I recently read an article which quoted a staggering statistic: Financial abuse is present in 98% of domestic violence cases.
While this does not mean that every case of financial abuse will turn violent, it’s still a pretty solid indicator that they go hand in hand.
The article continues on to elaborate that the number one reason domestic violence survivors stay, or return to, the abusive relationship is due to the fact the abusers control their money supply, leaving them with limited financial resources to break free.
This is what I would call a red flag. If your partner wants to control all of the money—including what you make—there’s a problem.
I know how easily you can get sucked into financial dependency. How do I know? It happened to me.
It started so innocently. When I started having babies (I had three in three-and-a-half years), I wasn’t working much, so any money I made I happily handed over to my husband. He was handling the family finances, and I was thrilled to have one less thing on my plate.
When I started earning more money, my husband wanted to continue depositing my checks into his account and making the decisions about where the money went—including mine.
I didn’t see the red flag.
Then he began asking me to sign for lines of credit. The first time, it didn’t really bother me. My credit was solid; he had destroyed his. He claimed that this was something I needed to do “for our family” since I wasn’t contributing as much financially as he was—or so he had me believe. He said it was a drop in the bucket, and it would be paid back quickly. Fine, I thought.
The second time, I started questioning him. I wondered how we were going to be able to pay this back. That’s when the verbal abuse started. He assured me that I knew nothing about how business and finance work. He reminded me that I was contributing far less than he was. How dare I question his ability to manage our money? At that point, I felt it was easier to sign the loan than to deal with his anger.
I was exhausted. I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was spread way too thin. I was vulnerable. And he took advantage of me.
As you can imagine, it all went downhill from there. Fast-forward seven years, and I’m earning a substantial income as a freelance writer, and he is taking my checks out of our mailbox and depositing them into his account, to which I have no access. I have to beg for money for food and for clothes for the kids. Claim agents are ready to pounce on me every time I try to leave the house. My car has been repossessed in the middle of the night. I can’t purchase a cell phone because he’s taken one out in my name and not made the payments on it. My credit is ruined.
And we are still married, still pretending to be happy to the outside world. Everyone thinks we’re the perfect family. Three smart, handsome, athletic boys. A charismatic husband. A loving wife.
If only they knew.
It felt as if I was being held hostage. Whenever I tried to regain any control, his abuse would escalate. It went from verbal, to psychological, to emotional abuse. He would take the boys and not tell me where they were. He would tell them that I was mentally ill and that I didn’t love them. He would withhold messages from me, hide my car keys, throw my clothes all over my room. It was like living in a torture chamber.
I wanted to leave. But I was afraid. He had promised that if I left, I would never see the boys again. And I believed him. I knew he would do it.
It took a lot of strength, a lot of courage, and a lot of anti-depressants, but I finally found the wherewithal to stop letting him take my money.
When the next paycheck came for me in the mail, I took it without his knowledge. (Can you hear how absurd this sounds? It was my check that I felt I was stealing from him!) I went to the bank and opened up a new account with it. I was physically shaking the entire time. I was petrified that he would catch me. And I knew the repercussions I would face.
Before the funds even cleared, he found out. He opened a letter from this new bank that was addressed to me and saw the deposit information. All hell broke loose. Threats, screaming, cursing…but I remained steadfast. I was not going to let him break me this time.
The funds cleared, and were immediately frozen, because of liens against me for debts I didn’t even know existed. He claimed that this proved his point of just how stupid I was and how I had no business handling my own money.
I didn’t fall for it this time. I kept taking my checks and depositing them.
He threatened to kill me. He threatened to burn our house down. I refused to listen. He was losing control, and it was driving him crazy. The financial abuse, the verbal abuse, the emotional abuse, the psychological abuse…it was no longer working. He had nowhere else to go. It had to turn physical.
One day, as I was walking away from an argument with him, he came from behind and choked me. He did this in front of our youngest son, who was six at the time. I passed out. They both thought I was dead. When I came to, I calmly walked to the phone and called the police. He cried like a baby, begging me to put the phone down. He said I was going to ruin everything. Yeah, for him.
He was arrested, went to jail, and I filed for divorce.
It was a long, difficult road, but the boys and I came out of this ordeal in a much better place. When I think about our life in terms of if I had stayed versus our life now, well, there’s just no comparison. I took this whole, awful experience and turned it into an enormously fulfilling career as a divorce coach. I now help other women who find themselves in abusive marriages, and show them there is a way out and a better life ahead.
Oh, and the boys—now 26, 25, and 23—no longer have a relationship with their father. Their choice.