financial abuse
Updated August 12, 2022

6 Ways to Know If You’re in a Financially Toxic Relationship

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Today, I’m discussing relationships and finances. Note that when I use the word “relationship” here, I’m referring to a romantic relationship between two consenting parties; it’s beyond my pay grade to discuss the financial aspects of a polyamorous relationship.

If you’ve ever been married or in a long-term relationship, you know that money is inevitably going to come up at some point. When you first get into a new relationship, money is probably the last thing on your mind, but ultimately, avoiding those conversations can lead to bigger problems down the line.

And while every couple has their own way of approaching money, it’s always important to engage in open and honest two-directional communication concerning your finances. It’s extremely difficult to reach an arrangement that works for both sides, so you should expect challenges and, in some cases, arguments.

Although there’s a difference between these discussions and finding yourself in a financially unfair or one-sided relationship, the two can be difficult to tell apart. Today, therefore, I’m going to discuss six red flags that may signify that you’re in a financially toxic relationship.

1. Your partner applies for a credit card under your name.

Unfortunately, identity theft between partners is more common than you might think. But if your partner opens a credit card under your name, you should take that as a massive red flag.

Not only is opening a credit card in someone else’s name illegal, but it also puts you in a position where your partner is making financial decisions for you. Further, having someone else use your name for a credit card can put you in a very risky financial situation; if your partner uses that credit card, he or she will be spending money in your name, meaning you’ll take on the debt and other financial risk. And if your partner maxes out that card or doesn’t pay it off, your credit will be damaged, not your partner’s.

Because this is a legal issue, you should take immediate action if your partner opens a credit card in your name. In addition to talking to your partner, you might want to consider freezing your credit. You also have the option of filing a police report, though the wisdom of such a decision depends on your specific circumstances since doing so may cause a significant strain in your relationship.

If you choose to stay in your relationship after your partner opens a credit card in your name, you’ll need to work out a system that allows you to rebuild your trust while ensuring that such an occurrence never happens again.

2. You avoid money discussions.

If you’re like me, you probably don’t want to talk to your partner about money all the time, which can be reasonable. However, if this goes so far that you feel you can’t have any money conversations with your partner, you may be seeing signs that your financial situation as a couple isn’t as healthy as it should be.

In my opinion, it’s a clear red flag if you’re ever at a point where you want to discuss money but decide against it because you want to avoid a fight; especially in a long-term relationship, it’s crucial that both sides feel comfortable raising concerns or having financial conversations without causing a huge argument.

You should also take it as a warning sign if this takes the form of a sort of double standard, where one person, desiring more financial control, frequently raises the money issue but doesn’t allow their partner to do the same. For example, your partner might repeatedly ask about your spendings but never answer questions you ask about his or her spending. Like I said previously, healthy financial arrangements are fair to both parties; if you notice something like this, it may be a sign that you’re in a financially one-sided- and unhealthy- relationship.

3. Your partner sets your budget.

Budgeting with your partner can be a great way to manage spending in your joint accounts or save money together. Like other aspects of your financial relationship, though, budgeting together requires open dialogue and treating each other fairly; you and your partner probably have some differences in your financial priorities, meaning you need to work together to reach a solution that benefits both of you.

On the other hand, if your conversations about budgeting are one direction and your partner dictates your spending or allowance without giving you a say, you may be in a financially toxic relationship. As I said before, there’s nothing wrong with budgeting together, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with having an allowance, but you and your partner should be working through it- and following the same rules- together.

4. Your partner doesn’t let you access joint accounts.

If you and your partner have a joint account, that account belongs to both of you, which means you need equal access to both the account and the statements. A joint account may not be the right arrangement for every couple, but if you do have a joint account, both of you should be able to check it at any time. And if you and your partner don’t want to manage your finances in that way, you might want to consider replacing any joint accounts with separate accounts to avoid unnecessary friction.

As I noted before, there are downsides to having separate accounts, and you definitely shouldn’t have separate accounts to avoid money discussions altogether- that might be another sign of a financially toxic relationship. Overall, separate accounts may be better for some couples, but they shouldn’t be used to avoid arguments. And if you decide that a joint account is a better fit for your relationship, you should both have equal control over that account.

5. You constantly feel the need to explain your spending.

It’s not a bad thing to hold each other accountable for spending, but you shouldn’t feel pressure to come up with an excuse whenever you spend money. On the other hand, neither should you be spending on whatever you want regardless of how your spending affects your partner. Instead, you and your partner need to strike a balance between both extremes by setting clear rules and boundaries that work for both of you.

If you’re on track with the budget that you and your partner set together and still feel that they’re making you justify your spending, though, it may be a sign that you’re in a financially unhealthy relationship.

6. Your partner talks about “their money”.

Regardless of your account type, when you’re in a committed relationship, your money and assets in some sense belong to both you and your partner. For example, if you live in a home your partner owned before you met, they may be original owners, but they shouldn’t use that as leverage when it comes to talking about money.

If your partner frequently describes money or other assets as “theirs” in an attempt to maintain power over you or make you second-guess your spendings, you probably need to have a serious discussion about your finances. While it’s fine to have money in separate accounts, that arrangement shouldn’t turn into a clear-cut division of money and control.

Similarly, there’s nothing wrong with having conversations about limiting your spending, but your partner shouldn’t be making you feel guilty for spending “their money” as if they have sole control of your finances.

If you see any of these red flags, you may be in a financially toxic relationship. If this is the case and you choose to stay in the relationship, you need to have a serious conversation with your partner so that you can solve the financial problems in your relationship in a way that works for both of you.


Logan Allec, CPA

Logan is a practicing CPA and founder of Choice Tax Relief and Money Done Right. After spending nearly a decade in the corporate world helping big businesses save money, he launched his blog with the goal of helping everyday Americans earn, save, and invest more money. Learn more about Logan.

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