** This story includes descriptions of domestic and family violence **
I think there’s an element of financial grooming before financial abuse actually happens because in the early days of our relationship, Jacob paid for everything and splashed money around. It was like he was trying to project that he had all this money, so I’d feel secure, and then when he says, “can you pay for this”, I’d do it willingly because you think it’ll work out in the wash. And it doesn’t and the number just gets bigger and bigger.
We connected through a dating app and met at a cafe that same day. He drove up in an old BMW and was dressed in a pin-striped shirt and shorts and wore lots of diamond rings. He said he was in the army. He was mid-40s, older than his profile had suggested and there were little things about him that bothered me – like the cuffs and collar on his shirt were worn.
The way he looked at me as I spoke was so intense: it felt like he was giving me all his attention. At one point he cut me off mid-sentence, mid-word, to say something like, “gee, you have the most beautiful eyes and the cutest smile”. I was blindsided. It really felt like a genuine compliment. At the same time, in my mind, I was thinking, “I don’t think he actually cares what I’m saying”. My gut told me, “red flag, red flag”, but he was so polite, almost submissive in his language, that even though I sort of knew something wasn’t right I brushed my concerns aside.
That night we went out again and the conversation was odd: he talked about things that had happened long in his past. He said that when he was growing up, his mother had brought home lots of men and there were always parties and drugs. After his mother got in trouble with the police he was cared for by family members and one of them molested him. He shared all these really serious personal things about his childhood on the second date. Now I can see that it was a way of building my empathy for him and that so much of his behaviour was an act. He wanted me to feel safe, to think, “oh, this is a nice guy, this is a fragile guy, a hurting guy”.
On our second date, he said a few things that were really unnerving. He said he’d worked out what my last name was, had done a police check on me and knew where my parents lived. I felt invaded but I didn’t realise that’s what abusive people do to gain control and power and also use the information they get to manipulate you.
Going forward, the relationship proceeded in a bizarre way. Initially, Jacob refused to come out with me and my friends. He would ignore my phone calls and text messages until it suited him. I could go for a week without him responding and then he’d get in touch, be charming and talk as though nothing had happened. The logical side of me was screaming, “this is not making sense”, but then there was the romantic and emotional side of things. The sex was amazing, he looked at me intensely, he told me that we had an unspoken bond and connection … blah, blah, blah, so much crap. He said he could give love but didn’t know how to receive it and because I’m empathetic, I just wanted to fix him.
He talked about an ex-wife as though the relationship had only recently ended but it turned out it had ended 15 years ago. He’d told me he had a son but I only found out he had a daughter the day he met my parents. He talked to them about her as though I already knew her. I didn’t let on this was new information to me because I didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of my parents. He drip-fed me information, I think because so much of his life was a lie.
I pushed so many things under the rug: I hadn’t seen his house or met his son. I would ask to visit, or ask why I couldn’t visit, and he’d just smirk and laugh. I’d never met his friends – he didn’t even talk about his friends. While he drove a BMW the first day I met him, the second time he was in a really old Toyota and the third time he was in a car which had feminine things in it – hair ties and a bill addressed to a woman. I asked him, “what is all this?” and he just sort of smiled in his cheeky way and wouldn’t answer.
After three months or so, I told him I didn’t want to continue with the relationship but a few weeks later, he texted me, saying “I think of you often”. Then he messaged me to tell me he was distraught because a friend of his had died. I suggested he come and visit me – just to talk about it. He was inebriated and seemed broken. I comforted him and we ended up in bed. He said to me, “we’re going to share a passion like no other two people will ever experience”. I didn’t know he had just been released from a psychiatric ward and was taking antidepressants and Valium.
We got back together again – I just wanted him to get better – and I organised a weekend away so he could de-stress. Just before he picked me up for the weekend, he told me it was his ex-wife who had died. The weekend was terrible. He refused to have sex with me. He wouldn’t allow me to show him any kind of affection. He was mean and hostile. We’d go out for dinner and at the end, he’d smirk at me until I ended up paying. I paid for everything. It cost me more than $1,000.
He’d often accuse me of cheating on him but initially, it didn’t seem like a big deal. There was so many microaggressions throughout the relationship that made me feel like I had to prove to him that I was a nice person. I’d think, “if I just do this, then he’ll be okay.” You know, “if I just do this, then it’ll stop.” And it was small things at the start. So when he asked me to move in, in my mind it was like, “if I don’t move in with him, he’s probably just going to think that I’ve been cheating on him.” I didn’t really like where I was living at that time and he made it sound like it would be wonderful. He told me his son was moving out and I thought it would just be nice to have a home together.
