That’s my reply to the women who’ve written in at askevelynbrooks.com with heartbreaking stories about long-term marriages that have gone very sour. I applaud you for taking the time to reach out for help. It can be really painful to recognize that someone you thought loved you has actually been sabotaging you financially and is basically hostile to you.
The first thing to realize is that they probably chose you because you were amiable and forgiving — both are good qualities but can lead you astray when denial gets into the mix. They needed someone who would believe their glib lies and look the other way. But… now you know better, right? So put aside any regrets for the past. You can’t change it. But you can learn a lot from it.
The next thing is to get some legal advice. Seriously, don’t skip this step. Even if your funds are tight, you can get legal counsel. Most attorneys will give you a free consultation where you can ask some questions about what you need to do to protect yourself. When you are living with someone who does things like cancel your cell phone account, run up bills on a credit card that is jointly held, you must be very careful not to act rashly. Remember that a joint account means you have responsibility for paying it, and you could end up being stuck with a nasty liability.
It’s always best to find out where you stand. The lawyer will want to know basic things such as whether you own property together, how many credit cards there are, what’s the size of your debt, and so on. There are also legal services in most communities that will help you out on a sliding scale basis so the fee will be more reasonable.
The third thing is to gather your resources in terms of emotional support. Contact your local women’s shelter and see if they have free group therapy sessions you can start attending. You will make new friends there among others who have walked this same path and can encourage you when the going gets tough.
The final thing is to create your exit plan. Even if you don’t think you’ll be able to leave him, be prepared for this so that you have the peace of mind, knowing that you have a small bag packed with a few necessities, any medications you take, some cash, a list of phone numbers. Don’t assume you can always leave abruptly if things get even worse, and just use the joint credit cards or ATM card — if it is a joint account that means he could simply cancel it or clean it out before you have a chance to access any funds. So play it smart and pack a tote bag, hide it in the back of your car if you have a car that only you drive (and if so, take that spare set of keys and keep it in your own purse, don’t leave it lying around) or else in the back of your closet where it won’t be discovered. If you can, make copies of your insurance policies and other important papers and put those in the bag too. The purpose of the “exit plan” is to help you feel in charge — you will suddenly realize that you can leave at any time, even to get away and stay at a friend’s house for a night or two just to give yourself a break from the confusion at home.
Know that you cannot fix someone who has chosen to be this hostile and cruel to you. And being loyal can indeed be carried too far. It’s time for you to enjoy freedom and enjoy your own life. Guess what? Even if it’s hard, even if it’s scary, you will be okay. Freedom from abuse? — you deserve it!
your happiness guru,