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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 Comment360 Comments

Ohhh I am sooo sorry Anonymous, that is tough stuff. You are not stupid, you are trying hard and I applaud your efforts. Now you know this isn't going to work for you anymore and you have choices to make. If you start within, with the knowing that it's not your job to keep him happy, calm, or engaged, that will help. I have a tips list for managing emotional abuse, if you want a copy email me at: kimromancorle@me.com. Do you have a counselor or therapist that can help you navigate this path?
Remember you are not alone, there are lots of us out here!!!

June 5, 2012 - 3:25pm
(reply to kimromancorle)

"help. I have a tips list for managing emotional abuse, if you want a copy email me at:"
Hi Kim,
Will you kindly email me a copy of that tips lists?
Thank you,

June 25, 2012 - 7:21am
(reply to teresa.prichard)

Teresa, email me at kimromancorle@me.com and send me your email:) Thanks!! Happy 4th!

July 2, 2012 - 5:35pm
EmpowHER Guest

Thank you for this post, it really made me think about my situation. I can't begin to speak about my life in what I think might be an emotional relationship. I was married to my husband for 14 years when we divorced because of his emotional and physical abuse. I always thought it was my fault because after so much accusing I became unfaithful. after 2 years of being divorced we remarried because i felt he had changed and it would be the right thing for my children.,I have been so wrong. The physical abuse is not there but emotionally I feel like I'm dying inside. He constantly accuses me of cheating or lying. I can say that I have not been unfaithful. I go to work and take care of my family. He calls me all day at work and if I do something any different than what I say he accuses me of lying. I walk on eggshells daily because I'm not sure of what to say or what not to say. Unfortunately I always say something that triggers him. Just today I made a comment about how long a flight would be and he immediately asked me how i would know about flight times unless I had been to the same place he was going. I have not, I told him. He then tells me I'm lying and starts bringing things up from the past. I am at my breaking point but, I don't know how to get out. I feel stupid because I asked God to bring us back together again and now I'm trying to leave. I love my husband but, not the way I should. I don't have any physical/emotional attraction for him. At this point I don't think I ever will.

June 5, 2012 - 1:15pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Your comment struck a nerve with me. I want to keep my vows and still love him but I have lost my attraction to my husband. I suffered years of verbal and emotional abuse with control. He has calmed down now but I feel checked out and think evil thoughts toward him. I want to change my attitude and stay but my inner voice screams run away when he has one of his fits. I live on eggshells and sick of it but I am too scared to leave.

September 4, 2014 - 12:23am

You know it's an odd thing - when you change, you force others to change b/c what worked before doesn't work anymore. If you put up new boundaries, communicate with ownership ('I' statements are key here) and decide enough is enough, your new reality will show itself. I realized that the pain of staying was greater than the pain of leaving and that was it for me. I hope you remember to take care of you, and feed yourself with all things positive as the ebbing away of self-esteem is super tricky and can be devastating. I send you a big high five and a huge hug! Be true to you:))

June 14, 2011 - 10:08am
HERWriter (reply to kimromancorle)

Some great thoughts, Kim. Thank you.

June 14, 2011 - 10:40am
EmpowHER Guest

I have lived with a passive aggressive spouse for the last 26 years. Several years have been spent in counseling just trying to obtain better coping skills and work on my own issues. Your definition of abuse being cyclic in nature was eye openning to me and spot on. My husband is emotionally abusive and withholds affection and sex to lash out at me. My self esteem has definetly taken a hit. I love him and dont' want to leave him, but I am tired of being on the same roller coaster. I have recently started calling him out on his bad behavior. I don't know if our marriage will survive now that I recognize the driving forces behind our screwed up relationahip.

June 3, 2011 - 6:51am

Funny isn't it? We try SO hard - it took me YEARS to realize that no matter what I did, it would never be enough - no matter what I did to please, it was a useless effort b/c it was all about the cycle of violence /control. Sorry you went through that, it's painful to experience....

May 9, 2011 - 9:03am
EmpowHER Guest

Sex is also part of emotional abuse. I remember I had to be sexy all the time or I was afraid he wouldn't love me. I tried to be the perfect sex partner and if he even looked at another woman I took it to mean that it was because I wasn't good enough.

May 8, 2011 - 7:10am
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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.