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In many [healthy] couples, both people work hard but neither person exploits the other. That is, both work to make ends meet or to achieve mutually agreed-upon goals. Perhaps each plays a different role—for instance, one might work for a wage while the other works at home. Both members feel appreciated for their contribution and while both may feel tired, neither one is abusing the other.
However, some relationships involve domination, where one person takes unfair advantage of the other’s hard work. This can be a tactic of domestic abuse.
Do any of these situations apply to you?
- You work hard outside the home but do not have access to, or control over, your own earnings.
- You work long hours in a business owned by your partner. Maybe you even started the business together, or you helped build it up. You think you are co-owner until you try to separate, and then your ex claims it all.
- You do most of the cooking, cleaning, shopping, elder care and childcare, and yet you are told that you are “doing nothing” all day and not contributing to the household.
- You work for a wage while your partner does not, and yet you are still expected to do all the work in the home.
- Your partner expects you to entertain, cook for, or even house their family, friends, or business associates on short notice and without your agreement.
- Your partner does not allow you to make decisions about your own work life, or how you spend your time, and your partner makes those decisions instead.
- Your partner was your boss before you became a couple, and you face losing your job if you do not submit to their wishes in your personal life.
- Your partner pushes you to work in the sex trade.
- Your partner pushes you to work longer hours or take on more jobs than you wish, when you could afford to and would like to take it easier.
- There’s an absence of affection or signs of love in the relationship.
- You are punished if you refuse sex or choose to turn down extra shifts at work or choose not to perform a household chore.
- Your partner demands that you work in or outside the home even at times when you are sick or exhausted.
- Your partner benefits from your work more than you do. For example, maybe your partner buys a motorcycle or video games with your earnings, but you’re told you cannot afford necessities such as food or hygiene products.
- Although you live together and your partner could afford to contribute, you are expected to pay for all the basic living expenses such as housing and food.
- Your partner handles all official documents and financial decisions. You are not allowed to see these. You know or suspect that the most valuable assets (such as your house or car) are in your partner’s name, even though they should be in both your names.
Some of these overlap with financial abuse, while others, such as forcing a victim to work in a sex trade, are a type of sexual abuse. Whatever label you feel comfortable giving it, what should you do if you think your partner is exploiting your labor?
You know your partner. Can you have a safe and productive conversation about your feeling exploited and devise solutions together? If your partner responds with hostility, then you know the problem will not be resolved easily.
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You may want to consider ending or leaving the relationship. Of course, many factors influence how likely you may be to stay in or leave a relationship, including how much you feel threatened, how happy and free you feel in the relationship, your economic independence, whether or not you share children, and the feelings of love between you.
Exploiting labor within an intimate relationship or marriage may or may not be illegal, depending on many factors, but it is still abusive. Criminal exploitation includes trafficking, forced labor, false imprisonment, robbery, fraud, and financial or economic abuse. If you are over 60 years old, the exploitation may be considered elder abuse. And if you have a physical or psychological disability, you may also be eligible for protections designed to protect people with disabilities. Often, exploiting a partner’s labor forms part of a broader strategy of coercive control.
If you have concerns in this area, contact your local domestic violence agency and speak with an advocate. Develop a safety plan. The work you do should be bringing you peace and prosperity and should not form part of a system of domination.
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