You don’t have to be physically battered to be a victim of domestic violence. No matter the type of abuse — physical, verbal, emotional, sexual, or financial – control and manipulation are at the core. Are you being controlled by an abusive spouse or partner? It’s time to learn the warning signs.
Warning Signs of Domestic Abuse
Domestic abusers control you in the following ways. They…
- Isolate you. An abusive spouse wants to be the only person you listen to – that way it’s easy to control you. So they find ways to discourage, or prevent you, from maintaining relationships with family and friends that have your best interest at heart.
- Control the money. It’s hard for you to leave if you don’t have enough money to support yourself. Abusers limit your access to funds by diverting community monies into separate accounts, demanding that you hand over your paycheck, and/or doling out just enough of an “allowance” for you to cover household expenses. This is recognized as financial abuse.
- Chip away at your self-esteem. Whether they criticize you in no uncertain terms, or make “helpful” suggestions for how you could improve yourself (to please them), abusers communicate the message that you’re not good enough.
- Keep you from working. Work empowers people. It gives them an income, instills a sense of competence and fulfillment, and often provides a network of colleagues and friends. Abusers want to keep you dependent on them, so they will often insist you quit your job or work with them.
- Gaslight you. Gaslighting involves lying and manipulating events to make someone doubt their instincts and reality. Abusers often twist their own bad behavior and ill intent to make you feel that you’re the problem. Not only does this type of emotional abuse make you feel guilty, it makes you question your sanity.
- Threaten revenge if you leave. Abusers want to scare you into staying. They may threaten that “you’ll never see the children again,” or “I’ll make sure you don’t get a dime.” Violent offenders may threaten bodily harm.
- Monitor your whereabouts. Does your spouse read your emails and texts without your permission? Abusers want to keep tabs on you at all times. They may be afraid you’re cheating on them (this is often projection because they’re cheating on you!), or simply hanging out with someone who might empower you to leave.
- Manipulate you emotionally. Abusers use an arsenal of emotional manipulation techniques to punish you for expressing your feelings or making reasonable requests. Screaming, stonewalling, sarcasm, sneering, giving you the silent treatment, are all ways of putting you in a corner and asserting dominance.
Safeguarding yourself from a controlling spouse
Frankly, going to couples therapy with an abusive spouse can backfire. Abusers can be charming – they’re all about maintaining their image – and will rarely show their true selves in that setting. If you’re suffering from PTSD due to years of enduring abusive behavior, your emotional reactivity might make you look like the “crazy” one while your spouse comes across as Mr. or Ms. Nice Guy trying to make the marriage work. Conversely, if your spouse thinks the therapist is siding with you, he or she might hijack the therapy by telling the counselor they feel misunderstood, or take their rage out on you once the session’s over.
The first thing to do is give up the idea that you can change your spouse. Abusers who practice control and manipulation lack empathy, so you’re not going to give yours an epiphany. Instead, focus on empowering yourself by doing the following:
- Start squirreling money away. Build a getaway fund. If your spouse demands receipts for every expenditure, find other ways of stashing money: recycling, cashing in spare change.
- Open a separate checking or savings account. Take the money that you’ve stashed and open a separate checking or savings account in your name. Request online statements emailed to an account your spouse knows nothing about so there’s no paper trail.
- Get a means of income. If you’ve been out of the job market for awhile, find a way to make money while you re-tool your skills. The Internet makes it easy to earn by selling items on crafts sites such as Etsy or second-hand virtual stores.
- Contact a DV hotline for advice. If your spouse is physically abusive, it’s imperative that you call a DV hotline to put together a safety plan. Abusive partners are most likely to get violent when spouses leave, so plan your exit wisely.
- Strengthen ties with friends and family. If your spouse is controlling or abusive, you may have distanced yourself from friends and family due to embarrassment. Now is the time to reconnect and ask for support. Your spouse will have less power over you when you expand your world outside your relationship.
- Rebuild your self–esteem. Harness your inner strength by maintaining (or establishing) a spiritual practice. Write positive affirmations. Get therapy if you can afford it. Attend a 12-step group if addiction and/or codependence are issues.
Leaving a controlling spouse begins with a mindset. You have intrinsic value. You have a right to feel safe and set boundaries. When you act from a place of self-worth, you will find both the will and the way to extricate yourself from the control and manipulation. You can be free.
Considering divorce? Need to file a restraining order? Want to know how to file for custody and support once you leave? Speak with one of our experienced and compassionate family law attorneys for the guidance you need to safeguard yourself and your children.
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