication.

So why do we find talking about finances so difficult? The answer is that like all skills, you need to be taught and to practice open communication. Even about the topics that make us uncomfortable. We’ve grown up not knowing how to talk about money, let alone how to negotiate this in intimate relationships. Foolishly or not, we still believe love will conquer all.

What makes for a financially (and emotionally) healthy relationship?

Good communication. It’s that simple. Good communication means you’re willing to talk about money, money values, money goals and money fears. Your partner listens and shares.

Respect, consent and no pressure or judgement are vital ingredients in great communication. A healthy partnership is where both people value each other’s needs (I’m talking about money here). 

As with building emotional trust, financial trust takes time. There’s no need (or pressure) to bare all straight away. You might find yourself taking baby steps first, like doing some nerdy finance workshops together. 

It’s when it comes to making decisions together (like moving in together or buying your fur-baby) that you’ll need to have an open discussion about things like benefits and risks. You may even find yourself talking about the really hard stuff, like what do we do when we break up/I lose my job/you get sick.

‘Yeah nah, that’s not fair’

One of the really early warning signs of financial abuse is a feeling that something isn’t quite right. That good old gut instinct. 

It might be your partner’s putting emotional pressure on you to help them out (if you really loved me you’d lend me $100), or asking you to do a ‘small’ favour and come to the car yard to help sign a car finance contract (that’s a “yeah nah” from us). More likely they’re ‘borrowing’ money from you, promising to pay it back, but then they don’t. Or they’ve got a great business idea – and surely you want to invest some of your inheritance in it too. 

Yeah, nah. You’re not your partner’s ATM or credit card, and if you’re feeling pressured, that’s not fair. 

Jacinta* thought if she didn’t keep giving her boyfriend money, he’d leave her. She said:

He probably wouldn't want to be with me. I thought maybe at the time I was a little bit insecure. I just thought if I didn't pay then he won't love me as much, just stupid things like that.

Well, guess what? He did. He left her. He was only with her for the money.

That’s not love.

‘I’ll look after that for you…’

Sometimes it’s just the opposite. Your partner takes control of your money. They don’t let you access your bank accounts. You don’t see the bills. They quiz you about everything you spend. You end up needing to borrow money from friends and family just to get your necessities. They’ve told you that they’ll look after everything, that you don’t need to worry about things. 

Yeah, nah. That’s not fair. It’s your money, your stuff, your decisions. 

When is it financial abuse?

When your partner is trying to control your money, your phone, your access to your computer, your car, your friends, what you wear, where you go, what you study or where you work.. that’s not love, or passion, or respect. That’s control, exploitation, and abuse. 

That’s financial abuse

I analysed Australian government data that revealed these statistics have only been exacerbated by the pandemic. If you or someone you know is experiencing any form of abuse, there are several support networks available. 

Helplines like 1800RESPECT can help you plan a way out if you are feeling scared and unsafe, too scared to leave or sort things out.

If you're in need of help, support or more resources, visit these websites:

1800 RESPECT Financial abuse toolkit

Find a financial counsellor

Youth Law Australia

If you or someone you know needs help immediately, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14


*Jacinta’s identity has been hidden to protect her.

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Jozica Kutin

Written by Jozica Kutin

Dr Jozica Kutin, PhD, is a Senior Researcher at RMIT University and the Victoria Law Foundation. She has been leading a team at RMIT with Professors Roslyn Russell and Mike Reid, and Vivienne Mah, together with YLab and Today Design, to develop a toolkit for young adults about money and love funded by the Ecstra Foundation. Launching mid November 2020 – .

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