I want to help a friend who is going through some challenges with her husband. My friend and her husband are both from India and work in the Pacific Northwest. They have twin daughters who are 2 years old. My friend’s husband appears to be a friendly and agreeable person, and has an exceedingly large circle of friends. 

My friend, however, complains that he has a temper and is extremely controlling. My friends and I have witnessed the controlling behavior, where she has to manage the kids completely on her own and her husband doesn’t seem to bother at all about helping. Also, he controls what she does and who she visits. 

She has complained that her husband has forced her out of the house on several occasions. Several friends and I visit the couple on social occasions, and we veer between ignoring him completely and imploring him to be more helpful around the house. He simply ignores our advice. We have not witnessed our friend being thrown out of the house, but I trust her word. 

A ‘lost’ passport

My friend’s husband stopped her from continuing her job, and now she is now forced to be a homemaker, something she doesn’t like. It may sound unbelievable and is obviously unjust, but it’s fairly common in some cultures for women to be treated like this. We friends have often discussed the issue and debated how we can help her. 

These discussions often end with “We should not interfere in their life” or “It’s her fight and she should push back and know what to do.” Though at some level, we may be unsure or unwilling to ruin our friendship with her husband. My friend recently told friends that her husband “lost” her passport and is not lodging a police complaint or getting a new one. 

She told me today that she is so fed up that she just wants to go to her parents in India, but she doesn’t have her passport. I sometimes suspect that her husband is just hiding her passport. I have often thought that maybe I should just call the authorities and tell them the issue and let them help her. 

However, I am also not sure if this is the right step. What should we do?

Confused Friend

Related: My ex-husband has a life-insurance policy on me — and jokes he’ll be ‘Suspect No. 1’ if I die. Other than haunting him, what can I do?

“Coercive control and financial abuse are often tied together.”

MarketWatch illustration

Dear Friend,

Nobody knows what goes on inside a relationship except for the people involved.

However, there are signs of coercive control and financial and domestic abuse that should not be ignored, whether you are a friend or family member or a hairdresser, manicurist or neighbor. We should all remain vigilant. You can’t live somebody’s life for them, but you can give them information to help them become aware of what is happening.

Coercive control and financial abuse are often tied together. The vast majority of domestic-abuse cases also involve economic abuse, and finances are one of the main reasons a person stays with or returns to an abusive partner, as noted in a research brief by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Financial Security. The fact that your friend’s husband pushed her to give up her job is a bad sign.

Unfortunately, all the signs are there. Your friend’s husband removed her source of income and ability to travel, and she is completely reliant on him for money. Financial control and a gradual dismantling of her self-confidence go hand in hand. Other signs include economic exploitation where the abusive partner forces their partner to take out a line of debt, or does so in their name.

How to escape financial exploitation

I’m extremely reluctant to conflate your friend’s husband’s cultural background and his behavior. Men who engage in coercive control over their wives cross all geographical boundaries, and domestic abuse is something of an epidemic in the U.S.

“Intimate partner violence is a persistent public health problem that affects millions of Americans every year and disproportionately affects women and some racial/ethnic minority groups,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Your friend’s marriage and life may now be her new normal, so if you believe she is in danger of being controlled and manipulated, tell her the signs and say you are concerned about her long-term well-being. A year can turn into 10 years in the blink of an eye, and if she can’t do it for herself, she may be willing to do it for her twin daughters.

Domestic-abuse survivors must be financially prepared to leave, as escaping is only half the battle, says the Kansas City, Mo.-based law firm Hale Robinson & Robinson. They must support themselves once they flee the relationship, or their chances of success will fall. “Transportation, shelter, food, and funds for the ensuing legal battle must be obtained,” the firm adds.

There are women’s shelters that have a detailed plan of action on how to leave an abusive relationship, including the documents she should bring with her. These include bank-account numbers, credit-union and 401(k) information, copies of car titles and past three years’ income-tax returns, and the partner’s Social Security and bank details.

Godspeed in your efforts to protect your friend — and good luck to her.

Read next: I lost $240,000 after a ‘friend’ I met on Instagram encouraged me to invest in crypto. Can I write off my loss?

Are you experiencing domestic violence or coercive control? Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org. FreeFrom works to establish financial security for domestic-violence survivors, and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence supports efforts to change conditions that lead to domestic violence and coercive control. 

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. 

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

Previous columns by Quentin Fottrell:

‘I don’t want my wife to lose everything’: I’ve been diagnosed with dementia — I suddenly could not spell or write legibly

‘Things have not been easy’: My sister is a hoarder and procrastinator. She is delaying probate of our parents’ estate. What can I do?

‘I gave up a job that I loved passionately’: My husband secretly set up a trust that includes our home and his investments. What should I do?

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