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My Story: Rebuilding Financially After an Abusive Relationship

By: Monica B., Wake Forest University

Not long ago, I was in an abusive relationship. I was a mother of two children (one with special needs), and a successful restaurant manager. My former spouse was a gambling addict, and quite possibly had other addiction issues and behaviors as well. He was physically abusive on many occasions. The violence in our home caused damage to our entire family.

I want to say, the physical violence was just the beginning of this story. Though it left marks, bruises, and visible reminders, the physical violence was not the most damaging of the abuse that went on in our home. You see, the biggest problem was the financial abuse incurred at the hands of my husband. He stole money out of my children’s piggy-banks. He hid money, opened credit in my name, racked up balances, utilized paycheck advances, took out personal loans, rifled through my purse, and sold my jewelry.

By the time I was able to find the courage to leave a very traumatic situation, my credit was ruined, my grandmother’s pearl necklace and earrings were gone, and my children had lost their entire education funds without their knowledge. I still remember my checking account balance of negative $37.62. The day we left, we had a full tank of gas, an upside-down car loan, and $13.00 cash. By the grace of God and the kindness of friends, we were able to live with a friend until I was able to save enough money for the deposit on an apartment.

More than four years later, I am happily remarried and on track to financial security. I’ve been able to make some new choices regarding the financial well-being of both myself and my children.

The first and probably most important lesson learned through this experience is that I am utterly and completely honest about my finances and credit. With that, I expect the same of the person I am with. My ex-husband had very bad credit, but he was an accountant. Through therapy and the wisdom of others, I’ve learned that bad credit is a red flag for many other issues.

Second, I’ve learned that everyone should take part in the financial planning of a family. Had I not given up control of finances, my ex-husband would not have been able to do damage to the extent that he did. I would have noticed late fees, additional credit card bills, and other oddities. Now, my husband and I pay our bills together. We discuss anything new or variable in terms of debt or expenses.

Finally, I learned that it is important to have individual accounts. Joint accounts are sometimes necessary. However, it’s problematic for one person to maintain all control and access to a family’s money. I’m not saying women or men should be planning on using their individual account to leave their significant other in the middle of the night. What I am saying is that a partnership should still maintain the best interest and individually of all participants. My husband is not a saver. Thus, his joint account is his “fun” money. My account pays for things that my daughter needs and allows for personal savings as well.

This is just the tip of the iceberg regarding my financial recovery. I’m certain that this will be a lifelong process. My credit score may forever be damaged by my poor relationship choices. I’ve paid off nearly $10,000 in debts that were not my choice. This past tax year was the first year that the IRS didn’t seize my refund for debts incurred during my prior marriage. I can only hope that my story benefits someone before they find themselves in a similar situation. There is hope and resources regarding financial abuse and security are available through most domestic violence shelters.