My Abusive Marriage Destroyed Me—and My Finances

wedding ringsIn 1987, I had just graduated from college and moved to Manhattan for my dream job.

I hadn’t dated a lot in college, but New York was different. Suddenly, I was meeting guys everywhere—and going on a lot of dates.

I met Conor on the subway. Although there were no fireworks at the time, he seemed like a nice guy. When he tracked me down a month later, I was flattered, so we started dating.

If you told me then that, within two years, Conor would beat me for the first time, or that in four years I would be filing for divorce, I would have thought you were crazy.

But that’s what happened.

Everyone talks about the physical aspect of domestic abuse—which is, of course, no small thing—but there’s more to it. Conor left me not only physically battered, but nearly bankrupt.

How I Fell in Love With an Abuser

The truth is that I was unimpressed on our first date. In fact, I found Conor, who was 17 years my senior, completely goofy. But he was a smart guy—like me, he’d graduated from an Ivy League school—and as we got to know each other, I fell in love with him.

About three months after we started dating, he confessed that, as a child, he’d been physically abused. At the time, I didn’t know such an admission could be a red flag that was characteristic of abusers. I felt sorry for him, and I was determined to show him what love was really all about.

While the physical violence didn’t start until we were together for two years, Conor set the financial trap early. Eight months into our relationship, he quit his Wall Street job for a lower paying one in a tiny, New England town without ever discussing it with me. He then convinced me to also leave my job and move with him—where we’d be far away from friends and my family. I don’t know for sure that he was deliberately trying to isolate me—at the time, he genuinely seemed to be seeking some kind of inner peace and happiness. But, now that I look back, his actions clearly fall into a classic seduce-isolate-abuse-repeat pattern.

We used the small amount of money my father had put into a custodial savings account for me to buy a house once we moved. We owned one car, which Conor drove to work every day. My new job paid about 75% less than the one I held in New York, so I also had to freelance, which was lucrative but sporadic. Meanwhile, Conor was horrible with money, and splurged on extravagant things—like a Montblanc pen that cost twice as much as our monthly mortgage payment. Pens aside, between the house and the car, we racked up $100,000 of debt.

  • Jeannette de Beauvoir

    Brilliant and absolutely true. Anyone can find themselves in this situation (see my new book of poetry about domestic abuse, Seven Times To Leave at and it wreaks havoc on every aspect of one’s life, but maybe especially on the finances. There’s not a lot of sympathy out there for women coming out of these situations, based on the arrogant and prejudicial attitude that she “should” have been able to leave sooner, or keep it from happening in the first place, neither of which is *ever* true.

    If you know anyone who’s in such a relationship and cannot yet leave, offer to start a small “coming-out” fund for her. She can slip you whatever she can—whatever she dares—and perhaps others can help as well.

    Just don’t blame the victim. Abusers are really good at what they do. It could happen to you. Seriously. It could.

    • Holly R

      Amen! You are absolutely correct! When I first tried to talk to people about my experience when it started happening, people told me I was “stupid” and others even tried to blame it on me, as if I was causing the abuse by not being a “good enough wife.”

      It wasn’t until I made some really good friends at a ladies church group that I was able to open up and talk about what was happening, and did not have to feel ashamed. They treated me with love and respect and were a constant source of encouragement to keep me going.

      Together, we made a plan and I was able to leave and start my life over again, despite the manipulative attempts that my ex made to make me look like I was crazy and that none of it ever happened.

      Abusers are very good at what they do. Often, people hear that word and thing abusers can only be “thugs” or “tough guys.” They couldn’t be farther from the truth. People would be very surprised if they knew that, like in the case of this article, abusers come in all kinds of backgrounds and social statuses.

      Thank you for your words of encouragement to those affected by abuse.

    • JenInBoston

      Having folks who are there to support, without judgment, is something that can really make it possible for a trapped victim of abuse to get out of the relationship. The idea of the “coming out” fund is awesome!

  • Beentherefromthesidelines

    This article struck me like a bolt of lightning. My daughter got involved with, and engaged to, an abuser. All the scenarios described fit her situation exactly. Fortunately, she escaped him before the marriage took place, but not without termendous financial, emotional, and career impacting consequences. She is still climbing out, emotionally and financially. I know she will make it. All women out there should be acutely aware of the signs of a potential abuser. Learn to listen to that little voice we all hear, but sometimes stupidly choose to ignore. At the first sign that someone is a controller or abuser, GET OUT!

