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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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HERWriter Guide (reply to Anonymous)

Hi Anon

Thank you for your story.

You can't live like this anymore and there are a lot worse things in life than being embarrassed - namely being a relationship that is abusive, lonely and empty. 

Your partner may have some mental health issues as well as addiction and might need dual diagnosis healthcare.

If he will not seek help then you need to end the relationship - you're becoming physically ill from stress and living in emotional distress.  


I hope things get better for you soon.


March 23, 2016 - 2:06pm
EmpowHER Guest

Is it emotionally abusive for your husband to hang out EVERYDAY with a mutual friend/neighbor he's attracted to and get drunk with her on a regular basis? Is it emotionally abusive if he tells you she makes him horny? Is it emotionally abusive if he excitedly exclaims that this is the summer he is going places and she is coming with him? Is it emotional abuse if he asks her out on a date in front of you and refers themselves as a couple and tells you that they need you to come with to drive and watch the kids for them? Is it emotional abuse if he shares intimate info with her like purchasing a gun and not telling you? Is it emotional abuse if he makes you watch him whisper in her ear right in front of you and go home drunk with her without a word spoken to you?

I am a Christian person and believe I am supposed to forgive as God has forgiven me for my sins. I am supposed to extend God's unconditional love that he has for me to other people. But it is so hard as I am so very deeply hurt by my husband's intentional poor behavior towards me with this other girl. I demanded he stop seeing her and he has. But the damage is done, his actions have caused me to fall completely out of love with him. He wants to stay and work this out, but I don't know how. I don't know how to get his hurtful words and actions out of my head. It was such deliberate disrespect in an in my face manner. He has damaged my self esteem, made me feel undesirable to him as a wife and woman. I feel like if I stay with him it will cost me my self -respect and self-worth. We have 3 children together and it is hard to leave someone when there are children involved. I wish he thought of them before he decided to treat me so poorly on a daily basis for months.
What do I do? I no longer feel the same about him. He made me watch him make this other girl a priority, above me and above our marriage. He thinks time will heal my wounds, but it's been almost a year and time has not healed my wounds. I don't feel loved. I still feel out of love with him. I don't know how to just get over his awful treatment towards me or how to get over the fact that I am no longer in love with him. Maybe he should be the one to get over the fact that his awful actions caused his wife to fall completely out of love with him, because I don't know how.

March 16, 2016 - 10:49am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

I'm going to put this simply. Do yourself a favour and leave that a**hole husband. How dare he treat you this way. Yes God tells us to forgive but He doesn't want you to be a doormat. Throw him back at his whore and get on with your life then he won't hurt anymore

March 22, 2016 - 11:33am
HERWriter Guide (reply to Anonymous)

Hi Anon

I don't know the bible very well but I don't believe it is stated that you cannot divorce. Certain churches say it, or certain factions but not the bible. 

The bible does state, however, that a man should treat his wife with love which is not something he has done. 

Your faith is probably helping you through this but don't get bogged down in dogma.  You don't have to love an abusive man unconditionally, there is nothing in the bible that says you should. 

You should also consider counselling for both of you - it could make all the difference. 

If counseling doesn't work and religion or no religion, if you are not happy with an abusive spouse or if it's over - then it's over. Move along and live a happy life. If not, you'll look back and regret the years of unhappiness and all for what? To say you stayed married? 

I think leaving would be very hard but I think being trapped in a loveless marriage would be a lot worse. 






