Justine Musk Weighs In On Amber Heard, Johnny Depp & The Power Dynamics Of Abuse

Can a woman in a relationship like this really be the abuser?

amber heard in front of press cameras Andrea Raffin / shutterstock.com 

One of the biggest movie stars of his generation accuses his ex-wife of slander.

She writes an op-ed in a national newspaper in which she presents herself as the victim of domestic abuse.

This man is now claiming that she abused him, they are suing and countersuing each other, as their not-so-secret history as a couple turns inside out for public consumption.

Meanwhile a psychologist on the stand floats the term “mutual abuse” which has other psychologists scratching their heads and saying that ‘mutual abuse’ is an oxymoron. Here’s another word: toxic.


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Every abusive relationship may be a toxic relationship, but is every toxic relationship an abusive one?

An abusive relationship depends upon a pre-existing power imbalance that gives one partner the power to abuse in the first place. In other words, you abuse your partner by abusing the power you have over the partner.


You do this systematically.

You do this over time.

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An abusive relationship might or might not be physically violent, but it is always — always — a massive mindgame in which the abused partner begins to accept the abuser’s twisted version of reality for reality itself. Anything that contradicts that reality — including the abused partner’s own instincts that something is very and increasingly wrong — gets cut off at the root.

A therapist once said to me that this culture makes it very difficult for a woman to be the more powerful partner in a relationship; if the woman has more money, for example, the man will assume superiority in other areas.


As a therapist states to Ada Calhoun in the book Why We Can't Sleep, women who earn more than their husbands….actually do more housework in an effort to compensate for their higher earnings and the psychological drama involved.

So if a young blonde actress was somehow able to establish and maintain power over a man twice her age — not to mention her body weight — with greater wealth, greater fame, and a considerably greater fanbase, that strikes me as impressive in a demented kind of way.

She must have superpowers.

Yet somehow I doubt it.


Femme fatales and evil goddesses exist in fiction, in movies, in the public imagination; in real life, the women who get designated as either or both turn out to be as human as everybody else.

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Justine Musk is the author of the dark-fantasy novels Bloodangel, Lord of Bones and the YA novel Uninvited. She lives in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter.