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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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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
(reply to Anonymous)

This is wonderfully written and touches my heart. Thank you for sharing this truth and knowledge.
God bless!

June 10, 2016 - 12:09pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Toni Jarana)

Thank you.

June 10, 2016 - 5:42pm
(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
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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.