March 16, 2016 - 2:24pm
EmpowHER Guest

I started realizing my husband was emotionally abusive after he cheated on me for the first-time,the day after I told him I was depressed. I had been broken down by him for so long and hadnt even realized it but was feeling exhausted and devatlstated and extremely sad and weak all of the time since dating him. I couldn't put 2 and 2 together. I didn't realize it was him making me feel these terrible ways because he had a way of manipulating everything. He would make it seem as if I were just dramatic every time he would backhandedly insult me. I was working 12 hour shifts at the time and if I came home tired he would of course listen about my day and "sincerely" care. But then when the next day or at a moment when he felt upset he would suddenly make a random comment like, "man I hate it when people complain about their jobs. It is not something I care about its so selfish for people to say without being asked". He is military and would always say little things like," yeah everyone knows civilians are lazy".. If he posted a picture of me on social media or if someone commented on a picture of us he would always reply eith," yeah she doesn't look that good in person lol it is the makeup" stuff like that. This went on for months and for progressively worse and worse and then he started to sprinkle in issues with other women. I would catch him looking up random women, talking to exes, but every time I brought it up her make me feel insecure and controlling. He offered up all of his passwords and social media information to prove he was doing know wrong and then I caught him making different new accounts I didn't know about. I was molested as a child, and when I told him this on the phone I didn't get too much of a response. I asked what he was doing and he said he was masturbating. He explained that it was a compulsion he got when he felt uncomfortable, he wasn't doing it out of stimulation of my story. Then proceeded to tear into me about how that's disgusting and he would never do that. Making me seem like the crazy one. I then found out he cheated on me. Everything changed because I stopped taking the abuse and became extremely defensive and shut him out. He is in the "trying to make things right" phase and attempting to be better. But little pieces of his true abusive self still shine through. When asked why he cheated he still says things like,"you made me feel unwanted" or "I thought we were going to end anyways" because I was repeatedly telling him he was hurting me and that I was unhappy with how he was treating me. He asked me for a threesome, completely faultless and blind to how I feel. He would text me constantly while I was at work l. Demanding me to go to the bathroom and touch myself and take pictures. He would do the same when I was hanging out with friends. If I didn't comply I would receive silent treatments and backhanded sly insults or he would do something like show interest in other women. I would constantly be in competition with him. I play piano it is my passion. When I played beethiven front of him he wouldnt look at me. He would be EXTREMELY careful to avoid eye contact. He would ignore my performance and talk to others around him. Never a compliment unless I asked for one. And when I brought that up to him I was told my accusations were ridiculous. In the bedroom he claims to be aroused by my pain. At first I went along with this I didn't see any harm in sexual exploration and nothing he did was too painful. Until he started completely ignoring my feelings and doing whatever he wanted. Then he would cheat and say it was because he knew he couldn't please me in bed. He has choked me on numerous occasion out of the bedroom but then explained that he was only being sexual or "joking around". On valentines day he couldn't take me out to do anything because he had gone to a strip club and spent all of our money. He told me it was because he was sad that I was going to leave him. I am now so clearly seeing that this man is disturbed and abusive when i thought before that he was just hurt and needed help that we could experience together. I am in the process of leaving. It is a lot harder than it seems considering he is the breadwinner. My situation is not the worst but it is emotionally and physically affecting me. I have never been so thin and malnourished, and have repeatedly had stomach ulcers throughout the relationship.

March 14, 2016 - 3:41am
(reply to Anonymous)

I hope this finds you well and that you are learning to take care of yourself as you reclaim your power. Nothing is worth the destructive impact of abuse and even though leaving may be hard, you will be living with the freedom to heal and to grow and to be you. When you stay with an abuser/manipulator/ you have no freedom to live whole and nothing is worse because there is no moment that is healthy. Know you are not alone, we are all right with you. Be well and be gentle with yourself, this takes tremendous courage and you are stronger than you know:)

April 2, 2016 - 2:09pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Wow this man is the worse. Congratulations on leaving him. You deserve better.

March 14, 2016 - 8:25am
EmpowHER Guest

Help. I have been witj my husband for 7 years. We have 3 wonderful young kids. I think the reason Im still in this marriage is because I wanted so badly for my family to be together under the same roof. He is emotionally abusive, we have been going to coupled therapy for about a year now. Things have gotten better but i still feel like im walking on eggshells. He critizies me for dumb things or punishes me by not talking to me for days. If we do talk he is mean and says hurtful things. I care for him, but i think im reaching my breakingpoint and im scared for several reasons. What if Im making the wrong decision about wanting to leave and could try harder? How will my kids feel when there dad is gone? Will my kids understand my decision in the future or blame me for the divorce? Am I strong enough to leave him? Will I be ok? All these questions race through my mind because he isnt always abusive, he has his ups and downs, like a rollercoaster ride. In front of the kids we never fight. Should i sacrify my happiness so our kids could see there parents together? My heart is aching...i feel so sad and confused

February 25, 2016 - 9:30pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Please listen to your heart and seek wise counsel. I have lived with an emotionally abusive man for 35 years. There have been incredibly good times and horrible bad times. I stayed when my children were small because I am a Christian and I felt it was important to keep the family together. I wanted to honor God. I still do. I also love my husband. But, I can tell you that while my son understands and appreciates the reasons I stayed, both my son and daughter are in counseling because of the things said to them by their father while growing up. If your husband is emotionally abusive to you, then he will probably be so to them as well. In the very least, they are being trained by him that it is ok to treat your spouse in this way. My daughter regularly says she wishes I had left him - and still does. both kids continue to have a roller-coaster relationship with him as I do. They are in their 30s. I am praying for you in your decisions.

March 27, 2016 - 3:34pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

As a man whose parents divorced when I was young, NO you children will not understand. They will be confused and blame themselves, and will grow up liking one of you more than the other. If he is a better father than he is a husband then you should sacrifice your happiness until your children are old enough to understand, or out of the house. Your children are your life now, you do not have the luxery of making selfish decisions for you or him.
You don't have to pretend to like the man, as long as you don't bad mouth each other to the children or let them get involved in your fights, just put your troubles on hold until the kids get older, then you can divorce and go your separate ways, both of you staying in good communication and relations with your children, just separately.

We as humans don't live for ourselves or our happiness, we live for our children and our children's happiness. You owe it to them to keep both parents nearby and dear to them.

March 19, 2016 - 9:27am
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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.