    • JenInBoston

      It’s good advice! Many women stuck in it do feel that they have “stupidly” been abused. A key to helping them get out is not to reinforce that “stupid” feeling in them. They may only hear their abuser in your words, because you can be sure he is telling them how stupid and worthless they are all the time.

  • Holly R

    Thank you so much for writing this article and sharing this experience. I too left an abusive marriage that not only affected me physically and emotionally, but financially as well. Unfortunately, many women don’t reveal their abuse to anyone because we feel embarrassed and ashamed. It’s been two years since my divorce was final, and I am still feeling the financial blow of that whole disaster. Reading your article gave me assurance that there really is light at the end of the tunnel.

  • guest

    I think it’s unfair to say that being a victim of abuse is a red flag that someone is abusive. While it could be true in some cases, my husband (whom I’ve been with for 7 years) was abused as a child by his alcoholic father. His father has been sober for 15 years now, and he and my husband have a great relationship despite their horrid past. Though I did not know him when he drank, the father-in-law that I’ve come to know and love is one of the greatest people I’ve ever met, and my husband (the greatest man I’ve ever met) has never been physically or emotionally abusive towards me.

    That being said, I am glad that you found the strength to get out of this situation and get your finances together despite the horrible situation.

    • cocoachanel74

      Good for you! You are one of the lucky ones. But it was a red flag for her that she had no idea was a red flag….just because you ended up well doesn’t mean she should have. We ALL have something….be thankful this is not your story….

    • Nathalie Cattaneo

      yes the comment:

      “At the time, I didn’t know such an admission could be a red flag that was characteristic of abusers.”

      is a pretty poor one.

      Just because you have admitted a history of abuse to your partner is not a signal you are going to be a an abuser yourself, and surely that you have been abused is something you would share with a partner. Being dominating or controlling are bigger red flags than admission alone. That was completely inaccurate and kind of insulting if you have suffered abuse.

      still a great story though!!

      • Nathalie Cattaneo

        still a great story though!!

    • seenitall

      It is true that not everyone who is abused as a child grows up to be an abuser themselves, but it appears that is usually the exception, not the rule. My husband–by far the kindest, most compassionate and most un-abusive person I have ever met–was raised
      by an abusive, alcoholic father. His six siblings have all gone on to be abused by their own spouses or partners, or have become abusers themselves. He was the only one who apparently was self-aware and brave enough to vow that he would never turn into his father, and he did the hard psychological and emotional work necessary to make it so. And I am grateful, for it seems that many, if not mos,t do not.

      In addition to making it easier and more acceptable for abusers to get the help they need (my husband
      believes that his father, a Korean war veteran, was self-medicating PTSD with alcohol), we also need to look at what I think is one of the main reasons so many women end up in abusive relationships: the fact that it does not matter in our society how
      beautiful, talented, accomplished and successful you are as a woman; if you do not have a boyfriend or a husband, THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG
      WITH YOU! We still seem to tie a woman’s worth, popularity and value to her ability and get and keep a man, and that drives a lot of otherwise smart and successful women to make lousy choices in men
      out of desperation to prove their worth (on top of whatever dysfunctional baggage they carry from their own upbringings.) I see this with one of my best friends; she is savvy, intelligent, and one of the most respected people in her line of work, yet she has been in one trainwreck relationship after another with men who are emotionally and mentally abusive. She
      may not be getting beaten with fists, but the constant verbal abuse seems just as damaging. She is aware of the pattern on some level, but seems powerless to stop it. And it has cost her financially as well.

      Ladies, please. Don’t settle for just any man because society says you are less than whole if you don’t have a partner. You deserve a man who is worthy of you; and by the way “worthy” isn’t always the guy with money, a fancy car and a high-powered job who sweeps you off your feet with grand gestures and expensive gifts. Too often, many such men have a dark side, and unlike in the romance novels, you cannot fix him. Nor should you try. Pay close attention to what he says, and how he acts toward other people besides you; his family, friends, , co-workers, etc. If you see anything, ANYTHING, that sends
      up a red flag, RUN AWAY!!!!

  • Same!

    ha my same exact story!

  • Jessica Leslie

    Issues with the abuse aside (which is sad, horrible, and deplorable), this is the problem with the legal system:

    “Fighting in court could take five years, he said, and it might end up costing five to ten times as much money in legal fees.”

    Everyone “settles” because it is easier. And from the other side, prosecutors make “deals” to get through the process faster. And good lawyers are expensive and make it nearly impossible for someone in a tight financial situation to “fight the system”. I think our Judicial system is broken. I know many guilty people on the streets, many innocent people behind bars, and many people, like the author of this article, who clearly could have used better support through the system.

