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Emotional Abuse: The Invisible Marriage Killer

By HERWriter
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Emotional Abuse: The Invisible Marriage Killer Photo: Photospin - Auremar

Physical and verbal abuse are forms of “visible” abuse. Scars and bruises, raised voices and demeaning and hurtful words are signals to others that something is not quite right in the relationship. It’s also easier for a wife to see and recognize that’s she’s being abused.

Emotional abuse, however, is much more insidious and not quite as visible. Certainly, a wife’s self-esteem and spirit are battered along with her body in the case of physical and verbal abuse, but a husband can kill his wife’s spirit without even raising a hand or voice against her. For this reason, many women don’t even know they’re being abused, or if they do it’s a long and difficult battle not only to work to repair the damage done themselves, but to get the abuser to recognize the harm that he’s done.

What are the signs of mental abuse?

“Emotional abuse is any nonphysical behavior or attitude that controls, intimidates, subjugates, demeans, punishes or isolates another person by using degradation, humiliation or fear” (www.focusonthefamily.com).

“Nonphysical behavior or attitude” can safely be interpreted to mean neglect, invalidating another’s thoughts and feelings, and refusing to acknowledge the needs of the other (whether intentionally or not). Over a period of time, this kind of emotional climate in a marriage can squeeze the life out of a marriage and out of a wife.

There is a difference between experiencing or inflicting emotional hurt and being emotionally abusive—it is important to make this distinction. Abuse is a cycle. It is not a once-in-a-while event that happens and hurts someone else. In many “ordinary” hurtful cases, apologies can be offered if truly sincere and heal the rift that the hurt has caused. Many hurts are unintentional, and if they were, there is (hopefully) remorse on the part of the person who inflicted that hurt, once the anger, frustration, etc., calms down and cooler heads prevail. With emotional abuse there is none of this.

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Hey, I'm new on here but would like to share my story with people whom I feel could help to give me strength, courage, and insight. I'm 23 years old and have two children, I've been married to my husband for 3 years and with him for 6. One year ago I decided to speak with him about a divorce, here's why... We argued every day, we wouldn't ever do anything together as a family, he started to neglect our children and lash out on my son who's 4, nothing I did was up to his standards, he'd show myself and children little to no attention. My husband would take care keys from me, leave myself and the kids stranded at home, I had no access to money unless he gave it to me, he started getting your a point where I couldn't attend family functions anymore. He'd constantly go through my phone, lash out on me about friends on my social media, threaten to kill people if I didn't take them off. He had 3 bank accounts behind my back, and all of the vehicles I had limited access to. He git to a point where I could no longer speak with my friends, my family was restricted, and I felt as if I was imprisoned in my own home. My days consisted only of getting up at 6:00A.m cooking him breakfast, making his lunch, doing all of the laundry (washing, ironing his uniforms) yard work, house work, dinner by 5:30 pm and single handedly caring for our kids. When I got up the courage to tell him I wanted out, it got physical. We couldn't even get half way through our paperwork before he started threatening me, and telling me I better not put this asset on there or request certain things. He's a Corrections Officer and had threatened me that if I went to police with my pictures of my bruises he'd get me into trouble because he "had that authority." For the last year I've been fighting tooth and nail to escape him, he has made it extremely difficult for me to find a job, but I'm about to start work soon... I just don't know what more to do. I feel as if I'm honestly trapped. :'(

July 6, 2016 - 9:40pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Tink454)

When you feel safe enough to do this (in a safe place, sure he cannot track the call - find a public place that will let you make the call), consider calling the National Domestic Abuse hotline. 1-800-799-7233. I believe they can help you create an escape plan. They can probably help you find a shelter, but I think it's likely that there will be a waiting list. Don't let him know what you're doing. Leave behind his back. And when you leave, don't let him know where you are. It might take a long time to get out. Don't blame yourself for that. Getting out is very difficult, esp. when you have young children. I'm sorry that you are going through this.

