The cop threatened to shoot my dog, and at that moment, I knew I had to leave Jeff.
The pounding on the apartment door woke me up at 3 AM. I shuffled to answer it, dressed in my milk and cookies pajamas, my dog, Bronx, at my heels. I grabbed him by the collar and held him behind me as I cautiously cracked open the front door.
Two county cops stood outside, asking for Jeff. He racked up two DUIs in six months, and failed to report for one of his weekends in jail. Jeff had a warrant out for his arrest. “Where is he?”
I lied. I told the cops Jeff worked for his dad in Indianapolis and only visited a few times a month. The truth? I had no clue which bar he went to that night, driving a car registered to me, with a suspended license.
The cops asked to search the apartment for him, thinking Jeff might be hiding in a closet or the shower. I complied. Bronx really started barking, with two formidable-looking strangers in our home.
“If you don’t control your dog, I’m going to have to shoot him,” one of the cops said.
“You’re a stranger in MY house, officer, and my dog is doing his job: protecting me. Let me put him in the bathroom until you leave. Don’t shoot him, please.” I begged.
After a quick sweep of the one-bedroom apartment, the cops departed, and I locked up behind them. I opened the bathroom door, and Bronx bolted out to me. I sank to the floor and sobbed, hugging my dog.
Strangely, although I was rattled, I wasn’t mad at the cop. I was pissed as hell at Jeff for putting me in this position. Without his irresponsibility and constant drinking, the cops wouldn’t have come in the first place.
My Almost Divorce
I wanted out of this relationship, now. The problem? I had no money to leave. I needed support and a plan to get out. I reached out to my Dad for help. He didn’t give me or lend me money, but he did give me a safe place to stay while I regrouped and got back on my feet financially.
You might be surprised to learn that I didn’t get divorced. But it’s only because Jeff and I never got married. Back at the apartment, my gorgeous wedding dress hung unworn in the closet, and a non-refundable deposit secured our reception hall. Although I wanted to sell it, I returned my engagement ring to Jeff because his mother co-signed the loan for it. (And she was crazy, so I didn’t want to be in her crosshairs.) Leaving Jeff was difficult, but necessary.
A History of Dysfunction
Money took center stage during most of our arguments. Jeff changed jobs the way most people change their socks, and he was no stranger to the unemployment office. His financial irresponsibility and erratic income caused much of the conflict in our relationship.
Our relationship resembled a roller coaster of dysfunction, and money certainly wasn’t our only issue. There was the partying, drinking, drug use, lying, and suspected (but never proven) infidelity.
I call it my almost divorce because I almost got married. But I didn’t. And for that I am grateful.
In April 2000, I broke off my seven-year relationship with him. Although never legally married, Jeff and I were financially entangled. Because he had no credit, we racked up all of our debt in my name. Due to his two DUIs, I technically owned his car and insured it. Jeff and I rented an apartment together with both of our names on the lease. We were pet parents to our dog, Bronx, and two cats, Yin Yang and Precious. We owned furniture and a myriad of other things together.
When I told Jeff our relationship was over, financial loose ends still needed to be taken care of and tied up. Seeing him after the breakup felt worse than the breakup itself. I remember leaving those encounters—signing over the car title so he could sell it to his friend, retrieving my things from our apartment (after three weeks he already had another woman moved in)—feeling furious and distraught.
At 26 years old, I hit financial rock-bottom, despite having my accounting degree and working as the accounting manager for my father’s company. I experienced a crushing sense of shame and embarrassment. I owed three payday lenders money. I was two months behind on my car payment. I think my credit score might have been negative, if that’s possible. I had no money to rent another apartment when I broke up with Jeff, so I moved into the spare bedroom at my dad’s house. The good thing about hitting rock bottom is there’s nowhere else to go but up.
The Turning Point
I had a choice to make when the money shame overwhelmed me: would I hide from it, or choose to get help so I could break the cycle? Thankfully, I was smart enough to know that I needed therapy after my “almost divorce.” I had no idea what a healthy relationship looked like, and I didn’t want to repeat the past. My counselor, Dave, gave a name to my dysfunction: codependency.
Jeff and I had an unhealthy parent/child dynamic in our relationship, which is the essence of codependency. He required constant bailing out, both literally and figuratively. Jeff got into trouble, financial or otherwise, and I would swoop in to rescue him. Needless to say, it caused a great deal of strife and tension. I felt resentment for having to carry all of the load financially in the relationship.
A third “person” existed in our relationship: Money. Money got caught in the crossfire of negativity on a regular basis. Money was constantly pulled into the center of our scream-fests. Although my relationship with Jeff was beyond fixing, I needed to successfully repair my relationship with money. Why? Because money and I will be together forever, and the same is true for you.
A Path Forward
Fortunately, I got the help and healing I needed. I put in the work, both on my mindset and the practical changes in my finances. I went to counseling. I started hanging out with new friends who were supportive of my positive changes. And I worked hard to build up my savings, pay off my debt, and repair my credit. After many ups and downs, my story has a happy ending. I’ve used my negative experiences and hard lessons to teach and coach countless women to heal their relationships with money, too.
Whether you’re a divorced woman, or you serve clients who are, my new book Financial Dignity® After Divorce: A Woman’s Guide to Healing Her Relationship with Money, lays out a step-by-step path to financial security and emotional peace.