Facebook Pixel

Emotional Abuse: The Invisible Marriage Killer

By HERWriter
 
Rate This
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

(reply to Anonymous)

Thank you for sharing your story, it's amazing how early we are imprinted and the impact it makes. Just from my desk to yours, please stay with therapy and use any and all tools you can find, for you and for your family. Working to control others robs you of a sense of self and responsibility because all you really can control is you and your behavior. Good luck!

June 6, 2016 - 6:46am

Hello I could really be doing with some help and advice. I have been together with my husband 9 years and married for 3 and half years. We have a 2 and half year old daughter. I believe my husband is very interfering with me and can be controlling. I have wanted to end things for over a year now but when I said I was going to leave he threatened me by saying I am not taking our daughter and if I want to leave that’s my choice but this is her home so she is staying there. This is why I am still here. I plucked the courage to go and see citizens advice yesterday and I told them everything, gave them examples of how he is with me. A recent example being: we are invited to a wedding in July (day and night) my daughter will be a flower girl during the day but after the day I wanted to drop her back off at my mums as she offered to babysit her on the night. But I knew mentioning this to my husband would be impossible, past experience when I would suggest things that I want to do which he doesn’t agree with. So I thought I need to bring it up as it is drawing closer to the wedding, I said to him we haven’t really sorted transport for my daughter (Mollie) back to my mums yet. He had a quick answer being ‘get your brother to do it he won’t mind he is family’ I said ‘no it is not my nature to ask others to do things for me so I honestly don’t mind dropping her off to get her settled in and I can freshen up before the evening reception’ and his answer was ‘no, you can’t drop her off as you will be on the Vino during the day and it would ruin your day’ I replied ‘I am honestly not bothered about drink during the day my priority is my daughter so I want to drop her off’ he stood quiet, walked into the kitchen preparing tea, obviously thinking what to say to me next. He comes back in room and says ‘I have an idea, I will ask my friend Scott he won’t mind dropping her off as he will be at wedding with his partner but he doesn’t drink’ I said ‘Lewis, I have told you what is happening I want to drop my daughter off myself, it is not my nature to hassle other people it is our child we should deal with it ourselves’ to which he raised his voice and shouted ‘FINE, DO WHAT YOU WANT THE REST OF YOUR LIFE THEN’. That was his last words and we didn’t speak for 5 whole days. I think that one liner will stay with me forever. I questioned myself does he honestly believe I shouldn’t be doing what I want or pleasing myself? Bearing in mind he is the father of our child and he never once offered to drop her off himself because his priorities are alcohol during the day. I asked him why he said this to me, I said it’s not normal I feel I can’t open my mouth and he wants his way or nothing at all. He said there’s nothing wrong with having my opinion and if you have problems with what I have said maybe you would be better off single…
Citizens advice listened to this example and a few others and they said ‘this may shock you but these are signs of emotional abuse and he is very controlling over you’ to which I burst into tears. My worry is how can I leave him without having him take control of when he sees our daughter and how often because he is very stubborn and he will want his own way there is no reasoning with him I am scared I will have no say once again and I also don't want him to be controlling over her because he can be, he once suggested to starve her so she will eat new foods she was only 1 year old. please someone help. I read that he has as much control over when he sees our daughter as I do? is this true? I am at my whits end.

May 25, 2016 - 5:28am
(reply to emma27311)

Anon is right, read Patricia Evan's book on verbal abuse and it will change your life. Words and threats are being used to control you and your behavior. Once you realize this and figure out what is happening then you can take steps to change. It's scary and hard but so worth it and it will keep you and your daughter safe. Get counseling. The only thing you can control is you and your reactions and behavior so know that small changes in how you react and communicate will put you back in control - - 'That doesn't work for me' 'I'm not sure, I'll have to get back with you' 'hmmm I'll have to think about that' and 'I don't know if that is ok, I'll let you know' and on it goes - not engaging is the first step to disengaging the abuse. You will not be able to make your case so he 'gets it' or love him out of it or reason him out of it - that is his journey. YOUR journey is to take care of you and your daughter. Know that there is nothing bad or wrong with you, his words are just attempts to keep you in place. Sending a hug.

June 2, 2016 - 11:00am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to emma27311)

I don't know how much help this will be. I can tell you that it can take some time to be ready to leave. Do you have friends and family who can support you in leaving? Read books like "The Verbally Abusive Relationship" by Patricia Evans and "Why Does He Do That" by Lundy Bancroft. But do not beat yourself up if it takes you a long time to figure out how to leave. Listen to your gut. It's also often advised to have a plan set in place for leaving. When I had to leave, it took me years to figure it out and I didn't want to leave behind his back, but I felt I had to as he would have sabotaged my plans to leave had I told him.

Sorry this is so vague. But when you are with someone who is controlling you start being overly critical of yourself. So I guess the biggest thing I want to tell you is just to be loving towards yourself and if it takes you a long time to leave, or even if you never leave, try not to be critical of yourself. When someone is controlling, their behavior is unpredictable, so I think it is natural to feel uneasy about leaving.

