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7 Signs of Economic Abuse in a Marriage
Never have I pictured my life as muddled up pastels. Puffing away the chalk dust from my abstract, I squint through the tiny cloud at my art therapist, Lara*. "Humph. That bastard took all my money."
The Knight in Fool's Gold Armor
"I want you to express that in your art piece, just let your mind and hand wonder with whatever color is tying to your emotion. Show me what brings you here today."
I press lines of black in the middle of the paper. "My marriage was such a joke. Fake. I almost feel like crying, Lara. I feel like such a fool falling for his lies. I feel like a whore." Grinding in some dirty brown, I reflect on when I met my almost ex-husband, Jack*. "I have so many unbelievable stories, but I'll try to keep it within my time. Seven. That's a good number to start."
We met at my night job as an exotic dancer. I was coming down from stage, he and Benjamin Franklin greeted me for a private dance. "Angel* is your name? Well by the way, Angel, I am going to marry you."
"Oh yeah? I heard that line three times this week.", but not from someone so handsome and clean and with a pocket full of hundreds. He looked like a Mel Gibson-Rob Lowe morph. He was 40 at the time, I was 34.
During that summer, in 2005, he impressed me with $500 dinner dates, jewelry and trips on his 30-foot racing boat. He would pay me not to work; we'd drive around in either of his four expensive vehicles; and he promised to buy me a BMW Z3 convertible. Hard to believe he was a self employed carpenter, huh? At the same time, I was canned from my office day job of ten years because my phone ga-ga-goo-goo with him was a bit thick for corporate standards. I really didn't care, I was in love with the man of my dreams!
I and my two children moved in with him within that same year and the philanthropy tapered off quickly. Two years and a Dodge Caliber later, we married.
*names have been changes for privacy
1. Not Working and Requiring You to Provide Support
I lean heavily on the red. Red always means anger. "This looks like a penis." Cocking (no pun intended) my head to the side, I inspect my work.
Lara laughs. "Indeed it does. But if you turn it upside down, it looks like a bird to me."
Jack's work was seasonal and he had many bouts of no work at all. His debt was compounding and he pushed me to dance even more. I worked five or six nights a week. My footsies started to petrify from the long hours in 7-inch heels. I handed over every dollar to my husband, he was basically a pimp. But I wanted him to know I wasn't that stereotypical gold-digging stripper who he says have just enough brains to be stupid. I worked hard for my money.
In the highly competitive Stripper World, if you averaged less than $2000 a week, you might as well shoot yourself. His greed climbed. He would get upset and insulting if I brought home less than $400 a night and pushed me even harder. I eventually became a traveling dancer, working half the month in other states, making a $800-$1000 a night. I missed most of my son's middle school years and most of my daughter's high school years because of my absences.
2. Interfering with Your Education
I feather in a few squiggles of my favorite color, aqua blue, and let some aqua run off the page. "What are you thinking?"
Sigh. "That I have no boundaries. I let him ruin me. My credit. I've defaulted $50,000 in student loans all because he said my credit didn't matter, only one of us needs to have good credit and it should be him." Needing a goofy moment, I hang my tongue out the corner of my mouth and cross my eyes. "I am water, I take any shape."
I went to college immediately after high school and did about two years. I had to drop out because there is where I discovered partying. Jack never made it passed the 10th grade. He hated my college memories. I felt he would always counterattack my wild stories with the same "Eeehem! Well I went to college alright, but only to bag the college babes. They'd sneak away from their boyfriends and crawl through my window. I rotated in three to four girls all day." This story was always followed by the bare chest knuckle rub.
I think he was afraid of me being smarter than him. Whenever I'd try talking about getting my bachelors degree, he'd remind me of how stupid I was. "We can all see where college has gotten you, you're just a stripper." Then he'd continue on how college was the biggest scam and we ain't paying back my loans, it'd be like throwing away money to the government.
3. Making You Ask for Money
"You know, Lara, perhaps I should of used something more involved like fingerpaints and get all messy." I bob my eyebrows up and down at her, "Or perhaps something more splashy, so I can throw it!"
