Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi’s relationship has been a talking point ever since photographs were published last weekend showing Saatchi gripping Lawson around the neck in a London restaurant. Saatchi subsequently accepted a police caution. Lawson has allegedly removed her wedding ring.
Was the Saatchi-Nigella incident indicative of broader problems in their relationship? No one knows, but it has drawn attention to the potential existence of domestic abuse, even in wealthy couples – and even among professionals working in the financial services industry. Dr. Susan Weitzman, a psychotherapist in Chicago who specializes in abusive relationships among the wealthy and is author of the book, “Not to People like Us : Hidden Abuse in Upscale Marriages,” said she’s worked with “many, many” couples where one or both individuals have a financial services background. Domestic abuse among wealthy couples is infrequently dealt with, said Weitzman: “The victim is usually disbelieved and engenders little sympathy due to the lifestyle, status and perceived assumption of the cultural myth that it “doesn’t happen to people like us”.
Diana Barran was a hedge fund manager before founding the UK Charity Coordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse (CAADA) in 2005. “Domestic abuse can be experienced by people of all income levels – it doesn’t discriminate,” said Barran. “High earning and professional women can also experience domestic abuse. Since founding CAADA I have received emails from doctors, people working within financial services and other professionals who have suffered years and years of abuse.”
There’s nothing to say that bankers are more prone to abusive relationships than other professionals. But Weitzman said narcissistic personality disorder can be a factor in ‘upscale abuse’, and narcissists are allegedly prevalent in banking. Separately, research suggests domestic violence may be more prevalent in dual-income couples.
In a famous TED talk, Leslie Morgan Steiner, a Wharton MBA graduate and former manager at the Washington Post, describes her abusive relationship with a charming U.S. Ivy league graduate who was working at one of the top banks on Wall Street before he suddenly threw in his job, requested that she move to Alaska, and began regularly holding a gun to her head. “I was a very strong woman in love with a deeply troubled man and I was the only women on earth who could help him face his demons,” said Steiner, referring to her perception at the time.
When successful female bankers and career women are subject to partner abuse they are often able to compartmentalize and to continue with their work, said Weitzman. When a banker or high earner is the abuser, the victim may be deprived of money, said Barran: “Imagine if you were a female victim living in a high-income household but your every move is being monitored, and you have no access to your own money.”
In 2009, Neil Ellerbeck, the former global chief of investment at HSBC, strangled his wife after discovering she was having multiple affairs and ‘exploding in pent-up anger’ when she requested a divorce. In 2005, Nancy Kissel, the U.S.-born former wife of Merrill Lynch’s head of Asian distressed debt was convicted of murdering her husband in Hong Kong. In this blog, a male investment banker living in New York says he was subject to domestic abuse from his wife.
A few horrific relationships don’t make a trend, however. Lemarc Thomas, Psychologist at Knightsbridge-based Susie Ambrose Clinic, says they work with a lot of financial services couples and that in their client group domestic violence is rare. Of the people who come to the clinic from the financial services, the relationships tend to breakdown because couples end up leading parallel lives and spend insufficient time together, which can also lead to one partner having an affair, said Thomas.