I'm always a bit worried when I see some characteristics in a relationship that reminds me of domestic abuse. I think most people only think about physical domestic abuse because it often leaves visible scars that we can see; what we can't always see is the scars left by emotional (or other types of) abuse. Also, I think it's easier for people to disregard things that actually are emotional abuse by saying things like "that's just the way that person is," or "that person just gets really jealous." But if you see a few of these traits, they start to build a bigger picture of abuse.
You're in love and you only want to be with that person all of the time. You don't worry about not seeing your friends because that person is your world and you're very happy just to be with that person. But as time passes and the relationship moves from the honeymoon phase, you think again about your friends. You'd like to go out for a girls' night and catch up with everyone. But he gets pouty. He doesn't want you to go out and leave him alone--he'll be lonely while you have fun with your friends. At first you think it's cute that he misses you, but the poutiness becomes more agitated; over time he gets mad when you try to go out with your friends. He becomes so difficult to deal with that you'd rather not go out just so you don't have to deal with him being upset with you. Maybe your friends get tired of you telling them no all the time, or maybe you just stop answering their phone calls, but after awhile you don't have anyone outside of him to talk to.
Isolation and Economic Abuse
Then there's the cell phone, or rather, the lack of a cell phone. When cell phones started getting big, you didn't think you needed one. You had a land line, and that was good enough in order to get ahold of friends and family. He, being the gadget guy, got one of course. But you were not an early tech adapter, and so felt no need to get one. Time passes. Cell phones become more prevalent, but land lines still work fine for you. You still don't think that the expense is worth it for you to have one also. Maybe then you have your first child. You are ecstatic, and you stay home with the baby, and life is great and your first born makes you so happy. After a few weeks you know that you want to be a stay-at-home parent. He doesn't make a ton of money, and things might be a little tight, but you'll be able to manage on his income. And thank goodness you kept the land line, because you're going to be at home a lot more now, and you won't be able to afford to get that cell phone for yourself that you'd been kind of thinking you were ready to get. More time passes. Then maybe he gets laid off. Now money is really tight. He keeps his cell phone because when he's out job interviewing and such, you might need a way to get ahold of him. And most of the time it doesn't occur to you that you might need or want a cell phone, except that time the car broke down in -10 degree weather when you and the baby were on the way to the grocery store. But even then it's not so bad. An emergency like that doesn't happen often, and besides, you don't have the $50 each month for the cell phone bill.
Economic Abuse and Male Privilege
But thank goodness, he gets another job. It took awhile, and because you wanted to make sure your toddler had all of her basic needs met, you willingly made sacrifices to save money. And when he didn't seem to be making as much of a sacrifice, that's ok because he's the one trying to get a job; he's the one supporting the family, so he deserves that soda and snack when they stop to get gas. But now there is an income again, and life seems a little more stable, although money is still a little tight. While he's at work, you take care of your toddler, which is still great, but since you spend so much time at home, you're wanting to take your toddler out and about to do things during the day. Except that money is still tight, so you'll have to stick to free or really cheap activities. So the library becomes a favorite place when the weather is cold and wet, and the park down the street is perfect for those sunny days. And your first born is walking (and running!), but is still young, so she won't know the difference. Besides, you can't spend your whole day out and about anyway--there's still things that need to be done around the house: the dishes from breakfast and lunch, vacuuming, the laundry pile has turned into a mountain, the lawn needs to be mowed, and oh! he's going to be home a little early today, so you better make sure dinner is ready. After all, he works all day at his job to support you and your daughter. And while his job may not be physically taxing, he comes home and is tired
, doesn't he deserve some time to relax while you get your daughter into pajamas and ready for bed? And you haven't forgotten about the time you were busy all day and hadn't had a chance to replace the dead light bulb on the garage, and he was very
upset and had said some heated words because he couldn't see when he pulled into the driveway. So you take care of your home because it is the world you and your daughter live in, and despite the fact that your daughter is now getting big enough to have a normal bed (instead of her crib), you make due because there's a lot of bills and expenses and with each paycheck there just doesn't seem to be enough extra to buy your daughter a bed.
These are just a few examples of scenarios that can add up to a larger picture of abuse. Each thing on their own may not seem so bad, and over time someone who is a victim may not realize that she
- no longer has any friends to talk to
- doesn't have a way to call for help in times of emergency (when she's not at home)
- is wholly dependent upon her partner for financial support in a relationship where a power differential makes access to this financial support difficult
- she's required to work a "double shift" by being the caretaker of her child during the day and at night and take care of the household chores that might otherwise be split more equally in a two-income household
The victim has become trapped, with no one to turn to and no means to get herself out even if she wanted to--and that's assuming that she isn't afraid of some sort of physical (or otherwise) retribution.
So, I think education is very important, not only for those who might be the victims of abuse, but also the friends and family of those who are being abused. A good diagram of different types of abuse is the power and control wheel
. This shows examples of the types of abuse from above, as well as others. In addition, more information can also be found at great resources like The National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence
and the Handbook for Survivors of Domestic Violence
from the Ann Arbor Safe House.