Susie Mackie, 64, is an author and photographer who suffered financial abuse. She has two grown-up daughters from her second marriage and lives in Cheltenham, Gloucester. After her own experience, she now specialises in confidence-building photoshoots for women. Here she shares her story of this terrifying form of emotional abuse...
“There was no sign at all when I first met Robert* that he would be so controlling and abusive towards me, especially with money. We met through mutual friends when I was 26 and working for a film company in London and he was a captain in the army. Our romance was all very Officer and a Gentleman. I thought he was fun, strong and protective, my hero.
I’d had a privileged upbringing on a dairy farm in Hampshire and was sent to a private girls’ school which was ruled with fear and ritual humiliation. Girls were not taught to be career-minded or independent but to find a husband quickly, settle down and have a family. I left with little self-esteem and seemed to attract all the wrong types of men.
Early warning signs
I genuinely thought Robert was different and very soon after meeting him, I moved into his London flat. Perhaps alarm bells should have rung at that point when he immediately started charging me full rent, even though I was his new girlfriend. But at the time, I was naive and simply thought it was what couples do.
Within a year, we were married and in my vows I promised to ‘obey’ him. I look back now and realise it was a huge mistake, never expecting him to actually demand my obedience.
Friends knew he wasn’t right for me but only told me afterwards. I should have been wary when his mother said to me that she was, ‘so pleased that he had found someone who would serve him’. But at the time I was in love and simply wanted to settle down into married life.
Due to Robert’s job, we moved to Northern Ireland and he was away a lot on covert army duties. But it became clear very quickly that despite his absence, being an ‘army wife’ would mean I had little control over my own life. Even going to the doctor I had to know my husband's army number as I was known as ‘wife of…’.
Obsessive and controlling
I no longer had any money of my own as I’d given up my job to be with him. Robert afforded me a small ‘allowance’ which gave me the ‘freedom’ to buy essentials such as food. But for everything else – such as clothes or shoes – he insisted on seeing a receipt.
In fact, as soon as he walked through the door from his time away, he wouldn’t rush up to me to kiss or hold me in his arms. Instead, he would demand the receipts for everything I’d purchased while he was away.
It was at this point that he’d become angry if I’d spent more than he thought I should. Just one dress would cause an issue, although he loved it if other men complimented me. It felt confusing, as though I were his possession for others to admire. I even recall him being annoyed that I’d spent £1.50 on hiring a video because I was the only person watching it.
He disapproved of me turning the heating on if I was the only one in the house so I’d spend afternoons curled up with a duvet and a hot water bottle to keep warm. I was living up to his expectations of ‘obeying’ and thought this would please him.
It was a miserable, lonely existence and I became ill with the stress of it all. My skin was flaking, I developed ulcers and migraines and had to be put on medication. I remember times where I would sit in the corner of the bedroom simply rocking back and forth, feeling totally worthless and unlovable.
Yet I still wanted to make the marriage work. He wasn’t violent towards me and I simply accepted what I now know as ‘financial abuse’ as a part of married life. My self-esteem was so low that I thought I could never be loved by anyone else anyway.
But a year into our marriage something happened that changed my outlook forever. Robert was home and taking a bath and I took a cup of tea to him in the bathroom.
I mentioned that I’d been discussing with my mother the fact that I’d like to have children soon. I was 28 and didn’t want to leave it much longer. Out of the blue, he grew angry and said he didn’t want our private life being discussed with anyone. At that point, something snapped and I told him I wanted a divorce. He threw the hot tea in my face.
Stumbling to the sink, I rinsed my face in cold water – it hurt but thankfully the tea had cooled slightly so there were no permanent burns – but in that moment I knew I had to leave.
Never going back
With the help of my father, who came over to the house to help me pack, I turned my back on him and left the marriage for good. He continued to shout that I couldn’t leave him, I had promised to obey!
I will never forget driving away from that house looking up at the blue skies and the clouds and thinking, ‘I’m never going back’. It taught me that even though I was being controlled and bullied emotionally – and now physically – I could leave. I still had strength.
Of course, even after I’d left him, Robert made my life difficult. He refused to give me a divorce on the grounds of his unreasonable behaviour and in the end, it was only when I’d started a new relationship that he divorced me on the grounds of my adultery. I hadn’t been unfaithful while we were living together, but I accepted these grounds to make the paperwork easier.
A new life
I didn’t care about the papers anyway, I was finally free. The experience brought me to where I am now – helping women know their value in who they are, regardless of their external circumstances or career.
I have a very happy life, with two wonderful grown-up daughters from my second marriage, I am stronger than ever – and no longer obedient. Standing up to a bully was one of the most empowering things I’ve ever done in my life.
Women of Spirit, a compilation by Susie Mackie is available on Susie’s website.
Where to find help
If you're worried you may be experiencing any form of financial abuse, here's where to go for support and some steps you can take to protect yourself, as outlined by credit management company Lovell.
If possible, freeze any joint accounts.
See if you can change PIN numbers and other online banking details (i.e. passwords).
See what debts or lines of credit you have currently in your name. You can do this via a credit report online – check out our guide to your credit file for more information.
Have a safe place to keep important financial documents, with spare copies elsewhere.
Government site Moneyhelper has further information and advice about financial abuse, spotting the signs and where to go for help.
*Some names have been changed
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