    • bobbi

      yes, but she is asking the court to make a moral (?) judgement-he was mean, so he doesn’t deserve any money from her…it is so hard to prove! my brother went thru the same thing-ex wife wore sleazy clothes to impress the judge and cried that he was scaring her (when she was the abuser)-he ended up paying her too, to go away.

      • JenInBoston

        Pretty sure no judge is impressed by sleazy clothes. In any case, it sounds like neither the author nor your brother pressed charges and pushed for prosecution of their abuser. I understand that it’s just too much for many victims to go through, and that many are even too scared of their abuser to prosecute. However, if a victim can find the strength to go through it all and get a conviction against their abuser, they will find that in most states they will have a much better chance for a divorce outcome that favors them. A conviction will also be of great assistance to an abused spouse facing trouble with the IRS (a common scenario!). There are legal protections available if an abusive or otherwise criminal spouse leaves you with tax troubles.

  • Brandie Lyons

    I spent the first 7 years of my adult life with a man that mirrors Conner. My ex-husband was also a drug abuser…which in turn made the physical and emotional abuse even worse. I have been away for two years this month and am still cleaning up the financial mess of that marriage! I am so glad that you were able to get away and get your finances back. That means that I can too and I just need to keep trucking! It’s a blessing that you don’t share children with Connor….I share three kids with my ex-husband…thankfully, the justice system pulled through for them and he is not allowed to influence their lives! Thank you so much for sharing your story. It means a lot to the survivors that forget we are NOT alone!!!!!

  • Guest

    Same EXACT thing happened to me. Still digging out

  • Celeste Behsmann

    Really sad how being a victim of abuse puts all in a “category.”

    Life for me was hard growing up. I had a 14 year old as a parent and was tossed here and there. some of the homes I lived in truly were tough and I have a lot of bad memories…from bad experiences.

    But, I overcame them all. Went to college…have a great job…and am proud to say, I’m the black sheep of the family, in a very good way.

    When people find out who I am, it’s fun to see the expression on their face because I wasn’t supposed to be where and who I am today.

    So, what a slap in the face to all I’ve become being a person that has survived abuse…mental, physical and sexual and being categorized as red flag and someone not to get into a relationship with. I bet my husband would tell you otherwise…

    • Holly R

      Survivors of abuse can have wonderful lives, provided they have the right help and support system. Unfortunately in our society, anyone who gets any kind of psychological “help”, particularly men, are often looked at as weak or damaged, so they never get the help they need or deal with the things that they have been through. What we really need is a shift in the way we look at mental (and emotional) health, and it really needs to start with our children. Schools have gotten so wrapped up in test scores and political correctness, that we forget about making sure that our children are well rounded individuals. Unfortunately, there are too many absent parents today and children suffer, sometimes by seeking out affection and approval from their peers, which has the potential to turn into a downward spiral. We shouldn’t be so politically correct that children are afraid to tell someone like a teacher, or parent of a friend, counselor, etc that something very wrong is going on. It truly does take a village.

      So is being an abuse survivor a red flag? Not necessarily. Can it be? Sure, if the individual hasn’t dealt with the abuse. But there are lots of other red flags for abusers who aren’t abuse victims as well. (Maybe we should start teaching that in school.)

      Anyway…let me get down off of my soapbox and say that I have nothing but respect and admiration for you. Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m sure you will be a blessing to others going through similar situations (if you haven’t already).

    • JenInBoston

      It must sting to feel that you are lumped in with an unsavory group of people, but you seem really unsympathetic–especially for someone who also suffered some sort of abuse. It’s brave of the author to put her real name to this article and tell an honest story for women to take hope from if they are currently trapped in a similar situation. For what it’s worth, I don’t think the author meant that anyone who has suffered childhood abuse should be avoided. What she is probably referring to is the statistical fact that a very high percentage of physically abusive male partners disclose a history of childhood victimization before they ever beat their wife/girlfriend for the first time, and that a high percentage of them then use that experience as an excuse for their behavior when “apologizing” or “explaining themselves” after beating their partner.

      • Celeste Behsmann

        Maybe I am unsympathetic…but I think it’s pathetic to lump everyone in the same category. Statistics are numbers that don’t really put a real value on anything putting a false number on things. My biggest thing with poles and their reference is “no one asked me!!!!” There are many people out there in my situation and the authors, for that matter, who wouldn’t appreciate it being put in one group just because statistal data is biased an really not always correct.