July 9, 2016 - 4:39pm
(reply to Tink454)

I was married to a CIA officer who told me he wasn't allowed to go to therapy and that I would put our family in danger if we divorced. After five years of verbal and emotional abuse that tormented me, we had a rough day that ended with pushing me - I was so scared and begged him to let us separate. That's when he told me I wasn't going anywhere, he wasn't going anywhere and the kids weren't going anywhere and that we would never have this conversation again. I left five days later. I had to take my power back, reclaim my life and stop trying to work out something reasonable with someone who is unreasonable. You will not be able to fix him or the marriage, that is going to be his journey but you WILL be able to save the children from growing up in an abusive household and you will be able to teach them how to be healthy and manage their own emotions. I would get out as soon as you can, the rest of these threats will fall and you will be able to take steps to move forward. He is isolating you so that he has more control. He is manipulating you so he has more control. He is arguing with you so he has more control. You aren't trapped but you are being controlled so now is the time to stand up, figure out how to manage a separation, keep you and your kids safe and be done with this. You are young and have an entire life ahead of you - even if moving means going to your parents house or living with a friend, you will be in a safe and healthy environment where you can start to heal. Be gentle with yourself but be strong, you can do this! Keep us updated - hugs to you sweetie, you aren't alone!

July 7, 2016 - 11:29am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to kimromancorle)

Thank you for sharing your story. I'm married for 3 years and I moved to US with my husband 2 years back. I met him in Middle East while he was deployed and we fell in love.
But when I move to US, I found a different person, very distant and without any respond to my emotional needs. I have times when I think the problem is me. But I read the following online "Emotional unkindness is a failure to provide for emotional needs such as encouragement, understanding, respect and compassion. It includes ignoring you when you start a conversation, showing you none or very little attention and no empathy". This is what I pass through. Moreover, he cheated on me with his supervisor and now he threatens me that he won't sign my petition to remove my conditional visa.
I'm so exhausted and tired, I have to even hide continuing my graduate studies so he does not get mad at me.
I love him but I feel I can't continue anymore. I can never say anything.

July 17, 2016 - 10:35pm
EmpowHER Guest


So I am on the outside looking in and I see all of the comments from each individual about emotional abuse. I am actual the emotional abuser and it has taken me a while to admit that. I love my wife hands down. We've been married for about two and a half years now. We've had many arguments and I have said things that even hurt me for doing it.
I would apologize and things would go back to normal. I am getting the help that I need from a licensed therapist and go to both Anger and Stress Management therapy every week. Quite honestly, I don't like the anger that I feel in my heart and it's eating away at me and it's hurting my wife and my boys. My son, flew off the handle at my wife and said horrible things and in that moment...I saw a mini 17 year old version of who I am now. Angry and spitting venom... I love my boys... they should never have to see me lose my cool and yell at their mother. I grew up in a family of yelling and anger...my father would jack my mother up to show strength... then later on in life my mother became angry and broke my father down by controlling all finances within our house. My Dad couldn't stop spending...so he was given an ultimatum...either give me the money or my mother and I along with my brother would leave. So I saw two sides, one very aggressive from my Dad and one very controlling from my Mother.
I do have a problem with control... because I had joined the military to get away from the chaos within my parent's house. Eversince, I have been brought up on discipline and standards...but when I saw my wife for the first time three years ago...something melted away.
She has taught me so much just by being who she is..and I feel horrible for breaking her spirit. Everyday she questions me and claims to want to leave... and everyday I remain quiet...praying for my next therapy session to evolve into the spouse that she deserves and the spouse that she has always wanted. I know it won't happen overnight...but something struck a nerve when I saw my son yell the way that he did... I have to break the cycle.. my children need me... ladies... any help would be greatly appreciated.



June 6, 2016 - 4:18am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Cam, Just wanted to say that it means a lot to me to know that you were able to see your behavior for what it was. I've heard it is rare that the abuser is able to see this. So this step is enormous. It's not enough, but it is so much and it is important. I hope I am not overstepping my boundaries by making a suggestion. You say that every day she questions you and threatens to leave an you remain quiet. What is stopping you from telling her that you are trying? That it is taking time, but you are really trying. You might even have an agreement where she lets you know when your behavior is unacceptable and you change it - or if that is too hard maybe a signal between you. But I do wonder if you being silent might look to her like you not hearing her. And part of changing is hearing her. I hope this is helpful.