May 27, 2016 - 5:19am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous

i could really use some help. i've been married for 8years. i have 3 small children. i was abused sexually by my bother at a very young age and told my husband before we were married and he still loved and married me. after a couple of years i started remembering the horrors of my childhood as in, i was raped not only by my brother but my father and mother. i of course have been going through a lot, but my husband gets angry at the drop of a hat now. i feel like i'm walking on egg shells around him and find myself glad during the week days because he gone. i feel guilty for feeling that way. every holiday we get in a huge fight because he never remembers to get me anything and makes excuses of why he didn't. yesterday (mothers day) i got up and he asked what i wanted to do that day, i said i wanted to stay home and relax and he could take our kids to the lake to hangout. he said no. kept asking. still no. finally after being guilt tripped into into it i agreed to instead go to his parents house. we ate lunch and the kids were exhausting. i told my husband (IN TEARS) that i couldn't do it. i just couldn't act happy at the lake when i was so tired from being on vacation with them just the week before (with OPEN conected rooms!). he got so angry and threw out every possible thing he could think of to guilt me into staying, and i said no. i then drove of leaving him and the kids at his parents. he called and demanded i go back because i made it awkward for him, and how i ruined the day. i said no. and drove home. later he called acting kind and saying he did the wrong thing. but later that night we talked and he told me i was selfish for leaving and a terrible person and went to far as to call me a bitch (something he's never done before). he got so angry at me that he pinned me on the bed with his knees and raised his fists like he was going to punch me in the face and said "how to like that now bitch?!" i asked if he felt more manly beating up a women. to that he got off and acted all sad and sorry. i fled to my 4yrs daughter's room and slept there. i guess i'm just wondering what to do. i'm at a loss. i feel like i brought this on myself for not remembering the past abuse and he can't handle it. PLEASE HELP!!!

May 9, 2016 - 1:41pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

I soo hope that by now you have left and are safe. When you are put in these crazy and abusive situations, counseling, support and help are needed to manage the trauma and avoid danger. From what you shared, I think you did a phenomenal job working to keep your boundaries up with stating 'no' to requests and demands made of you - and the reaction you've encountered is all you need to know that this is a dangerous situation and you need help. Please get out and get help. If you can't do it for you, do it for your children. Do it so the cycle stops. I'm so sorry for all that has happened to you. Sending hugs.

June 2, 2016 - 10:40am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

I don't know what to say - but this is serious. I'm so sorry you are going through this. One thing victims often do is blame themselves. You said you felt you brought this on yourself. You were severely abused as a child and now as a wife. You're the victim here and you absolutely did NOT bring this upon yourself! Read books on abuse (I listed a couple on emotional abuse in my reply to the post above yours). Try calling the national domestic abuse hotline at 1-800-799-7233. If you read books or make calls, do it from somewhere else so he doesn't see. Ask a friend to use her phone. I'm no expert in this but I have learned a bit about it and my former spouse was controlling. It wasn't as severe but leaving was difficult. But try calling the hotline where people with more experience in handling these things can help. And remember - this is not your fault!

May 27, 2016 - 5:26am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

You did not bring this on yourself!!! It's common for people who are abused to blame themselves. The person who abused you is to blame for abusing you. I'm sure there are others here who can say more to help. But don't be afraid to call an abuse hotline - be sure you feel safe when you do. You may want to do it from someone else's house. And yes, emotional abuse counts. Here is the national hotline # 1-800-799-7233 . This is their website: http://www.thehotline.org/. I'm feeling a bit rushed today so I hope others will comment!

May 10, 2016 - 6:47am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous

You get it! You GET IT! Thank you!
My husband has been emotionally abusive ever since our child was born - I think it triggered something in his upbringing (his parents were married for life but had a terrible relationship, which he of course swore while we were dating he never wanted a marriage like that and would always work hard to have a good marriage). Part of his emotional abuse (among many other things) has been to accuse me of not being a good wife to him because I lost interest in sex with him after he started emotionally abusing me. He'd just walk up and crudely grab at me after a hard day, a few minutes after yelling at me or making some cutting or condescending remark, and expect me to put out. I would decline, and he would threaten me with an affair or divorce, as though that would somehow be a turn-on! Before the baby, he was loving, considerate, and his lead-in to sex was always loving. Now, I've lost all interest. Yet when I considered emotional abuse as an explanation for his belittling, demeaning, condescending, threatening words and behavior throughout our relationship for the past few years, in other articles I see "withholding sex" listed as a form of emotional abuse. Which makes me question my reality, just as his Jekyll-Hyde behavior and gaslighting makes me question my reality. This is the first time I've seen any acknowledgement of the possibility that a female victim of emotional abuse might not be interested in sex with her abuser because for me, sex is an act of love and affection, and it's crazy-making to have your husband belittle you one moment, and then expect you to turn on love and affection immediately afterward. But emotional abuse is crazy-making, so it makes sense (as you mention in your article!) that this would be one more crazy-making aspect. It's such a relief to see this!

April 20, 2016 - 10:04am
(reply to Anonymous)

It's amazing isn't it? It helps so much to know we aren't the crazy ones and that we are just responding to the issue. My ex would yell, put me down, tear apart everything I did (including telling me he didn't like the way I walked) and I went through every phase possible to fix things b/c I was so determined to 'fix' him - he would continue until I got mad and then I became the abuser. It was insanity in the making and it took me down. I questioned everything until I could be pushed no more. It might help if you research the cycle of abuse b/c there really is a process to this and that will help you know that you are in a cycle and that you are simply reacting to a bully. Be gentle with yourself, fill yourself up with the good and find some therapy. It'll help you continue to learn new skill sets. Sending a hug.

April 20, 2016 - 4:04pm
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy
Add a Comment

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.