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May 13, 2024

Financially screwed - a lived experience story

If financial abuse is defined as 'concealing information, limiting access to financial assets, or reducing accessibility to the family finances,' then yes, I was financially abused

Content warning: Financial abuse, brain tumour, stress induced illness
This content has a custom transcript:

If financial abuse is defined as ‘concealing information, limiting access to financial assets, or reducing accessibility to the family finances’, then yes, I was financially abused.

I am now twelve years out of the marriage and have healed enough to be able to write about this without feeling like a walking, gaping wound. However the effects are still current. Instead of owing 6k to the bank each month, as I did twelve years ago, I am now paying 2k. Which is better, but under the current climate, and with the recent interest rate hikes, I am no longer reducing the capital-just servicing the interest.

This abuse was under the guise of a marriage, and I enabled the behaviour because I was under he misguided belief that the man of the household should be the one in charge of the finances, since that is how it was modelled to me growing up.

I was never permitted to have a job in my teens, my traditional Italian father convinced that I would somehow be soiled if I were to associate ‘with boys’ at that age.

It was not permitted. I was to get a degree, and a good job, and marry.

That was the mark of success as a woman.

Or so I was led to believe.

I watched my father write out check after check when mum would hand him the household bills.

It was serious business and the impression I got was that the household spending was to be metered out by the head of the family.

None of this was ever spoken, just understood.

I wanted this to be different in my marriage, but when children came along, I seemed to default to having to ask for ‘an allowance’ rather than feeling like the balance of financial control was even.

It sounds dramatic to call the events I experienced ‘abusive’ or catastrophic’ because we seem to reserve such terms for global world events like war and geographical devastation.

But when a person who is your partner in life controls how much money you are permitted to spend, or keeps important financial information from you, the result of which then puts you into such incredible financial hardship that you are set to lose everything you own…and physiologically your body responds with a life-threatening brain tumour….I think those two words are accurate.

We had bought a business together, and borrowed the full amount against our family home.

That was our first mistake.

I remember we had multiple meetings with the bank manager and I seemed to just sit there, not understanding most of what was being discussed, but being convinced that that was okay because I trusted my partner and as long as he knew what was going on, I was prepared to sign on the dotted line.

That was the second mistake.

The risk was large, but I had heard my partner talk about his desire to own a cafe for all of our fifteen year relationship, so when-for the third time-he had learned of a cafe for sale, I wanted to help support him in finally realising his dream. Our third child had just started kindergarten, and I committed to working in the business two days a week. It was an exciting and new experience in the beginning, but my inexperience at handling money properly was not helpful, and his reluctance to ever confront important issues was a diabolical combination.

Soon, it spiralled out of control without my knowledge and a conversation was had in the dead of night, where he announced that we were going to have to sell the house to save the cafe.

I was beside myself. It was impossible for this to have happened overnight. I had so many questions, but none of them were answered sufficiently. I went into action and tried desperately to come up with solutions as to how to generate more income. I organised meetings with business mentors and professionals who could advise on the best route. Suggested we lease our house and move to the flat above the business, have evening events to make more money.

Within months the crisis seemed to be over because we sold the van that was attached to the business and he assured me all was well.

I now know this to have been untrue.

I believe that his shame was so deep, he was debilitated and could do nothing but throw himself into the abyss of depression.  I spoke with the bank and they gave us a moratorium on the loan for three months. But what I didn’t know was that we were ALREADY six months in arrears.

Our marriage fell apart and I took over the business, with three children in tow.

He left the state on Christmas Day 2014, and days later I moved with my kids above the cafe to lease my house. I was lucky enough to have amassed a community of helpers to rebrand and repaint the cafe for relaunch.

In the four and a half years I ran the cafe, I was able to pay off $120,000 of the $300,000 but a large chunk of it still remains - and my health was permanently affected.

I signed the sale of the cafe while I was in hospital for the fifth time after brain surgery that resulted in many complications, and ultimately in a permanent shunt being applied to regulate my swollen ventricles.

Yes. I survived all of this. Luckily, it didn’t kill me.

Did it made me stronger? You bet it did!

But it also made me realise that nobody is going to come save me.
Except myself.

But financially, I trust no-one.

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