top of page
  • Paula Altenburg

What makes a strong woman?


As an author, I write about relationships.

In a romance, despite what you read, not all relationships are healthy. My current work-in-progress has a strong female character, and the hero is terrified of her because in his first marriage, his wife was emotionally abusive.

As a mother of boys, I’ve been following mothers of daughters who are raising strong women with interest. I blogged about strong women recently regarding the heroine in another one of my romance novels (Hannah Brand, The Montana Doctor).

So, when does “strong” become “abusive?” When does a woman’s behavior become controlling, not caring? When does what’s unacceptable behavior in men become praiseworthy in women?

There is so much information about strong women online. Feel free to look it up. Most of it’s positive.

If you look up abusive women however, things take a dark turn…

“Abusive wives have controlling behavior. She will control who you hang out with, where you go, where you work, what you do with your paycheck, what you wear, and how often you talk to family or friends.

“The abuser will try to control you by utilizing non-verbal communication. She may refuse to talk to you, ignore you, stop being intimate with you, or even sulk until she gets her way. She is also an ace at controlling discussions.”

Check out:

I asked friends and family questions about relationships that I knew were strained.

On a husband’s first marriage:

“After she was done with alienating all his friends and family she turned to the kids, because she had to be in control and that converts to how people see him—even the kids. “Oh, silly Daddy” is how it started. The kids always deferred to her and saw Dad as a bit of a fool. As long as she was being allowed to run the show it was fine. The moment he put his foot down, he was the target and she made sure the kids knew they’d be next if they didn’t fall in line.”

On a son’s former girlfriend:

“He disappeared from our lives for three years. We never knew what we did wrong. Then he was back, and his head was a mess.”

On a son’s gradual alienation:

“We were always close, and the warning signs were there from the beginning, but we missed them. He used to call three or four times a month. Phone calls turned to Facetime, now with both of them present. The problems really began when our grandchild was born. Communications became strictly through text messages that often went unanswered. Finally, I attended a public lecture where he was presenting. I gave him plenty of warning because I didn’t want to blindside him at a professional function. No response. When I arrived my DIL was with him. She was polite but cool, as if I were a casual acquaintance who’d crashed a private party. He ignored me completely. I left shortly after the lecture. He texted the next day to ask how I enjoyed the lecture and to say that he loves me. I love him, too—but he doesn’t get to snub me in public, then love me in private. I did nothing to deserve that.”

Son alienation is so common, in fact, that psychological studies have been conducted.

Check out:


As a writer, I find this subject fascinating. I plan to tackle it. As a mother of sons, however, I find it deeply troubling. We want our sons to find Taylor Swifts—not necessarily with the fame and fortune (although those are nice, too), but strong women who are kind and generous and not threatened by the existing people in our sons’ lives.


In teaching our sons to admire and respect strong women, we also need to teach them the difference between strength and control.

I hope to make that point in my next book.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page