Soon after that he started saying things like, “if you really love me we’d join bank accounts” or “are you serious about us? It just makes better sense and we can save so much more”. In my first serious relationship, which was fairly healthy, my boyfriend managed a lot of our finances – he was really good at budgeting with the shopping and so forth, so it looked like a normal thing to do. Both my first serious partner and Jacob were older than me and I had this belief that if you’re with a man who’s older than you, they know better.
I was working full-time clearing $1,500 a week after tax and had $25,000 in the bank. I had two credit cards at the time, one with a $12,000 limit and one with a $5,000 limit. Both cards were cleared and I barely used them – they were for emergencies or to buy things like books for university. I also had a car loan. I lived very cheaply – I’m the kind of person who goes to Kmart and buys things on sale like a $3 dress. I was saving because I wanted to buy my own house. He would buy $800 shoes.
We set up a working account where our wages went, the spending and bill-paying account. Then we consolidated our savings. He told me he had $15,000 in an army savings account and that I should put my $25,000 into that account because it had great interest rates and low fees. He said the bank branch was at the army base and he’d organise access for me but it would need two signatures to make withdrawals. That seemed secure; I thought we could then try to get a home loan from that bank. The way he talked, he gave me the sense he was doing well for himself.
Jacob had subsidised living through the army and the rent was taken out of his pay each week. But by the time my pay went into the spending account he’d spent all the money he had after rent and then started on mine. He always said he’d pay it back. Then he told me his credit card was maxed out – I accepted that, it can happen – but he used my card to buy thousands of dollars worth of clothing for himself. He talked about always needing to have the best of everything. He’d buy nice wines, or he’d want to go out to dinner every night and, if he spotted someone in the restaurant he knew, shout people desserts or drinks. The money in our savings account had got down to about $10,000.
Within six months of starting to go out with him, I decided to reduce the limit on my $12,000 card to $3,000.
Then he suggested we consolidate our loans – a car loan he said he had, my car loan and the credit cards and that we increase the loan amount so there’d be a bit of extra money in the bank. What I didn’t know then was that he had a lot of other debt. I also learned later that he had conned a parishioner at the local church out of tens of thousands of dollars. He’d told them that he wanted to buy their car but somehow he got the car and told them he’d start paying them back but didn’t. I still don’t understand the nitty-gritty of what he did – he hid a lot and behind everything was absolute chaos – but it wasn’t just car loan and credit card debt that was in that consolidated loan.
We had so much debt accumulated by that stage, it wasn’t manageable. I was starting to feel frightened and swindled. I had a real sense of feeling trapped: we had started to plan our wedding and I also felt tied to him through debt. I felt like I couldn’t just up and leave because I’d be ruined. When I raised my concerns he made it seem like things were normal, like I was worrying about nothing.
Jealous and irrational
About a year after we met, Jacob left the army and started to get a disability pension from an injury he had. While I kept working, he sat on the couch most of the time drinking. When I was home he would shout at me, say crazy things, accuse me of cheating on him, throw things around. He never hit me but I was frightened. I wound up spending time in a psych ward from stress.
I tried to leave him multiple times. On one occasion, my mother paid for an airline ticket for me to go interstate for a while but he found me. He came to the hotel where I was staying and got drunk. He started to trash the hotel room. He slashed my clothes, drank everything in the mini-bar and broke glasses. The police were called and my parents were involved on the phone from a distance. Eventually my mother organised a new room for me. I was so scared that I slept with my sneakers on. I wanted to be ready to run.
But somehow he was able to lure me back into the relationship by turning on the charm and eventually, he convinced me to marry him. That was the last straw for my family. All of them stopped talking to me.
I was still working full-time and I started a cleaning business as a side hustle to bring in some extra money. Jacob bought a handyman business on a handshake from this guy for $15,000; he told the guy he would pay him off a bit every week. An accountant suggested we set up a company then, saying that if things go wrong, you’re not personally liable. I was the director of that company.
And then things went from zero to 100 – he got a full-time job on top of the handyman business and there were not enough hours in the day. It was insane. He was becoming increasingly jealous and irrational and was spending all the money in the business as fast as it came in. Every time he got a job he was like, “I need more tools, or this trailer’s crappy, or I need new signage or I need to have fabulous uniforms”. We leased desks and stuff because he wanted everything to look fancy and official. I would have gone to an op shop.
We started to look at offices but he wanted bigger and bigger and instead of a small office we got a commercial property so he could leave his equipment there. And he would say, “let’s buy lunch for all the staff” – they were all women. It was all “look-at-me, I’m buying”.
