Should she ask her husband’s permission to buy a new dress? Part 2

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In my last post, I responded to a question I saw in a Shabbat leaflet. It dealt with a woman whose husband opposed her buying a new dress for her sister’s wedding. I raised my concerns over the potential red flags of such a situation – namely, financial helplessness and covert abuse – and one reader suggested that I might respond to the woman by writing to the newsletter.

Well, I did it. I wrote to the editor, and today I received a response, along with a copy of this week’s leaflet, in which my comment (abridged for reasons of space) and their answer appeared. I’m copying and pasting their answer here.

“Thank you for your comments!
Financial abuse is not only extremely harmful, but can be used as a tool to trap a victim in an abusive relationship. As with emotional abuse, financial abuse is generally not about a specific situation. In most relationships, there are periods of financial stress wherein the couple must reduce their spending
or make other decisions and adjustments.

However, with financial abuse, the abuser usually wants to control, manipulate, trap and dominate the other person. Some examples involve controlling the victim’s acquisition and use of money and assets, preventing the victim from working, putting the victim into large debt and/or ruining their credit, creating legal issues for the victim, controlling all the spending, refusing to work, withholding basic needs and hiding assets. Even if they are only using one of these tactics, their behavior may still be financially abuse.

While there may be indications of possible abuse in the woman’s question, it might also be simply a tight financial period. A good idea, as you mention, would be for the woman to know the finances. Her husband not agreeing would be a red flag. However, assuming he agrees, she should also participate in financial decisions, hopefully lessening her resentment.


Shalom Bayit (for my non-Jewish readers: this refers to marital relationships, literally “peace in the home”) counseling is delicate. The goal is to bring the couple closer while also being attuned to the individual needs and vulnerabilities of husband and wife. Before introducing a label such as emotional, verbal or financial abuse, it is important to gather as much information as possible.

Targeted questions, involving the subjects mentioned above, will enable both the counselor and the counselee to understand whether it is abuse or not.
If a person feels their situation might be abusive, they should speak with a professional who can help them assess their situation and move forward with a healthy, successful and normal life.”

***

I have just a few words to say in conclusion. First, I appreciate the editor’s attention to my concerns, and I am thankful they chose to give space to the subject of financial abuse, often subtle and not enough recognized in Orthodox Jewish circles. I also agree that it is impossible to find out, just on the basis of what we know, whether the writer of the original question is going through financial abuse or just a period of financial strain and faulty communication.

However, there is one thing I just wanted to note: “If a person feels their situation might be abusive” may be hard to pinpoint. Many people live in a financially abusive situation for years without being aware of it. They might feel it’s normal, or it may happen so gradually that they look back one day and realize they have given up all their financial freedom and capability.

I guess what I’m trying to say is just that I hope people will gain more awareness of financial abuse. A couple of years ago, a few Israeli Knesset members tried to pass a law that would protect victims of domestic financial abuse. I am sorry to say that Orthodox and right-wing PMs were the ones who stopped this law from passing. They ridiculed the suggestion of giving more legal protection to financial abuse victims and claimed this law “interferes in family dynamics.” I found a brilliant article that discusses it here.

Also, for whoever is curious, the leaflet that prompted me to write these last two posts is Living Jewish.

Author: Anna

An Orthodox Jewish wife and mother enjoying a simple life with her family and chickens, somewhere in the hills, in Israel.

4 thoughts on “Should she ask her husband’s permission to buy a new dress? Part 2”

  1. First of all, good for you with following through about this! And the editor gave a good answer, I thought.

    That said, I would never ask my husband if I could have a new dress. I might discuss it with him. Asking makes it sound too much like a child asking an adult. So, maybe a bad choice of words or maybe an indicator of a problem.

    When we were first married, we allowed ourselves each a small amount every week that was ours alone, and which we didn’t have to account to anyone for. It was a pretty pathetic amount and didn’t go far even then. It was my choice if I wanted to spend my money each week or save it. And I might have saved it for a dress. But either way, it was our budget and we planned it together. I agree with you that “together” is the way to manage your money, at least it was for us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent point, Cate: ask (one side holds all the power) vs discuss (make decisions together).
      I’m a member of a couple of crochet groups and I always cringe when I read how a member’s husband “lets” her buy yarn. If one spouse “lets” another spend a few $$$ on a hobby, that’s a hugely unhealthy dynamic.

      Like

  2. I’m really struck by this part:

    “However, assuming HE agrees, she should also participate in financial decisions, hopefully lessening her resentment.”

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding, but if he doesn’t agree that she should participate in financial decisions, isn’t that a problem right there? Honestly, it’s also a problem if she is refusing to participate and putting it all on him.

    I agree about the difficulty of a victim of abuse to recognize that abuse is happening. It’s like that joke where someone asks a fish how the water is and the fish says, “huh? What’s water?”

    Of course I do not know this particular couple. But I know many couples where the wife has no idea about the finances and just blindly trusts that the husband is making good decisions. A lot of this happens under the cover of Biblical submission. I do not think God intended men to treat their wives like children, though.

    A wise older man in our community recently pointed out that if God created his wife to be his helpmeet, then he really had ought to listen to her rather than making all of the decisions by himself. This isn’t just about “lessening her resentment.” It’s about the folly of ignoring the counsel of someone God himself put in your life!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent points! Yes, 100% financially depending on someone else, up to the point of not knowing what is going on with your bank account, is very risky and definitely not what God intended for men or women!

      Like

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