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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.

Add a Comment349 Comments

HERWriter Guide (reply to Anonymous)

Hi Anon

What does it matter if you're the bad guy? You know the truth, that's all that matters. 

Better to be the bad guy than the miserable one. 



March 1, 2017 - 2:08pm
EmpowHER Guest

Someone help. I am a lady.... I am hurting...unshed tears seem to chock me all the time. I cover up my unhappiness with telling jokes at work and generally. I have done all I can to get work..good paying work but have not succeeded yet...I left a good job thinking I will get a better one 8 yrs ago but that has not happened. Then I fell in love. O I fell in love. I have done all in my power to support my family..including venturing into business that have failed...I have hawked soap on the streets to get us a meal, sold my clothes in the same vein so that my unemployed husband survives...borrowed left and right to pay our rent after our house was bought...my husband used most of the money by the way to pay his debts...after all that my husband has stated that I am the cause of our present problems. I am crushed beyond what I can say...everytime he's unhappy he goes silent and even refuses to sleep in our bed...then when he is happy he expects you to respond to his happiness like nothing ever happened. I understand pain and I feel for him, but what do I do after I am drained myself. Even when he had a job, he still threw these silent tantrums, then I would throw the loud tantrums..I remember one loud one specificall, a sign that I too I'm broken ...now I have prayed and I find myself silent but unhappy...so unhappy. What do I do?

February 25, 2017 - 6:58am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

LEAVE this SPOILT CHILD CONTROL FREAK. Is IT really a man OR A DRAG QUEEN? They behave like that!! Rotten parenting - mum and dad must have been selfish too, just like him, to raise this dog.

March 16, 2017 - 2:41pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Leave. This sounds like my life. Leave, and the sooner you leave, the sooner you can eventually begin to heal. Leave.

February 26, 2017 - 8:09pm
EmpowHER Guest

i have been emotionally abusive to my husband of almost 14 years. we have 3 kids together and things got noticeably worse after our first child was born (9 yrs ago). i put my baby at the top of my priority list and i treated my husband with little to no respect. each new baby put my husband lower on the totem pole. i have demeaned him in public and in front of the kids, i have cheated on him 3 times, i have used anger and emotions to control and manipulate him. i have also just learned that this is emotional abuse. i see clearly that i learned this behavior from my mom and have been modeling her behavior as an adult - despite being determined "never to be like my mom!". my husband had an 'awakening' about 2 weeks ago and as a result is dealing with a level of depression and anger ive never seen. he has been bed-ridden for a week and basically lives in our basement. he was prepared to divorce me almost immediately because of the trauma ive put him through. we have since put a pin in that plan as i have done everything i can to rectify the situation. i am now in therapy to understand my problem better and to unlearn this behavior but my husband is so so doubtful that i can make the changes necessary for him to stay in our marriage. i want to change for many reasons - the biggest ones being i dont want my kids to model my behavior with their partners, i dont want to rip their worlds apart and i feel devastated that ive created this huge, heart-breaking hurt. i know i cant erase the past but i could really use some guidance and support from others who understand my story. thanks in advance

February 21, 2017 - 11:27pm
EmpowHER Guest

Wow I honestly didn't know that what I have been experiencing for the past 11 years was abuse. The first time he ignored me for three days. We were in our first year of marriage and I felt like my heart was literally being ripped out of my chest. I would try to speak to him to find out what I'd done that was so terrible and he looked right past me as if I was invisible. I cried myself to sleep every night until finally he broke the silence and told me what the issue was. His reason was valid so I accepted that his reaction was valid as well until this became a pattern. Minor "infractions " resulted in three days of silence as well. Early in our marriage I'd do my best to fix it. I felt like his affection was vital to my sanity as well as my self esteem. We have 4 children in our home and I felt that him leaving would be devastating to all of us so I'd smooth things over. Massage his back. Speak softly and lovingly even though he refused to respond or even acknowledge what I now realize was groveling and begging like a dog. Sometimes it worked and I'd feel so accomplished. If he wanted sex of course I suffered through it even though I felt nothing because the emotional connection wasn't there and I blamed myself because I love my husband and didn't understand why my body would not respond. When he completely rebuffed my apologies I'd feel even worse than if I'd stayed in my corner. Now 11 years later I'm finally aware that this behavior cannot continue. I thought that I could or should continue to suffer in silence until my children were older but I am going to have to rely on my real source of support and that's my creator. I can't continue to make my husband my God. I won't allow him to control me and my emotions not one more day. Thank you for this article. It confirmed what I knew in my heart was true.

February 4, 2017 - 7:22am
(reply to Anonymous)

You are brave to stand up and notice this - it's not easy and we all have our paths to walk as we figure out what is happening to us. Your children are learning from you, what works, what doesn't, and what is acceptable. Facing this and saying 'no thank you, I won't be treated like this anymore' is a healthy decision that will empower all of you. Big hugs to you.

February 4, 2017 - 9:27am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to kimromancorle)

Thanks so much

February 9, 2017 - 12:17am
EmpowHER Guest

My wife is emotionally abusing me. We have been married for a little over a year and we dated about six months before marriage. At first, I thought her angry assaults were my fault, until I started doing some research. The more stories I read, the more I realize my wife fits the description of Borderline Personality Disorder exactly. She explodes on me for the smallest of things. She blames me for everything. She calls me awful names and cusses me often. If i disagree with her, there is hell to pay. I really want to leave badly, but feel guilt for leaving her and her two teenage boys. Although, her 17 year old son is very disrespectful and hateful towards me.

February 2, 2017 - 9:58am
(reply to Anonymous)

Dear Anon, I'm so sorry. I did the same thing, dated for 6 months, got married, things were awful and I was yelled at constantly and wondered what the hell had happened. Guilt means you feel you haven't done as much as you could and as you know, you can only control and manage yourself so I would offer you a pass on this, you can't fix someone, that is their journey. Get a good therapist, keep your boundaries and move along. Life is too short to be someones whipping post - I gave it nine years and it was nine years too many. p.s. Disrespect doesn't below in any house, that is just unacceptable, even if it is your stepson. Hang tight and take care of yourself.

February 3, 2017 - 10:28am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.