A look at my experience with emotional and financial abuse in a long term relationship.
During the 10 years of my relationship with my ex husband it never occurred to me how uneven our relationship was. It never occurred how much emotional abuse and financial abuse, gaslighting, and manipulation would occur through out my twenties and into my thirties. It wasn’t until after our separation, and some therapy, that I started to unfurl that treasure trove of deep seeded trauma.
The first wind of the financial abuse I can even remember is when I came to talk about my personal debt with him to begin with. Which was about one credit card a lender had given me the moment I had turned eighteen.
My ex had paid off his student loans through an inheritance just out of university, so he had a smug sense of self entitlement that his life was held together better than mine almost immediately out of the gate. His superiority complex grew deeper, and more of a spider web through out our relationship and as time went on.
I admit that we did not share our financial background until we moved in with each-other but we were also just out of our adolescence and this was the first time I had ever lived with someone at the age of twenty-two. So I had no idea that we should have really set out on a proper budget.
Moving in together felt like a whirlwind where neither of us really thought or questioned the consequences of potential financial difficulties.
So the first red flag was of him accusing me of keeping my credit card a secret from him despite it never being a topic we talked about to begin with. He then immediately went to his Parents who offered me a loan to take care of the one and only credit card debt I had. I refused to take a loan from his family. After all we had spent less than a year together at that point, and I figured I’d land a decent job in the new city we were living in (Toronto). He got a great internship and then job through his Uncle who worked in broadcasting. He had connections and family in Toronto, where as I did not. So I took various retail and customer service jobs.
At that point and time, one of the biggest decisions that would impact my future happened. He decided to continue to live with me despite my refusal to take a loan from his Parents. He accepted the debt at that time.
What I didn’t realize then is that it would set the basis for our entire decade long relationship together and seep into the everyday of our short lived marriage.
I also never realized until a therapist pointed it out that he agreed to stay in the relationship. No matter how often down the road we would also fight about money, and more specifically that debt, he still stayed.
Over and over again he would make the conscious decision to stay in our relationship and so would I.
If I had opted out of the relationship earlier apart of my life would have been very different.
We reconciled then, but my minor debt would become something he could so easily hang over my head in the future whenever he saw fit. It stood as the foundation of our relationship going forward. It was our first disagreement, our first fight in a new modest bachelor apartment together, and the first time I saw him as he truly was. A manipulator.
He would then start consistently accusing me of reckless spending. Even when I had my own job, my own income, my own basic autonomy. When I started to build my own business he thought it was a waste of time, and at first had little interest in it. Instead he got angry at my growing collection of stock for my store, and he thought that I was a hoarder. One time he even dared to call my family “white trash" out of nowhere because of my growing stock of vintage clothing. When myself and my Father are Indigenous.
He always wanted to seek control of where my money was going, even though I cooked and cleaned, and I managed the apartment domestically and he did not. I never was enough. Even when I contributed financially to groceries, or basic housing costs, it never was enough for him or felt enough for him. Yet as always he never suggested fairness or some kind of equality to our issues.
It should be noted that I never went to post secondary school because of financial issues, and my low income background. He also never once suggested I go to school in the hope to bring in a bigger and better income, or even encouraged aspects of education for either of us. Not even when his Mother had suggested it. He just seemed settled and often defensive.
He took control of the bills, the financial statements, the rent payments, and he never asked me to be involved in it. He never showed me the bills. I never asked because when I did, there were fights and intimidation tactics, or sheer ignorance or “We’ll deal with it later”.
He never asked for a budget, even when I started seeking credit counseling for my one debt. In fact, when I was seeking my credit counseling he kept it completely separate from our lifestyle altogether and he never asked me about the progress.
It’s like he omitted my minimal debt from his consciousness unless it suited him best. Such when it came down to him noticing me spending money on something he didn’t like or something I brought home, or if it was approved when he was with me.
As our relationship grew, it always felt like he was keeping tabs on everything financially but only with regard to me and what I spent. It always felt like a “tit for tat”, you will owe me mentality. Sometimes it felt like he was making mental notes every time he bought me dinner.
He would complain to me that he never had money to spend on himself because of my behavior. So then he would wear clothing until they were threadbare, and then he would demean my spending as the reason why he wouldn’t buy himself new things. This always made me feel like the bad guy, and it always made me feel like I was never going to be good enough or make enough money.
He would stay lock lipped when it came to anything else, and it grew to be a very normal part of our relationship. Where he would still never talk about our rental costs, our financial upkeep. Yes, I was on the lease of the last apartment we had together and knew how much we paid but we never figured out what would be best for the both of us in how to pay it. If I brought it up I was faced with judgmental resentment and anger. It felt like walking on egg shells when ever the topic of money would come up.