"I seen people really breakdown when using fingerpaints in art therapy and that's ok. It is more freeing, it can really evoke your right, emotional brain and that is exactly what we are trying to do here. There is something wonderful about how the big motions of your body can unlock suppressed emotions of your brain. We can try that if you wish. I just wanted to warn you it can get intense."
Many of these money abuse incidents tie into the fact I did not have any bank accounts. I had them prior to Jack and I hadn't any money issues, I could manage my money like a pro. But all my accounts closed in poor standings and I really cannot trace exactly on how that happened, maybe a bad check or unpaid bank fees. But my point in telling you this is that every dollar I danced for and every check written out to me, was put into his bank.
Whenever it came to my income, it was "our" money. But whatever he made, it was his; and the nanosecond my money hit his account, it was all his. It seemed like a good idea at the time because he always said he was paying bills and made me feel guilty if I wanted to buy a little something for myself. I rarely asked for money. He would give me a little bit every three months to bleach the black out of my hair, I wasn't Barbie enough with black hair. Although the color job usually ran around $100, he'd forever bitched about how much it costs.
(I have to tell you this, he buys that shampoo and conditioner for the follicularly challenged; it costs $50 each bottle.)
74% of Americans personally know someone who is or has been abused. However, 75% Americans also fail to connect domestic violence with economic abuse.
Your Experience with Abuse
Do you know anyone in an abusive relationship?
4. Buying Expensive Things for Him/Herself
"I think that fingerpainting would be awesome, considering I am so used to just shuttin' up and hiding my true self in front of my husband. For sure, let's do it. Next time." I check out the only color that really hasn't made it on my canvas. "Hey, that's a great introduction for my next color, to represent my fear in him. Ladies and Gentlemen, I now introduce you all to Yellow."
In 2008, Jack landed a big job framing dorms on a nearby military base. That job netted a quarter of a million dollars. From the profits he bought another 30-foot racing boat, a Yacht Master Rolex, and some designer clothes. If he bought anything for me, he'd make sure it was something he could use too. Like a blender. Once in a while he'd feel sorry for me and buy a pair of shoes. We had been together nine years and I have, nine pairs of shoes in which he bought. Now for all you women out there who remotely like shoes, we all know that is just ri-damn-diculous.
Want Irony? Regarding the big framing job, It was operated under a limited liability corporation, my limited liability corporation. It was specifically registered for that job only, because he was working with the government and we had a couple of laborers on payroll. Jack knew he was going to make huge profits from this job and had me open an LLC so he can hide his earnings, in the event someone would try to sue him.
5. Keeping Your Name Off Joint Assets.
"Do you have more yellow? This one tiny piece will be all used up by the time I am finished with it."
"Sorry I don't. Maybe you can start smearing now, if you think that works for your piece. And remember, since we are a non-profit organization, you can pay when you are able, however much you are able. We are here to help. We can have as many of these sessions you think is helpful, if you want to finish up your piece later."
Is this to any surprise he would keep my name off the joint assets? Apparently from the beginning of this relationship he was preparing and expecting to divorce me in the long run. I suppose you can say he's had plenty of practice, I am the third wife.
We have no assets together. Two years into our marriage he acquired an H1 Hummer after his first H1 melted to the ground. My name is nowhere on its title and because the new H1 was bought with his settlement money, in his mind, it's all his.
The very next year, I found a 70 acre piece of land in Texas that he bought by trading his Corvette for downpayment. I helped build a house on it with no thanks at all. He leveraged my money into this property and my name will not be found anywhere in its transactions. I will save the explanation of that scam under the 7th sign.
Why Financial Control is a Major Lever in Abusive Relationships
She does an amazing job at explaining the dynamics of this type of abuse. Please view this 10 minute video from Anna Moss of www.relationshipredflags.com.
6. Preventing You from Getting or Keeping a Job
"Here, I do have some green. Does it fit?"