        • JenInBoston

          No, statistics are important, and by definition, accurate statistics are true and unbiased. It’s not pathetic to cite them. They aren’t everything, but they are important and they are used to help make informed decisions. It hurts to feel someone has said something unkind or untrue about us, but all anyone said here is that some members of a certain group go on to exhibit certain negative behaviors, while others do not–and they were talking about a group you don’t even belong to (adult males who say they were abused as children). You may have experienced something horrendous but it doesn’t help the abuse-prone culture we live in to direct our anger at fellow victims.

  • Diamond Richardson

    Thank you for sharing your story Leslie. You are so strong!

  • PassNUBye

    The price of freedom and independence is not free as we’ve learned from this story. Moral of the story : protect yourself.

  • Real

    It’s sad and unexcusable the abuse that occurs. The question I want to ask is why do so many women go for jerks? I mean really why when there are nice guys who are seemingly left out in place of some jerk.

    • Kittenbottom

      He *was* nice…until he wasn’t. It took him 2 years to actually hit her and by then she was stuck.

    • JenInBoston

      Because they are master manipulators (and maybe sometimes because a woman was treated so badly in childhood that she actually doesn’t know what it is to be treated well). The truth is that most abusers are very cunning and often very charming. They are master manipulators. They don’t do this stuff by accident. They behave wonderfully during the “courtship” and the victim tells everyone she knows how wonderful the guy is etc. etc. She vouches for him and he insinuates himself into her family. The author described the path that’s well known to law enforcement and health professionals: seduce–>isolate–>abuse. No abuser abuses at the start of the relationship. Many actually abuse for the first time during the honeymoon! Think about how messed up that is! Imagine the pressure on a young woman whose Dad just paid thousands and thousands of dollars for her dream wedding to a man her family now respects as one of them. Her whole world is upside down. She can’t believe what’s happening. And the newly-abusive groom comes to her in tears, “oh, babe, I’ll never do it again, please don’t leave, I love you so much, I can’t live without you, oh God I don’t know why I did it….” She wants to believe him. She needs to believe him. She accepts his apology. Eventually he does it again. He says all the same stuff again, but now she knows…and she’s so ashamed. She’s too ashamed to go fess it all up to her parents–especially when she knows it REALLY started back on the honeymoon (and that’s considering that she has rational parents; sadly, many parents encourage the woman to “try harder” to be an agreeable wife!). Anyway, there are so many coercive methods that abusers use–it can be even scarier (“I will find you and kill you if you leave.”)–but maybe that’s a little insight int how jerks can have nice girlfriends/wives.

      • getting past it

        Thank you for writing this at length. You are telling my story. And he (the abusive ex) has a doctorate in human services, and regularly makes speeches about women’s rights; in other words, he’s a total poser. The worst of it is that he has now charmed both of our sons. Although they were present when the abuse took place, their attitude is “well, he’s so different now,” and “he seems to have a much better relationship with his second wife,” and “are you still hanging on to what happened so long ago? We want a dad!”

  • Tasmanian Minimalist

    You’re brave for writing this. I was in a position too, not too faraway from yours financially at least, and it makes my blood boil. Being saddled with debt and possible loss of my home at one point because of an ex, my heart is with you.

  • Ramada Luvsick

    men suck, older men suck, younger men suck, men are just inferior…period. If u put up with this level of abuse that would mean u were not raise in a healthy home, otherwise his level of abuse would have schocked u, however to some level were “used” to it, u were taking responsability for his abuse and for his finances thats what girls who were abused by their parents do

  • Ramada Luvsick

    also we need to push for a change of law, abusive husband dont get alimony period, ever, is that way in many european countries, the usa is so lame such awful patriarcal society it stinks

    • Adversity

      It’s not the patriarchal, it’s the fact our system punishes the working income earner.

  • Ramada Luvsick

    Actually yes, if u were abused as a child and u havent done the emotional WORK necessary to moved through such level of abuse, yes, U ARE BOUND TO BE AN ABUSER or an ABUSED or both, that is just a fact of life, like gravity

  • Susan Sullivan

    You can’t be a victim if you allow yourself to be one. Giving a 100% to a one-sided relationship should have been the first clue! Now the second husband is paying for the first husband’s BS…and she feels good about this? I have an about therapy for HIM for staying with her?

  • Cindy Williams

    Patrick C. Egan in Bryn Mawr, PA is Leslie Morgan Steiner’s “Conor.” Not the guy who works for Fox Rothschild, the one who works for Attalus. He was born in 1958 or 57, he’s 55 years old in 2013. He’s the one who beat up Leslie !!!