03/30/2011 01:33 pm ET | Updated May 30, 2011

What Makes Abuse in Upscale Marriages Different

Never in a million years did I imagine I'd receive so many responses to my article about upscale abuse. I agree with everyone who pointed out abuse is horrible no matter what your socio-economic or beauty status. Physical, emotional and financial abuse hurts and even kills. While women are far more frequently its victims, men are also. I have worked with men in similar situations, however they tend to have the financial resources to successfully leave whereas the women don't.

Many people took issue with my comment "smart, beautiful, educated, gifted." My inspiration for writing such was that in my practice, as a coach helping people transition out of marriage, I had just seen three women within 10 days who fit that description. I was struck by the fact that despite their appearance and accomplishments they each thought of themselves as "stupid, unattractive, and unsuccessful." All felt selfish that they were even considering disrupting their children's lives by breaking up their family. They longingly remembered the days, before marriage, when they had value and doubted they could ever achieve it again.

In each case they started our session saying, "My husband's a good person, I'm just not happy." As the minutes went on they'd say, "I still love him, and most people think he's a good person." Then, just before our session was to end, they'd look at me and quietly ask, "There's this one thing and I wonder if you think I should be worried about it?"

The one thing would end up being something like, "He got mad the other day and slammed me against the wall and put his hands tightly around my throat. It's not happened that often. ... oh... and he hunts ... and has a gun. Thing is, I don't think anyone would believe me because he's got this great job and is really respected in the community. And people just don't see his other side. He keeps it hidden until we get home."

I've received calls from ministers wives, political wives, attorney wives and doctors wives. Because these women have very public roles as a supportive spouse and/or a super volunteer they feel horrible that they've been misleading the public by presenting a respectable image and so they keep silent. In most cases their spouse has a great deal of power in their community. They are seen as a model family. These women (and sometimes men) don't want to destroy their family image by talking about what is really going on at home. And, they don't think anyone will believe them.

Intuitively, these women know it will be dangerous to leave. In most cases their husband has threatened to destroy them by using his powerful connections, and the legal system, to make sure if she dares to leave she will have nothing left. No money, no custody, no friends or social status. And, if that's not enough, he promises he'll tell everyone she's crazy.

Given my own experience, my clients stories, and the recent emails I've received, these men make good on that promise with the help of our legal system.

The money to destroy is a huge, frightening piece of what makes upscale abuse so different. An abuser is generally an ego-driven, angry, controlling individual. Having been rejected, the upscale abuser uses money to launch an aggressive, abusive court battle keeping the war going until his/her spouse has nothing left to fight back. Should the spouse escape with money or custody, the abuser engages in "post-divorce abuse" until the ex is destroyed. And, given our current legal system there is no way to stop this behavior.

Many who have written me note that, while horrible, in a sense I was lucky there was physical abuse. That is true and I do remember the emotional and financial abuse was far more scarring. However even with physical abuse you wonder "Did that really happen to me? Is it bad enough to be abuse?" You might see the bruises and swelling the next day, but you still think perhaps you caused it or made it up. The extra burden of emotional and financial abuse is you are always second guessing yourself and have no visible wound to validate you or present the courts. Spouses trying to leave passive aggressive spouses have a particularly hard time.

Regarding the comments about wallowing in victimhood, it's sad we've turned the tables on the victim so that society now sees him/her as the guilty party who's weak, somehow responsible, and unable to simply pick the pieces up and move on. An abuser would certainly fan you.

Unfortunately, with upscale abuse in particular, the abuser does not quietly bow out of your life when you are separated or divorced. He/she is not accustomed to losing and continues the battle, in a wide variety of ways, especially if there are children.

Lastly, there is a difference between lower income marital abuse and upper-income marital abuse. In her book Not to People Like Us: Hidden Abuse in Upscale Marriages Dr. Weitzman sites the example of a well-dressed, poised professional woman going to the ER to be treated for wounds inflicted by her spouse. The treating physician never questions how she got the wounds. When the physician was later interviewed and asked why he didn't probe he said, "...we walk a fine line. We don't want to offend someone who is professional by asking." Fact is, while society now acknowledges domestic violence, we still think it's primarily limited to lower-income families and probably just a false accusation in an upscale case.

Also, perhaps because there is not nearly enough money to help survivors fleeing abuse, most people assume if you are middle-class and above you surely can find a way to scrape up money for the services you desperately need. Trust me, you'd be amazed at the number of upscale abuse victims (and their children) who are truly penniless because during and after their marriage they have no access to the marital funds.

I remember calling Legal Aid Services when my ex hadn't paid any child or spousal support in four months and I was struggling buy groceries for our kids. Legal Aid asked me how much child support and spousal support the Court had ordered. When I told the staffer the amount he said, "You receive too much support to qualify." So I again pointed out I was calling because I hadn't received even a penny in over four months, and my funds had been depleted by my ex dragging me into court all the time. The staffer curtly responded, "Doesn't matter. You are entitled to too much."

That in a nutshell is what makes it different.

Please visit the Resources section of my website for links to excellent, free resources (for men and women) to help you during this transition. And if you have a story to share email me or leave a comment below.