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Recognizing Abusive Relationships

Carolyn Woodruff

Dear Carolyn,
I am married for the second time. My first husband, who I divorced, was physically and verbally abusive. I got out. The problem is I am right back in a miserable, abusive relationship—although quite different. This second husband (and might I add my last husband) is quite controlling on most every aspect of my life. He controls all the money, and I am given an allowance as a child. I dated him for two years, and I did not pick up on this for some reason. What insight do you have that might help?

– Poor picker of husbands

Dear Poor Picker of Husbands,
Domestic abuse is mostly about control of the victim. The abuse can rear its ugly head in many scenarios, but financial control is a common one. The first thing you need is some excellent counseling that addresses why you have the recurrent pattern of picking men who abuse you in some way. You are missing the signals of abuse.  Perhaps you have low self-esteem. You need to “fix” you first.

You might want to study the power and control wheel published by the National Center on Domestic Violence. The control wheel outlines the many aspects of control, and you will find financial control as a prominent and rather a typical tool of an abuser. Intimidation, isolation from friends, and using children against you are other standard tools of the abuser. Please note in the description below that your facts are clearly within the economic abuse category. It is a very recognized form of domestic abuse.

The Power and Control Wheel divides the elements of an abusive relationship into eight categories, which are as follows:

  1. Coercion and Threats, such as threatening to leave the victim, threatening to commit suicide, or threatening to bring false charges with the police against the victim if the victim does not drop charges.
  2. Intimidation, such as displaying a weapon, destroying the victim’s property, or abusing (or threatening to abuse) a pet.
  3. Emotional Abuse, such as calling the victim unflattering names, humiliating the victim, or making the victim feel she is worthless.
  4. Isolation, such as limiting the victim’s access to friends and family and using jealousy as the reason.
  5. Minimizing and Blaming, such as blaming the victim for the perpetrator’s conduct.
  6. Using children, such as threatening to take the children away or using the children as message carriers.
  7. Economic abuse, such as not letting the victim get a job or taking her money if she has a job, or giving the victim an “allowance” like a child.
  8. Male Privilege, such as treating the victim like a servant or stating that the man of the house gets to make all the big decisions.

If your new husband is open to saving the marriage and working on his problem of control, you might have a chance. The financial control is not something he developed yesterday, but something that is ingrained in him in an insidious way. It is hard to break these cycles of abuse. Family Services of the Piedmont does have a domestic abuser protocol, but more typically the physical abusers are the one that show up because the court has ordered the program.

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Note that the answers in “Ask Carolyn” are intended to provide general legal information, and the answers are not specific legal advice for your situation. The column also uses hypothetical questions.  A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need in your unique case.  Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by “Ask Carolyn.”


This blog is adapted from a previous Ask Carolyn published in The Rhino Times.