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 Comment366 Comments

(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

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

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
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.