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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

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
EmpowHER Guest

Hi, is there someone there who can help me work out my situation? I have been married for 25 years and we have 3 children - 24 yrs, 23 yrs and 7 years. I barely know where to begin in the long, sad litany of unkindness from my husband. I believe my husband doesn't love me so when does his dislike of me start to become emotional abuse? I could go on and on and tell you a list of callousness from my husband but I think it is enough that you believe me when I tell you how he does not care one little bit for me. At the moment, he comes home from work at weekends...... except he doesn't unless he feels like it. He came home for Easter Sunday for less than 24 hours and then went to the cinema during the evening on his way back to his place of work. His office is in an annexe at his parents' house. A month ago he didn't come home and I found out after a few days that he was away skiing in Italy with his sister. When he is home, he literally barely speaks to me and refuses to share my bed, despite my requests. He lies to me without even thinking about it, usually saying he has to work but then I find he has been out with a friend or away for the weekend. He is very very tight with money. He pays our bills but I can't ever go clothes or shoe shopping because he doesn't give me enough to buy things. I find a way to buy things we need by getting things online instead of going to the shops. He never says anything kind or endearing to me. When we married, we left London and moved to a cottage in the middle of the countryside where the only neighbours were his parents. Quite a scary mother-in-law I have to say. My husband was always at their house, literally. I would not even know that my husband had gone up to their house as he never told me - just used to leave the house. I was just with our children, fields and no money. I found out my husband had a fling and forgave him but said we had to move houses or I would leave him (after 21 years in that house in the middle of nowhere - nearest shop 3 miles away for milk). He said ok as long as we moved only to either a particular city which was 2 hours away. I said yes as I was just so glad to move away from the geographical isolation as the neglect from my husband was enough isolation in itself. So now we are in the situation where I live in a small city 2 hours from his work (office in his parents' house) and he comes home when he pleases and when he does, he is fantastically rude. He doesn't even realize that he needs to see our youngest child. He never calls during the working week as he told me it's boring. (I ring him and sometimes, if I'm really lucky, he will pick up the phone. I don't know if he ignores the call or maybe doesn't have his phone with him though). He told me last weekend that he would come home this weekend but although I expected him last evening to return, he didn't and when I rang at 10pm to see where he was, he told me he had had a change of heart about coming this weekend. It didn't occur to him that a meal had been prepared or his daughter might be disappointed. It is all so lonely and I really don't know what to do any more. I haven't mentioned the unpleasant remarks (when I was pregnant he said 'do you ever wonder if everyone is looking at you thinking you are an older mother' etc ). What advice can there ever be? I either stay or leave but I totally committed to marriage when I married and feel so disappointed that the man I married is really quite vile to me but I don't think he even realizes that he is. I have wondered if he has some sort of Aspergers but I don't know. He doesn't engage with the people I have got to know in this new place which is a bit embarrassing too as then they might think my husband is strange. We were invited out to supper and he got up from their table before the end of the meal and said he was going to walk home (15 mins walk) and that I should follow later in the car. He was in the Territorial Army for many years and gave one of the female soldiers £200 but luckily the postman delivered her note of thanks to our house even though it was addressed to my husband at his parents' house. I rang a phone number on his phone bill about 15 years ago and a lady answered saying I had called 'a house of ill-repute' . My husband's excuse was that he had only rung them to upset me not because he had visited them. Is this emotional abuse or just a husband who doesn't love me?

April 9, 2016 - 12:42pm
(reply to Anonymous)

Honey. Please do the following: (1) get a lawyer (2) get a therapist (3) get a plan. Your commitment has not been honored so the marital commitment made years ago is no longer valid. He is not part of the marriage. Sometimes we need help with hard truths and you reaching out was a wonderful thing to do - so now here it is - your marriage is not a marriage, and his treatment of you is hard to read. It's a terrible way to live. Please do something for yourself and get going. You deserve so much more. And remember this, you are teaching your young child how to be treated - she will do the same thing you are doing when she gets older b/c it's all she knows. If you can't do it for you, do it for her. Please. Hugs.

April 20, 2016 - 3:13pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Hello there am awfully sorry that I have to go through this pain all in the name of love..But I must tell u withoit reasonable doubt that ur husband doesn't love u anymore.One day ull look back and realize that cu wasted your entire life wishing things were different.wishing u had put ur feelings first.I married a man who has no regard for what I feel.I've said it over and over again to him that am not happy yet he just doesn't seem to care.we have 2 kids under the are of 3 ..however I do intend to leave this marriage..trust me u should leave as well.he doesn't deserve a single piece of u.this is a man who doesn't give a rat ass about how u feel.He does as he pleases and doesn't care about u.u need to put urself first cos u matter as well.Gather the courage pack ur bags and leave ...that's when he will realize he's an idiot.

