‘I think I might be in a financially abusive relationship’

Can you tell me a bit about you, your life and your relationship?

I’m a 30 year old professional in a high earning job. I’ve been in a long term relationship with someone I’m very much in love with. We started dating when he was in graduate school and I was working, and the relationship has been mostly good until recently - I’ve begun to feel like it could be financially abusive.

Whats the financial history between you?

While we’ve both been generous with each other, I have given him much more money simply because I earn a lot more. This didn’t seem to be a problem at first. He went through a hard patch, and so I loaned him two thirds of my savings. I’d also given him monetary gifts and a promise to give him more money when I got paid.

How did the dynamic change?

With time, when we had fights, he started to say it was because I earned more than him and reminded me that he’s the ‘man’ in the relationship. When I lent him the large portion of my savings, he was still so angry with me, believing I could have done more. He has also asked me to refrain from purchasing certain things for myself to save for our wedding, despite the fact that he has a spending problem - e.g. buying the latest phones and lots of credit card debt.

He also shamed me for wanting to get a better paid job, and got very upset when I asked him what the plan to pay me back was. I didn’t realise how bad it was till I mentioned it to someone who called him an exploitative, narcissistic, psychopath. I don’t fully agree but that was the first time I began to realise that I might be being abused.

How did it make you feel?

I felt heaps of guilt and shame because it felt like nothing I did was good enough. He believed I could’ve given him more money, but would also get angry if I checked work emails while we were on dates.

He accused me of being unkind over my suggestion that he reduce the amounts he gifts to people, since he doesn’t have that much. It made me feel the need to prove to him that I’m actually a generous person.

I also felt the need to coddle his insecurities because clearly he felt frustrated at his lack of income and the disparity between our incomes, and would get very upset with me. I was also afraid of upsetting him so I constantly apologised.

How are you doing now?

At the moment, I’m reflecting on it, and trying to write down my thoughts. I’ve always been very frugal and money smart, but have lost so much money from listening to his investment advice, gifting him things, and loaning him money. I’m also trying to recover from his accusations that I’m unkind when I suggested being more frugal, and working on dispelling my need to prove to him that I’m not.

I never thought of it as abuse because it didn’t fit into the classic definitions of financial abuse that I read of. I’m hoping for the strength to fully walk away if need be. I’m trying to identify patterns of abuse and how I got myself into this. I’m also trying to learn ways of advocating for myself and treating myself with more kindness.