My Abusive Marriage Destroyed Me -- and My Finances

Leslie Morgan Steiner
Leslie Morgan Steiner
By Leslie Morgan Steiner, as told to Cheryl Lock

In 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.

Leslie Morgan Steiner / YouTube.com
Leslie Morgan Steiner / YouTube.com
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 percent 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.

"I thought the court would side with me -- the victim. Unfortunately, the system doesn't work in this way. They're only concerned with dividing the assets."

At this point, we'd totally merged our finances, and since Conor had the steady paycheck and his job covered health insurance for both of us, I felt dependent on him. I had spent my own savings supporting us, so I didn't have any money left, nor did I have the courage to approach my parents or friends for financial help.

This was also compounded by the ongoing physical abuse. Conor first hit me five days before our wedding. I was working at home that day, and I yelled out in frustration because I was having trouble with the computer. He grabbed me by the throat, told me never to yell like that again because it reminded him of his mother (whom he both loved and detested for marrying his abusive stepfather) -- and then threw me to the floor.

I figured it was a one-time thing -- an accident -- until it started happening once a week, twice a week ... and then several times a month for the next two years. I should have left him then and there, but I had lost my sense of reality -- I didn't want anyone in my life to know what was happening.

The Day I Finally Decided to Leave

Two years into our marriage, Conor suggested that we go to business school together. Since he had terrible credit, he wouldn't have been able to get a loan, so it fell to me to pay for both of us. Ultimately, he wanted an MBA to prove his self-worth, and I was too willing to oblige. I was freelancing at the time, so I had to borrow another $30,000 from my father and take out $35,000 in government loans to cover Conor's tuition and our living expenses for the two years that we were in school.

Despite the loans, going to business school was actually the best thing that could have happened to me because it broke my isolation. We left New England -- renting out our house because we couldn't sell it for a good price -- to attend business school in a thriving city. I loved my classmates and teachers, and I felt like I had worth outside of our marriage for the first time in a long time.

By the second year of school, I got the courage to tell Conor that if he hit me again, I would leave. He didn't strike me for six months after that, and I began to think that we were going to make it.

I was wrong, of course.

One night, Conor beat me so badly that our neighbors called the cops. I filed a restraining order -- and finally told my friends and family what had been happening. It took over a year to get divorced, and it was financially draining.

At first, I didn't want to give Conor anything. His lawyer had asked for alimony, since I was working and he wasn't, but I thought the court would side with me -- the victim. Unfortunately, the system doesn't work in this way. They're only concerned with dividing the assets, and my lawyer told me that the best way to be done with the whole thing was to pay Conor a lump sum of money to get him to sign the papers and go away. 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. At the time, we were almost done with business school, and I didn't want to drag it out any longer. It was time to move on with my life.

In the end, I gave Conor $10,000 -- and that was on top of the approximately $100,000 in business school loans that I owed. All of the debt that we had was in my name, thanks to the fact that his terrible credit barred him from getting approved for loans. As for the house that I had purchased for the both of us using savings from my dad, well, I had to sell that at a $30,000 loss.

While it killed me to give my abuser money, it was actually the right decision for me because I haven't heard from him since.

How I Recovered, Financially and Emotionally

When I talk about it now, I wonder how I could have been so blind. In reality, I wasn't as alone as I'd felt: One in four women will experience domestic violence, and 74 percent of Americans know someone who is or has been abused. But while I was living it, my heart went out to Conor because of what he'd suffered through. And I believed that our relationship would get better.

I just couldn't see that it was crazy love.

It took six years of extremely frugal living to pay off all of that debt -- house, car, business school, lawyer -- not to mention a therapist!

Leslie Morgan Steiner
Steiner today with her family (Courtesy Leslie Morgan Steiner)
I've been married for almost 20 years to a man who is everything my ex-husband wasn't. I work as a writer and a public speaker, and we have three great kids. But despite the stability of my relationship, one thing that I took with me from my marriage with Conor is my financial independence. It took years for me to agree to have a joint checking account with my current husband, and I still have my own checking and savings accounts, as well as credit cards in my own name.

Without financial independence, I would feel submissive. If I'd had it in my relationship with Conor, I could have afforded to leave him on my own.

Every once in a while, my husband will ask, "Why do you need that account?" I just look at him because he'll never understand. I need my financial freedom. Every woman does ... I just happened to learn the hard way.



