I was a poor single mom before my husband and I decided to get married. Even though finances were tight, I allotted a small amount each month for buying books and plants.
I had an outdoor container garden, backyard vegetable garden and beautiful houseplants. I had a decent home library that my mom started for me when I was a teenager; I got books for Christmas and birthdays. That collection grew as I found mostly used books at thrift stores and Half-Price Books.
I had been married less than a year when I started to worry that something wasn’t quite right. But as a good Christian woman, I hung in there and stood by my man. I stood up to him when he began to be abusive toward my son, but although he backed off, he used manipulation and control to get back at both of us.
As time went by, I found my previous life filled with “my favorite things” under attack. It was subtle, but my husband used religious “leadership” and finances to justify his control over what I read, did with my time, and enjoyed. I wasn’t allowed to buy books, one of my true loves. I wasn’t allowed to spend money on gardening or decorating. I didn’t spend money on clothing, visits to the hair salon, or anything that took me away from the house and his scrutiny.
His mantra of “don’t spend money” shut me down at every turn.
My husband didn’t care whether I enjoyed any aspect of life as long as he was in control.
This is the definition of financial abuse: asserting control over a partner or spouse by denying access to money or his/her ability to choose what to spend money on at any given time.
As our family grew, I bought clothing for my babies at the thrift store and still felt guilty for spending money. I purchased used toys and household goods. I bought used furniture, but was only allowed to do so after a fight (because he tried to go back on a promise to me that I could buy new furniture after we sold a rental home).
After two decades of marriage and the denial of “my favorite things” I had lost myself. I was nearly destroyed.
I had to be apart from my husband before I could begin to reconnect with who I really am: a nature-loving, book-devouring, independent woman. That is who I am.
The financial abuse continued during our long separation until my husband had a stroke. No, he didn’t see the light as he faced mortality. He got caught forging my signature on his tax returns for 4 years against my wishes and needed my signature on an old tax return that he had never filed. He felt justified by this behavior because he has been paying the mortgage and utilities on our home (where I live with our youngest son– he moved out of state and left us here with no way to move back near family) and gives me a small allowance with which I am supposed to buy food and pay for home maintenance, car insurance and repairs, cell phone, clothing, and everything other expense that most people must cover.
He kept me and our youngest son in poverty. In four years, he had donated nearly $30k to churches while I had to go on food stamps so my son had enough to eat.
Abusers control finances in order to exert power over a partner or spouse.
And the only fix for this type of abuse is financial independence.
I tell all married women that I know that they should have their own bank accounts, retirement, savings, vehicles, credit cards, and their names on home deeds (this kept my husband from refinancing and taking out loans on our home–he needed my signature). You should own your own car — only your name on the title. Do not put your husband on your credit card accounts. Mine cancelled all my credit cards without notice to me (bank said he could do so because his name was on my account–I added him after we were married) and stopped the direct deposit of his paychecks into our joint checking account so I had no resources available and was completely dependent on him.
This advice goes for all women considering marriage, too. Plan ahead and maintain financial independence.
If you leave a job or career to take care of a family, put aside a set amount of money each month to cover what you would have in social security and/or retirement savings. Your goal should be to have at least $5,000 in savings (that is how much it costs to hire an attorney should you need to file for divorce) and a retirement account comparable to what you would have if you had continued working.
Continue to work even if it is 10 hours a week. Do something to maintain continuous employment.
And for goodness’ sake, do NOT give up your favorite things because your spouse complains or discourages your interests.
Take care of yourself, nurture your passions, and allow yourself to be a self and not just a spouse or marital appendage. You are your own person. Never forget that.
I am back to loving books, nurturing my need to create and make beautiful things, enjoying digital photography, and gardening, indoor and out, because I enjoy these activities.
Occasionally I even buy myself clothes and get my hair cut and styled. I enjoy a glass of my favorite wine, read a lot, and watch the movies and TV shows that I like. My bed is all mine. I don’t suffer sleep deprivation due to a snoring, restless bed partner (who refused to seek medical treatment).
Although I am still parenting a teenager, most of my life is on my terms. I will never give that up again.
I am committed to earning my bachelor’s degree and going on to graduate school because I want to. It is my desire, my dream.
I don’t have anyone telling me I am wasting my time or that I am wasting money on an education that I might never use. It is my dream and I am free to pursue it. That voice of control, denial and deprivation has no power over me anymore.
I am free to enjoy my favorite things.