When I was married, financial control didn’t look like abuse. It looked like fairness. It was only fair that all the money went into a joint account. It was fair that we went over the bills together, even if he made all the decisions and set all the budgets.
I had to discuss major purchases and it was only fair because he was the primary breadwinner. The majority of our money came from his paycheck, not my financial aid and scholarships, surrogacies, or benefits our kids with autism were entitled to. He was the head of the household, so he made the decisions.
Avid readers can tell by now that I’m a bit rebellious. Secret checking accounts and student loans happened. I was still mom, so much of that went to groceries because the budget he gave me, but never shopped for himself was hard to stick to. It resulted in arguments with my shoulders rounded and my gaze at my feet. It was a time for me to resort to being a sulking teenager, not a wife or equal.
I applied for credit cards with terrible credit and no job and when I got them, he would help me max them out. When the bill came, we could never afford to pay the bill I created. Credit was a bad idea because you have to pay it back with interest. (At the same time, my individually improved credit has opened a few doors for me, starting with my car.)
It didn’t look like abuse at the time. It looked like equity based on his rubric. It looked like power and our actions against each other became cyclical and damaging to us both.
Personally, I was frustrated. I had a book addiction, and often bought Amazon gift cards for my habit while grocery shopping because hiding the purchase amongst groceries sometimes worked. I hated feeling like I needed permission to spend my allowance. I would scour clearance aisles and freak out about how to hide it later. I wasn’t big on purses, shoes, or jewelry. I bought things for the house and worried nervously about the fight I would cause by the new dishes, or trash can I brought home.
As I found other ways to hide my acts of rebellion, he found ways to investigate my actions and uncover my lies. There was no trust and it looked like a power struggle where dominance wore the farce of fairness.
In 2014 I had pulmonary embolisms. At the time I had a car that was a danger on the roads. I could only drive it in a lower gear, the brakes were faulty and the seat belt didn’t always work. I would drive it half a mile to the train station, but take the train to work at my part time job, and walk. I was newly discovering a gluten free diet and avoiding sugar because my doctor scared me with pre-diabetes. Walking seemed healthy. I walked 5 miles and that night woke up with leg cramps only to find out the next day that my birth control pills tried to kill me and walking so much didn’t help. The greater question that I didn’t dare ask at the time was, why couldn’t I drive the safer car to work? Where was the equity when I was taking the train late at night alone, worried about my safety the whole way?
Having that relationship end, different articles and stories found their way to me. It was through friends and online. The concerns my sisters voiced for years finally landed in ways that I couldn’t deny. Mine isn’t even an extreme case.
Some people are battered in their relationships but the abuse is more than physical. If there is physical violence, there was certainly verbal, emotional and financial abuse before during and most definitely after it. The most invisible form of abuse is financial. It’s about an abuser having control over their victim. In that way I suppose you could say my rebellion was abusing my ex and calling it control. Money is used to isolate and control victims. A victim can’t always move out or leave if they don’t have the means to. It’s about not being able to do anything because you completely depend on someone else.
I was allowed and even encouraged to work, but I found a balance in staying home for my kids, and going to school for myself. He often told me what kind of work I should do as a suggestion, but it felt like control. It felt like I had his permission to be a teacher, even if I hated being in the classroom. Even if I did work, I knew I wouldn’t have control of my paycheck. Now I enjoy work. I’m much better at making money than keeping a clean house. (I’m okay with this. You should make peace with it too.)
In my last relationship, I had a hard time asking for his financial advice or support. I didn’t want to give him control or cooperate with what he felt was best. He didn’t want to blindly throw money my way to help out because he didn’t trust me, even if we were living together. We didn’t trust each other. Money and control became a problem and rather than do what he asked, I stood my ground. Other relational situations shifted the balance in what made a relationship worthy of growth and our relationship didn’t continue. He was intelligent, with a background in finance, and an ability to get and keep my attention. He was and is special. At the same time, I couldn’t in any way relax into a situation where I couldn’t control my finances. Strength or weakness, it’s who I have become.
I have a purple purse charm I have kept on each of my purses for almost two years now. Allstate has ways to support women that are financially abused. I didn’t buy it for them, although my purchase supports them. It has become a symbol of hope and strength for me. It has become a reminder that I don’t need permission to buy my kids clothes. I get to make choices and create the life I want to live. I’m not a tree with deep roots. I’m free. My tassel sways with the freedom I feel in every step I take. Even if I’m not financially stable as a funempolyed single mom, I am free. And I am in a much better financial situation than I was under someone else’s financial control.
I am not affiliated with Allstate or the Purple Purse Charm and I have no monetary investment in this (or any of my posts to date), but if you would like to support their work, or at least learn more about financial abuse as domestic violence, please click here.