"I am purposely avoiding the green. It reminds me of money, and that leads to greed and why I felt I had to strip. All for someone else's greed of money, power and control."
I finally quit dancing cold turkey in August 2011. I was having guilt and moral issues. I resented the customers, mainly because most of them were middle-aged married men, just like my husband. Jack went into a rage and hated me for 4 months straight.
I returned to my office jobs, yet I could not hold them for long. I think my short employments had a bit to do with that I had a hard time fitting in with female office co-workers. I didn't look like them or act like them. I became mean, just like my husband. I even developed this evil, maniacal laugh. Just. Like. My. Husband.
The most evident reason for failing my office jobs would be that my paychecks were nowhere near to what I made on stage; and that never bothered me. But Jack struggled with the pay-cut and would say things as- my paychecks were "measly", or they were not enough to cover any of the bills. Usually when I'd lose the office job, I would fall back on dancing. I cannot do that now, customers would look at me and ask why aren't I collecting my Social Security.
96% of domestic violence victims who are employed experience problems at work due to abuse.
7. Taking Money without Permission
Of course, taking money from me was like taking candy from a baby. Along with my tips, my pension, my paychecks, my child support checks, my unemployment checks....he stole half my inheritance.
My grandparents willed the grandchildren some antiques, savings bonds and land. My split added up to a little over $30,000. I thought for a long time what I wanted to do with this money and confessed to Jack that I was keeping it all to invest, instead the usual, depositing it into his bank.
When Jack does not get what Jack wants, he would throw a major fit. We were driving through an empty parking lot when I told him the plans for my inheritance, where he had what I would call road rage in the parking lot: swerving the truck like a lunatic and ramming the breaks while screaming "WHY DON'T YOU TRUST ME?!?!" I and my whiplash, jumped out the truck and walked a mile home.
He was waiting, drumming his fingers on the kitchen table. I gave in, not wanting another temper tantrum. He convinced me to sign over my check in order for him to convert it into cashier's checks made out to me, in $5000 increments. He claims this was to prevent me from spending my money on stupid stuff. He kept the checks "safe" in his vault; a vault that I never knew the combination to. Needless to say, he steadily dipped in the dough until he couldn't account for $15,000.
"I'm using it to buy cows for the property."
It has been a couple years since that story. I cannot find even a hamburger patty on that land.
"Time's almost up. I want to give you the chance to be proud of your artwork and process your feelings."
I give Lara a smirk, "So I can tear it up now?"
"Good gracious, NO! That's progress in your hands and that's priceless. How do you feel?"
"My heart hurts. I feel stuck and drained. Depressed, angry, lost- all that. Is that normal?"
"Absolutely. You have to feel pain to address what is wrong and know what needs to be fixed and how to fix it. With time and a good support system, you will be able to move forward."
"Thank you. I appreciate you listening and helping me process my feelings. I feel bad I can't pay you right now."
"No problem. I also want you to know there are tons of resources out there for women in your situation. There is group therapy, counseling your children, safe housing, legal assistance; we can help with medical care, food stamps, finding a job or starting your own business- whatever is necessary to you get back on your feet. The resources are endless, you just have to make that choice. Most people are not like your husband. People really do care and want to help those in need. And most times, it's free or very low cost."
And I am going to need all the help I can get. Jack kicked me out the house; he found a new hustler to hustle. He dumped me off on my sister. That is why I am here today. I have no money, no job; divorce is inevitable. Yet, I know I will be Ok.
Now that you and I can recognize these signs of abuse, we can also recognize what makes a relationship healthy. When it comes to finances in a relationship, it should be an economic partnership. Money decisions should be made together, making sure both individuals benefit from the financial arrangements. Right now, I have no clue what that feels like, but I am certainly looking forward to it.
"Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it." - Helen Keller
For Emergencies Dial 9-1-1
- National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
If you or a loved one need help with an abusive relationship, please contact the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence hotline 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or visit their website www.ncadv.org.
© 2015 Coco Schreiber