He would blame me as to why his clothes weren’t kept looking nice, or why we had hand me down furniture. I think he oftentimes wanted to live in a constant panic perhaps for attention from his Parents. Perhaps in the hope they would give him money, or help us out. Or because he hated the pay inequality between us. Yet he stayed.
He would sometimes go on vacations, but solo trips with his family. This was because he never felt I could afford them. This was true in many ways, but there was also never a discussion about saving money for them either. So I often felt uninvited and unaccepted.
I was the problem, consistently and concisely. The one debt I had was my cross to bare. He always well far outpaced me financially, and he always made a fair middle class income, and I wonder even to this day where half his money went. Yet I never asked because it became a very intimidating process. So I ignored it all the time, until it was just a very normal part of our relationship. It was denial, it was ignorance, and it was because I wanted to maintain this relationship.
Eventually it lead down a road where he was taking my pay checks and depositing them. Where eventually he was looking at every penny I earned. It wasn’t much but it counted for something. They were being deposited into his bank account, and then he would allocate money to me. The only thing I eventually had access to was his credit card. I often knew the balance but I never once abused his balance.
He kept a perfect credit standing the entire time I lived with him or so I understood. I only know this because I suggested for the first time in his life that he should know what his credit score is.
So I never quite understood why he acted like we were in constant financial ruin. I oftentimes had part time minimum wage jobs, which is why I tried to operate my own business to make my own side income and have control over that. Though it often felt like he was jealous of not knowing what I was making with my small business, as oftentimes it went into a PayPal account (where I left it) as well as cash.
I remember one time we arranged a dinner date with his Mother and her Boyfriend to come to our apartment for the first time. Something we both agreed to in advance. When I asked if we could purchase some groceries and snacks for the occasion in advance he flat out refused. I ended up serving her a frozen pizza, with nothing else because it was all we had left in our freezer. We didn’t even have any beverages other than some tea and water. It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life, where I felt the smallest in front of him and his family. At that point I felt pretty much worthless. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough to please anyone including him and his family. I felt like dirt, and it was one of the longest nights of my life.
There was also a time my Mom and Sister came to visit me, and he spent some time with us at our apartment but then he flat out refused to come to dinner with us for my Birthday. All because he did not want to spend any money on eating out. It was another, very awkward scenario where I felt the lowest of the low. I also as always felt to blame for the situation because I had done something to piss him off.
Money was always a sore subject, and oftentimes he would just spend arguments berating me about the one debt I couldn’t find the way to pay off. Especially when I became stressed or down about our financial woes.
Then we got engaged, after almost 10 years together. We spent years watching other people get engaged and married. We weren’t interested in getting married for a long time, we were even featured in a Toronto Star article about cohabitation before marriage. Then we realized why not? Most everyone around us had, and we would keep it small and cheap. His Mother also offered him her old family wedding rings.
My ex in the past also often had to be begged to buy people wedding gifts when we attended other people’s weddings, and I would also get incredibly upset when he would flat our refuse to put more than $20 in an envelope. He would often argue that no one expected much as a wedding gift.
When it came down to our marriage I did somewhat manage to keep it small and inexpensive, and we decided we would manage that by getting married at city hall. All I wanted originally, or had envisioned was a brunch and then our ceremony, and then go home. It started to get more complex when his family stepped in. His Mom especially suggested a BBQ, which then turned into a golf course reception. She offered to pay the expenses as a gift, but as wedding planning continued the more I felt obligated to say yes to his family especially because they were contributing a big portion to our wedding. Because she had given us rings.
My ex didn’t quite understand the financial circumstances of the wedding either, and he quickly questioned most decisions with whether or not it was in our budget. Though we had no real set budget. In the end my estimation was that we ended up spending $5000.00 roughly on our wedding, and that was what I had kept track of on my end.
Despite him getting a lump sum from his family, I did not see that money or where it inevitably went as my family contributed financially toward everything I had organized, and my family gave me the money directly. My Mom let me use her credit card. They paid for decorations, and my dress and accessories, hair and makeup and most of that came from Etsy. I got an alternative dress used from Kijiji, and some flowers and a cake from my ex. He also paid for the postage for the wedding invites. What he did with the rest of the money from his Parents (other than pay for a wedding brunch, and his suit rental) I do not know?
Same with our monetary gifts from family and friends, after the wedding he deposited any checks we received from friends and family. I was given a little bit of the cash from the cards, but I was under the impression he was to put the rest of our gifts toward our bills. I again have no clear understanding where both of our families money went after the fact. I never saw bank statements and that information was kept away from me. We also at this point only had one bank account between us and not in my name.
There was a point and time where I did think things were going to get better, and that was after we got married. Things seemed new and fresh, and like a complete restart to our relationship. He even gave me a small portion of money from a inheritance his Grandmother gave him. I felt a connection with his Grandmother, and she had luckily attended our wedding before she passed away. She was a special woman to me, so I really felt honored. Eventually it would get spent on our livelihood together.