June 15, 2016 - 2:27pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)


It's taking time but things seem to be taking a turn for the better. I am doing extensive therapy and trying to be much more supportive. If I find myself getting angry I quickly excuse myself and go listen to music for a few minutes. I have a hard time with paying attention to what she is saying when angry and call me crazy but it helps to calm the anger inside. I ask myself what I am really mad about and truth be told it's something that is bothering me. I want to uplift my wife not tear her down so I'd rather say something nice and calming or when in a disagreement cool my jets and speak assertively but not with aggression...I've also been doing a lot of listening and what she wants from me is support. Not financially, but just support so if she chooses a project or needs help with knitting or simply wants my presence then I give her that wholeheartedly. In the end, I find myself learning and seeing how interesting she is and how much I love her and took her for granted. Can you imagine me knitting...lol I'd rather be fishing but I can count dozens of times she's followed me to the lake with no complaints...lol and so in turn I can watch her knit and she is really good at it... All I do is go to Joanne's and buy more and more yarn...what's happening to me...am I evolving ? My therapist told me to just be present in the marriage and I was offended. Not really understanding what she meant because I thought financial security was the backbone to hold and mend everything together. So I'm in a good place just peeling back layers and layers of what's within me. I hope I can change ladies thank you for your support.


July 3, 2016 - 8:12am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Oh, Cam, that post brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing this. Yes, you are evolving! It's wonderful that you're being so supportive- and learning to knit! It's interesting that you say you thought financial security would heal everything. In my marriage, he kept using finances as an excuse for his behavior, yet he could have dealt with financial concerns in a respectful way. I know someone else whose husband used financial issues as an excuse to leave the marriage recently. Maybe this is a common thread with men. It would be understandable, since they are brought up to believe that their job is to provide financial security to the family. But if a woman is being put down, no amount of financial security will make that okay. Everyone needs respect and emotional support from a partner, male or female. Thank you for listening, for having the patience to stop and walk away, to get to the bottom of why you are angry, and for sharing this with us.

July 4, 2016 - 5:43am
HERWriter Guide (reply to Anonymous)


You seem to be in a good place and getting better every day. It's not often we see a person (male or female) admit their wrong doings and open themselves up to seeing their own abuse or ill-treatment of others. Excuses and justifications are much easier. You're very brave, it good to see how you are evolving! 


July 4, 2016 - 4:37am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Your comments has my eyes dripping tears. I have 3 children under age 8 and to visualize them treating me the way my ...no the creature I married (I stopped claiming him as my husband...since he isn't my husband...he's the guy I married because a husband is a totally different concept)...treated me.

I have left and I have been there for him...but moving closer to his dying father has made him go back on all positive progress he has had. This saddens me. Your comments show me how hard it is for abusers to see what they do. I stopped trying to understand...then I read your comments. I am now going to figure out how my son and daughters can have a positive relationship with a man other than their father because they have already seen him treat me horribly and the damage is done. My daughter hit me yesterday. She is four. My son deliberately disrespects me and his grandmother underminded me almost permanently.

One thing I will advise you on is this: you will never have power over anyone and still have respect or feel in control. You focus your time trying to control what you ultimately can never control (everything but yourself). When you realize that your only source of power is the power YOU EXERCISE OVER YOURSELF, YOU WILL ALWAYS REMAIN POWERLESS. YOUR POWER AND CONTROL only resides over YOURSELF and animals. People are not animals. Women and children are not in your realm of control...they are not animals. So when you hurt them, they may make choices either because they love you or through your controlling behavior, they accepted your lie that you control them. Every time they realize what you did to them was soley based on your selfishness, it makes love smaller...especially in your life. You know why? Because in YOUR life, you chose CONTROL over LOVE to give to.them.

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is NOT rude. Love is NOT boastful. Love is NOT proud. LOVE does not hold record of wrongs. Love my friend does not hurt you either. So when you hurt your lo ed ones, you show them how much less love you want to give to them. You may not realize how much love they have for you but you need to realize that hirting them in any form teaches them anger. Anger is NOT the opposite of love...love doesn't cause anger. Your anger is a symptom of a hurt or pain you still have that needs addressing. If you yourself were treated in the way you treat your wife and other loved ones, you may have been narcissistically abused. Today you can release your anger when you connect to your pain and relieve that pain. Whatever you yourself did in the past...guess what. TODAY is your gift. Don't waste it on any negative past. Bring your positives into your present. Think on this :-) you have today every 24 hours you still breathing :-) if your wife is still there ...they still love you. So don't waste today. Love them back. Start loving again. And sit back and relax. God got you too...

June 10, 2016 - 9:32am
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