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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

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
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

What the hell.

I'm sorry but I don't agree with this comment at all.

As a child of divorced parents ALSO, your children WILL understand, eventually. Children of divorced parents have to grow up very fast. I never blamed myself for their divorce. I knew better. Unfortunately, I had to have an adult perspective on things at a very young age, and I saw it for what it was. Your children probably already see things in a certain way, we always assume children don't know what they actually do. They are such perceptive little beings.

If they don't understand, well, you know what you know. You know you were subjected to abuse. You know it was important for your sanity and health and wellbeing as a human to leave, that's all that is needed. You can be supportive and present for your children through a divorce, and yes you can choose to not bad talk the other parent.

Had my parents NOT divorced, I would have probably been subjected to witnessing even MORE abuse than I did. My father not only beat my mother, but verbally & sexually abused her, myself and my sister. She actually DIDN'T leave, not until he ditched her for someone 18 years younger than him, at the time a 19 year old girl who is now still married to him over 20 years later (who has also been subjected to serious physical, emotional and sexual abuse). My mother took this commenter's advice, staying because she felt selfish for trying to leave. She tried to stick it out and put her sanity & emotional well being second, thinking it would make my sister and I happy or better. Wrong. WRONG. WROOOONG.

You need to take care of yourself FIRST. As they say on airplanes, you put your air mask on first and then put your child's mask on. If you are not caring for yourself as a human, as a person, tending to your own value as an individual, you will NEVER be able to be the present mother you hope to be. Or more important, you will never be happy and whole, something you likely long for. Society has this f-ed up thing it does to women "children before you at all costs". I'm sorry, but it's not wrong to say "me first, so that I can take proper care of my child".

That is a load of bull that we don't live for ourselves and our happiness, but only for our children, and that she doesn't have the luxury of making selfish decisions. What the hell? It is our birthright to be happy, to treat ourselves with love, to live a fulfilled life. If that means leaving an abusive relationship, then by God do it. Most women who have lived in abuse NEED to be selfish.

As a now 30 year old, I know that my parents divorce (when I was 5 years old) was the right thing to do. My father is a narcissist, and my mother was a victim of abuse. I see it for what it is and what it was. Do I have a favorite parent? Yes, my mother. However my mother NEVER spoke poorly of my father, and never actually told us about the extent of the abuse until we were much older, and until we asked. She knew that my father would show us his true colors and he did, over and over again. I was able to see him for who he is. She actually made a huge effort to befriend my step-mother, the woman he was cheating on my mother with for a few years, so that my sister and I would be happy. I admire my mother.

Please don't listen to this person. It is not selfish, in any way, to value yourself and take action to end a cycle of abuse. It is not selfish. This is a load of crap.

March 23, 2016 - 6:40pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Well said, Anonymous! What you said was absolutely true-

March 23, 2016 - 2:06am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

I don't agree on sacrificing your happiness for your kids.Sorry.
It's easier to keave the relationship when your kids are still little than. When they are older. I speak on behalf of my experience. Trust me. When your kids move out , what are you going to do? Keep sacrificing your happiness?. Leave now for the better. My parents got divorced for the same reason you are stating in your comment when I was 22 after I moved out . And honestly they didn't do me any favor by staying together. Now I am 30 and I very disappointed with my family. The only real people I can look up to are my grandparents. They have stayed together forever and never disrespected each other. Even though you don't fight with your husband in front of the kids as your kid get older They will start realizing that You guys are together because of them

March 14, 2016 - 8:42am
EmpowHER Guest

I've been in an emotionally abusive relationship for over 5 years and here is what a day in my life looks like. My husband:
- criticizes how I cook, clean the house, do the laundry, mother my daughter, spend money even though I am VERY frugal and spend little money on myself.
- he sits on the couch while I cook, clean and do laundry.
- quits jobs without discussing with me first.
- throws things out that are mine. He thinks they are "clutter" or not important. Some of these things are family heirlooms.
- wants my 15 year old daughter to be out of the house when he is home (he is a long-haul truck driver, so is away for days at a time) and he insists that I not talk to her on the phone when he is home - forcing me to call and text her in secret.
- NEVER asks about my day or my job.
- doesn't attend my family functions
- doesn't come with me to anything yet expects me to accompany him to everything from doctor's appointments to job interviews.
- disguises put-downs as questions. They usually start out like, "Can I ask you something?"
- holds anger just below the surface and I don't know when it will erupt.
- his angry responses are always at a level 10 out of 10 - he's never mildly annoyed - it's all or nothing. A counsellor once called it "bringing an elephant gun to a squirrel fight". So I walk on egg-shells never knowing when the next explosion will happen.
- doesn't touch me affectionately but expects sex when he wants. My sexual satisfaction is unimportant to him. There is NO physical intimacy.
- gives me the silent treatment for days on end.
- has threatened to leave me about 20 times in 5 years and move back to the province (we're in Canada) where his family is. Meanwhile our house has been in various stages of renovation which he started - which would make it difficult for me to sell it in it's unfinished state. (Don't worry - I'm working on getting it "market ready")
- belittles my religious and political beliefs, saying things like, "That's the problem with your church" (I'm a minister by the way) or "I can't believe you voted for that guy."
- calls my male peers "my boyfriends", saying things like, "did you meet with your minister boyfriend today? Is there something going on between you two?" Of course that immediately puts me on the defensive.
- he calls women "broads".
Each of these things on their own doesn't seem like a big deal, however, when you look at them cumulatively, it's pretty sad.
My husband is the victim of child abuse and that's sad, however, I've come to realize that by continually forgiving his behavior I am not holding him accountable and am actually enabling him to continue to be like this.
I am working on a plan to get out of the marriage because it is evident that he cannot change. His view of women and marriage roles have been engrained in him by unhealthy men in his life. I hope that my walking away can be an act of love and not punishment. I really hope that he can get well and find peace - but he doesn't get to do that at my expense and at the expense of my relationship with my daughter.
I pray for all you women who are in similar situations.

February 24, 2016 - 9:39am
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