When I then attended my ex SIL’s baby shower, I also felt limited in what I could buy for it as gift because I knew he would stand in the way if I asked him about those purchases. So I used my PayPal money, and cash to purchase gifts I wanted to off for her registry. He was not involved in what was purchased for that shower, and he avoided the topic altogether. I didn’t approach him because again I was scared. We had fought multiple times in the past about buying gifts for other people so I didn’t even try to talk to him about this.
We didn’t even plan a honeymoon after we got married. I then proposed we go to Albany, New York as a treat for us both during the summer. He seemed reluctant, as he cited hating driving, he was as usual worried about finances as usual. I saw that one of his favorite musicians was playing there and had no Canadian dates. We were visiting my Parents when I got a tax return in the mail (it was delivered to my Parents address) and it was enough to cover the trip. I only enticed him with the tax return, and then I planned the trip. All he had to do was drive.
When we did take the trip, he as usual seemed miserable and callous. There were brief moments of goodness like when he bought a t-shirt, and the concert was amazing. Though he seemed bitter almost at every moment through out that trip. It never felt like a fun experience, it felt like pulling teeth.
Then his Father proposed a family trip for everyone to California. My ex did not plan for either of us to travel, or talk to me about it, despite almost two years of advance notice. At least this time the invite was extended to me by his family, and there was no hiding the fact that we would have to figure out finances for this. As usual though, he placed it far on the back burner. We conveniently broke up a few months before the trip, where in we had no savings for it anyway that I knew of. It always made me wonder if he’d planned it that way so he wouldn’t have to worry about how we were going to travel.
Eventually though, things went back to what I knew as normal but I really wanted to get my debt taken care of (that one credit card) even almost 10 years later it still loomed with growing interest. I explained to him one day after mustering the courage, how I desperately wanted to finally take care of this debt, as it was a ever living nightmare and a burden for our now marriage. At this point, he still had no other debts himself ever, great credit, and we were doing fine other than my old debt. His family helped him purchase a vehicle though and he seemed burdened with having this new responsibility. He complained consistently about maintenance and insurance, despite them having paid for most of the car.
Instead of settling this situation with a conversation like a adult, he blew up in a rage about it and claimed that I was basically asking him to pay off my debt and taking advantage of him. I explained to him that I had not intended to ask him even for a loan to pay off the debt but that I wanted to make a strong concerted effort to get it done so that we can have a better future. Maybe I could finally go to school, and earn a better income as even his family started to beg both of us to do. His family also started offering us incentives to buy a house or a condo. So, I really wanted that debt that followed me for 10 years gone.
That’s when I knew something had changed. He started treating me very different. He would start giving me silent treatments, stone walling me when I would ask him questions, including general day to say stuff, about how he was doing or feeling. He would get distant and I felt like he completely shut me out of his life. He then claimed that I wasn’t doing my part to get rid of the debt, and I wasn’t making sure to call them and the credit counselor I was asking advice from enough, or rather up to his standards. I wasn’t getting enough information, and I was being uncivilized when it came to my own debt.
He then picked up the phone and started talking to the credit counseling agency on my behalf, he then started talking to my creditor, he then decided of his own free will to pay off that debt. After I repeatedly told him as a not to get involved unless he really consented to. I told him I was not asking him to pay off the debt, but then he did. Once the debt was paid, things only got worse instead of better. The moment he paid it is the moment I also felt an eternal shift in our relationship.
That’s when he stopped coming being involved in much of our relationship, he started hanging out with friends more. That’s when he threw himself into this local arts theater, and screenwriting. I really didn’t find this out of the ordinary, I just thought maybe we were both finding a bit more independence of each other. I even helped do costumes for the theater he was working for and tried to involve myself in that. The more I did the more depressed he seemed to get, the less time he’d spend at home. The more I also started to feel like a “gold digger”, and also paranoid about not fitting in with his family. So I started to just focus more on my small business selling online. Of which I started to make decent money at.
To me, he was never the same when he noticed I was making money from my small business and when he no longer had a debt to lord over me as being our financial woe. I was no longer incapable of handling myself, he basically had nothing to blame me for anymore. He may have felt like I owed him, but I was no longer actually caged by physical debt and that to me seemed to bother him the most. To the point where it had a hand in suffocating our marriage. It imploded due to a myriad of circumstances not just related to the financial abuse. Though this was one of the primary reasons.
It wasn’t until I opened my own bank account after we separated that I began to realize just how messed up it was. How consumed our relationship was in a habitual financial ruin. I could breath freely again, and learn to be me again. It was quite possibly one of the best feelings in my entire life.