I wish u well..

April 19, 2016 - 7:10am
EmpowHER Guest

Hi All, I'm very new to all this. I'm 28 years of age been in my relationship with my partner for 11 years, married for one year. He has always shown signs of being controlling and aggressive at times; losing his temper, shouting and I'm fairly passive/calm. He lost his dad to cancer 2 months before we were due to be married. He is grieving for his dad but I am emotionally exhausted having walked on egg shells and losing my identity from a young age. I am supporting him the best I can, but have no more left to give. I do love him but also realise that our relationship isn't as healthy as I like to believe it is. He is the main breadwinner, I just dropped out of work to be with him as he has mild depression and has isolated himself, becoming reclusive. I don't know what to do. Do I support my husband at a time when he needs me most and continue on as we are or take some space/time out for me. I've been unhappy for a long time, he only focuses on himself and his job. He rarely listens to me or plays down what I say. I used to think this was our cultural differences - he is Russian I am British. I'm at such a crossroads, unemployed, no money, no friends, my family are great but worry all the time so I tend to not share too much. There's never been physical abuse only emotional. He also cheated on me after the death of his dad. He came home crying, apologising profusely but damage has been done. I don't trust him much and haven't done all these years.

I want him to just be what I need and crave, but nothing is changing. I'm becoming numb to hurting him with what I say, he's one of the most sensitive people I know. He's dad was abusive to his mum both physical and verbal. He may have learned this behaviour. It's all really sad and I'm lost, I know I probably need to leave but I do love him and care for him deeply. I see his emotional issues and how he may need me. I want to help him change and be better but don't have the energy or patience left anymore.

April 2, 2016 - 3:07pm
(reply to Anonymous)

If you could fix him, you would, and if you staying, dropping away and suffering was going to make him better, then he would heal - but the truth is that won't work or make a difference and your job is take care of you. It all starts with us, with us taking back our power and saying 'that's enough' and with us standing up and leaving the room. He needs counseling, help and tools to deal with everything he has to manage - but taking you down in the process doesn't help anyone. Think of it this way - the ONLY way he has a chance to heal is if you stop the cycle and stop the ability for him to keep damaging both of you. So, cultural differences aside, healthy relationships are built upon trust and respect. I think you are brave to look at this and try and figure out next steps - counseling will help you and getting some space will help you gain some strength. You are on a path to moving forward, take that step and know that there are so many of us that have come before you and done the same. You are stronger than you feel, smarter than you are told and more wonderful than you know. Hang tight and get moving, you are young and you know what needs to happen. Be well and be safe:)

April 3, 2016 - 1:57pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to kimromancorle)

Thanks so much for the great advice :)

April 6, 2016 - 2:07am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to kimromancorle)

Yes, SO right on there Kim and I wil just add the LONGER you stay letting him be that way and not informing him its not ok. You need to talk, he needs to see someone, or couples therapy. Make it clear you wont put up wtih that kind of treatment, not in the agnry way, not in the ultimatum way just in the communicative way of this is your truth tostand in it that that behavior is just not ok and any repetition of it, is abusive. Longer you dont do that, the MORE he will stay that way, the MORE he will feel free and justified, and the LONGER you wait the more chance of his bad reaction and divorce instead of working it out together. ALSO if you stand it too long you will start to turn on him and in turn that turns you on yourself and then it becomes an internal and external war zone and it will just slowly detsory you , him and your relationship. I should know, I went through it and thats what happneed, I though I get better he will and no he got worse I could not save us both though I tried for many many years. Much love to you. In gratitude LayaNicole <3

April 5, 2016 - 2:26pm
EmpowHER Guest

I am 45 and living with my partner for nearly 6 years. When we met he was charming, paid attention to me, sent me flowes and listened to me. I loved him, but only moving in with him I realized that his excessive drinking was not only on social occasions but happening all the time. He would not act like a drunk person but his personality would change and he would start saying things that would cause arguments. in the beginning I thought it will stop if he sees how it effects our relationship. When we were having arguments he would ignore me for days and lock himself in the bedroom. I woud stand outside, knock and beg to come in and to talk about it. he would punish me when I raised any issue by not talking to me. the period between these instances became shorter. I am never heard, he does not show affection, he does not make eye contact when he speaks to me. I so wanted this to work. I am living a lie not telling the people in my life how things are at home. I would feel embarrassed in my failure. I started getting ulcers and actually feel physically sick when things are bad in our home. Now no more than 3 days passes withour an incident. I am crying all the time, lost my confidence and hopeless

March 19, 2016 - 8:39pm
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