It was all a mess. He started arguments, telling me I wasn’t managing the business and staff efficiently, and leave the house saying, ‘I’m going to kill myself’. Then he wouldn’t answer his phone. I’d drive around for hours at night looking for him, worried he had done something to himself. Sometimes he would go to sleep in the office but one time I caught him with another woman there.
He was manipulating me in so many ways: He harassed me – calling me a dozen or more times in the space of 15 minutes or dropping in randomly when I was doing cleaning jobs. He took over the scheduling of the cleaning business and started to roster work for me from 4am in the morning until 8.30 or 9 at night. I never saw any of the money but my body was collapsing, my hands broke down and I became bed-ridden. I couldn’t even use my hands to feed myself. He started to push medicine at me for the pain. It was only later that I realised that he’d been drugging me – I think he’d been giving me some of his prescription medication, among other things.
I was so scared of him. As well as accusing me of all sorts of things like having affairs, he’d set rules for me. There were rules for everything. I couldn’t talk to other men. And there were silly rules, like I wasn’t allowed to put a hair tie on my wrist. He’d say, “I’ve told you not to put that hair tie on your wrist, you look like a fucking kid”.
I no longer had a say over anything. I was isolated from my family and friends. And I had stopped arguing back and questioning things. It was easier to be mute, not to have an opinion.
One of the things that led to the end was that I got pregnant. We went to have the first ultrasound and he looked at the screen and said, “well that’s going to be expensive, isn’t it?” I had been wanting to get pregnant for a while and I was excited. A few days later, we had a big fight about something and he just went insane, throwing stuff around the house, so I locked myself in the bathroom and removed myself emotionally and mentally. I just went into this head space – like easy, on-hold music – just singing to myself and sounded like I was really happy but I wasn’t. Leading up to the that night, I had been bleeding a bit. I was terrified I was going to lose the baby. I thought, if I keep going down this track, I’m going to lose this baby.
When he finally went to sleep I snuck out of the bedroom and went to sleep on the couch. He came out at 4am and told me I had to go to a cleaning job. Then he told me that we were breaking up.
Left with debts
I discovered Jacob had pointed everyone in my direction, all the people he owed money to, including the people who’d done the signage for the business, the banks, office supplies, telco contracts and the man who Jacob owed money to for the handyman business who wanted his trailer and other equipment back. So many people were threatening legal action to get their money back and because I was the director, I had the burden of everything.
I found someone who was prepared to buy the business which would have meant we could pay off all the debt and have $15,000 in the bank but Jacob sabotaged everything: I was at a doctor’s appointment one day and he went into the office drunk. He threatened the staff who called the police. When potential buyers turned up for a visit, they saw the police there dealing with him. Then he started to spread rumours about me – to the real estate agency, to anyone who worked with us. One company we worked with told one of our staff members, “we will not work with that woman”. To this day, I don’t know what Jacob told them about me.
I Googled “local solicitor” and when I told her what had happened, she said I’d been experiencing domestic violence. She told me I needed to go to a women’s crisis centre. I didn’t feel I was worthy of going to such a service and said, “he never hit me”. She said, “you need to go”. I went to the centre. Everything was so new to me. I realised there was a whole hemisphere of things that needed to be fixed. Eventually, I took out an AVO against him.
It came to the point where my health was suffering dealing with all the debt. I had a baby growing inside me and I was homeless and I didn’t have any money. I had really hurt my family by going back to him and had been out of contact, but I rang my parents. My mother said, “just come home”.
I was speaking to our accountant who I also owed money to and he said the best course of action was to declare bankruptcy to get everyone off my back. I decided to draw a line in the sand, go bankrupt and move on: my priority was the safety of my child. I didn’t want Jacob to be near our lives and create chaos. Not that we could find him anyway – he went missing. Later I discovered he’d got together with a woman from overseas and had another child while we were together – a second family. He has a kid who is about the same age as my daughter.
I ended up living with my parents for three years. I couldn’t live independently because I couldn’t get accounts for things like electricity or the phone. I couldn’t rent a property because I had a black mark against my name from not being able to pay the lease on the commercial property. I started a small business but I struggled to find business insurance. In the past I’d paid off personal loans, I had a good credit rating. It was devastating that I’d gone from being so fiercely independent to this.
But I’ve reflected on everything and there’s a silver lining. Trying to get out of a domestic violence situation, I was in a whirlwind of trying to manage everything. Being forced to stand still for three years while I lived with my parents and rebuild was actually a good thing, it was really important to my healing. I needed to reflect on what happened.
I was discharged from bankruptcy at the three-year mark. And in late 2023, my credit rating was officially back to neutral. It’s been a five-year journey and I’m close now to being able to buy my own house for my daughter. I think I’m more fiercely independent now than I was before I met Jacob.