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35 Comments

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SPQR

men have to endur women and unless they are willing to give up everything and put up with their insanity it will not work. You read her side of the story I am sure there is another. Now I am hungry

April 26 2013 at 11:20 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to SPQR's comment
coastalcondo1

First of all I am a male, 52 years old, in a marriage of some 31 years. I am sure your right about there being another side to this story but, let me say it make NO difference what the other side of the story is there could be NOTHING that gives a man a right to put his hands on a woman. If a man strikes a woman he is a low down coward. He is useless to society and should be removed from it. There is only one thing in my opinion worse than a man beating on a woman and thats a child molester. So, if in fact this man did beat on her, his side of the story is irrelevant.

April 27 2013 at 6:02 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
mrshowell2001

She\'s not making her current husband pay for her past at all. She\'s just assuring that if things would get bad with him, she would have the money to get out. The problem with nuts like you is the woman is damned if she stays, and damned if she makes sure she can leave.

April 26 2013 at 8:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
sherry

What a great article! No one understands how difficult it is to be in an abusive marriage .You are not only afraid for yourself, but for your members as well.

April 26 2013 at 8:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mrshowell2001

Lawyers like you give all the others a bad name. Hope you got disbarred.

April 26 2013 at 8:37 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
fourprs

I rather die "alone" than be married and miserable.

April 26 2013 at 6:06 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
jip43

The same holds true for women abusers. They can dish out all the verbal abuses against a man, cash out 401ks, re-mortgage homes then take out as much equity as possible, leave kids behind and enjoy life with another sucker.

April 26 2013 at 4:55 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jip43's comment
Lisa

Oh shut up w/ your verbal abuse jip43. Come see me when she breaks your jaw. There is no comparrison to the amount of abuse that is endured by women.

April 26 2013 at 8:37 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Lisa's comment
SPQR

LOL that is a good one

April 26 2013 at 11:16 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down
Judi Klein

Be glad you got away with your life and no children. The first time someone hits you should be the last but usually is not...good for you you have triumphed over evil.

April 26 2013 at 4:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
speedce

The seperate accounts thing is not the issue. And it seems she is more focused on that then the abuse. No one needs to put up with the abuse the lady described, but his woman should have ended that relationship a long time. Makes me wonder about the facts regarding her post.

April 26 2013 at 1:43 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to speedce's comment
Storm

The day you get your ass kicked by your spouse come back and read what you wrote. You have atendancy to try to trust the person you are married to and when they ssay they will never hit you again you try to put it behind you until it keeps happening. BY the time they hit you they have managed to get you isolated from your friends and family. It is a pattern they follow, Men are too embarassed to admit that they are being slapped hit kicked and god knows what else from thier 5'2 wife. I was involved with a shelter for abused [people and had many "guests: spend time in my home healing from the beatings they got from their loving spouse. Unless you have walked in the shoes of these people your opinion counts as much as dog doo on the lawn because you have NO idea what it is like to have the person betray you that way . I am only suprised that you didnt say she must have liked it because she stayed or the real smart one like "why didnt she just leave" it is called brain fking..It takes time t get away from the abuser ,you usually go thru more hell after you do get the guts to get out. He stuck her with all the debt..smart move on his part and I saw that movie.

April 26 2013 at 7:31 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Lisa

speedce no one has to put up w/ it but many women find it difficult to get out. You should volunteer for a domestic violence advocacy. You will find that, for many, it's not that easy to just walk away.

April 26 2013 at 8:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Lisa's comment
setanta54s_back

if they can keep their mouth shut it is.
do what you have to do and THEN GO quietly.

May 01 2013 at 10:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
setanta54s_back

how many news items with the woman dead as she was leaving ?
better to keep it quiet and then send out any paperwork with the loiyuuhs address for response.

May 01 2013 at 10:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
Cindy

In my first marriage, I was beaten. But, the house was in both names. When we divorced, I got my 5000 dollars back I had put into the house. It took 2 years to divorce, but he finally gave up.
In the second marriage, I inherited a house. Sorry, but I never put my husband's name on it. Good thing. He became very mentally ill. When we divorced, I sold the house and kept the money. But because I felt badly, I gave him 12,000 dollars. He cooperated with the divorce and we are still friends.
I have been with my boyfriend for 5 years. Guess what? We keep our finances strictly separate. We will never get married. I never want to go through anything again.

April 26 2013 at 1:39 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
shalebrook

What a bum!

April 26 2013 at 1:11 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply