Question: My sister stays home with her two children (2 and 1) while her partner works. Recently, during a fight, he took all of their money - not much under any circumstances - and left. He has since returned, and they have patched things up for now. But they fight frequently and she is on edge about what he will do next.
Is this something that would be considered domestic abuse? Is there a reputable organization or helpline she could talk to about how to protect herself/make a contingency plan? I can tell her to open her own bank account and save $50 per month, but that won't get her far in an emergency.
Answer: Yes, it's abuse - textbook. Here's why:
Control of the money is control of the other person. His working while she stays home with the kids gives him significant leverage already. Most working parents have the decency and emotional good health not to abuse this power over stay-at-home partners they chose to love and children they chose to raise together, of course. But when he absconded with the family money in anger, this guy made it clear he will cross that line if that's what it takes to "win" an argument with your sister.
Uncontrolled temper is control of the other person. You say it perfectly yourself: "She is on edge about what he will do next." Emotional volatility is a form of threat, and that threat has your sister watching her every move so as not to upset her partner. Using threats to control others is abuse.
His disregard for others' well-being is control of other people. Whether it's an emotional or financial or some other line, and whether he crosses it with his partner and kids or publicly with others - a neighbor, waitstaff, the kids' teachers, his exes - the fact of his crossing it declares that he will hurt anyone he decides is hurting him. (The Godfather: Part II is the most ruthlessly watchable study of this character.) And that sends your sister the chilling message that he'll hurt her, too.
So, yes. Urge a hotline, exit plan, emergency cash. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can help her find help locally, 800-799-SAFE, as can the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 800-656-HOPE. Among other things, they can make sure she understands - and plans for accordingly - that getting out of this risky situation is both necessary and risky unto itself, because leaving activates an abuser's need to win.
For your part, you can make sure your sister knows she can call you, 24/7, when she needs you. Call one of the hotlines yourself; they also guide family and friends.
Question: How should I deal with my in-laws, who hate me, and a husband who always puts them first? They can do no wrong. However, everything I do isn't good enough. He acts as though they're his family and I'm beneath them.
I feel like moving to another country just to get away from them.
Answer: Good therapy (solo) sounds a lot easier to me. As do discretion and a good attorney.
Take a deep breath, take precautions, and recognize there are times when others' contempt leaves you with only one reasonable choice: to prioritize taking care of yourself.
Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.