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Emotional Abuse: The Invisible Marriage Killer

By HERWriter
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Mental Health related image 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. Like other forms of abuse, there can be apologies and promises to never do it again, and there is hope in the beginning that behaviors and attitudes will change—often referred to as the “honeymoon phase”—but somewhere in the back of many a wife’s mind, she knows that it’s only a matter of time before the abuser settles back into old routines.

The Profile of an Emotional Abuser

At the heart of an emotionally abusive husband is his need to ultimately be in control. He feels inadequate and harbors distorted beliefs about women and marriage, usually learned from an abusive father or other dominant male influence, or sometime due to lack of decent male role modeling in how to treat women. In many cases, but not all, an emotionally abusive husband can be manipulative and heavy-handed in keeping his wife “under his thumb”. The abusive husband is “self-referenced”, which means he only sees and considers things from his point of view; he deliberately refuses to or is incapable of looking at things from another’s perspective. “Selfish” and “self-referenced” are two different words and can be described this way: the “self-referenced person would give you the shirt off his back, but he doesn’t know you need it. The self-referenced person frequently violates the marriage partnership by acting without thoughtfully considering his partner’s point of view and needs” (Amy Wildman White). The abusive husband is also emotionally dependent on his wife; that is, his feeling of self-worth comes from being married. Most emotionally abusive husbands are unable to look at and examine themselves and why they engage in such spirit-killing behavior against a person they have avowed to love and cherish.

The Profile of an Emotionally Abused Wife

Women who find themselves in an emotionally abusive situation often have low self-esteems even though they may appear confident and in control of everything. An emotionally abused wife “looks to her husband’s acceptance of her as the measure of her worth” (White).

Unlike a man, who typically finds his identity through work, and academic or athletic achievement, “[a] woman’s identity is often based on her relationships” (White) this makes her vulnerable to abusive relationships.

One of the most common characteristics of an emotionally abused woman is that she is unable to enjoy sexual experiences with her husband. This is due to the deterioration of the trust and the lack of friendship and intimacy over the time of the relationship. Add on top of this societies’, her husbands’ and the church’s views that she’s not a good wife if she doesn’t meet her husband’s sexual needs and she may feel perpetually trapped in her marriage. What many people (including counselors and pastors) fail to realize is that “[t]he wife in these situations experiences intercourse as an indignity, almost as rape, because the physical and the deeply personal, loving aspects of sex…[i]ntimacy and trust, which lay the necessary foundation for a woman to respond sexually, have been removed from the relationship” (White) and she is left to emotionally detach herself from the situation just to survive—at the cost of her soul and spirit.

Call to Action

It’s time to lift the veil from these situations and recognize how much a person’s soul and spirit can be damaged without physical and verbal abuse. Abuse doesn’t have to come in the form of acting out a form of punishment, or lashing out with temper and words. Abuse can also be withholding affection, or never saying a kind word. It takes a strong woman to stand up against what everyone is telling her is her duty and recognize that this kind of situation is not okay, and to talk about it until somebody listens.

If you believe you are in an emotionally abusive marriage—which can take many forms to keep a wife dependant on a husband (a virtual prisoner in her own house)—or you’re not even sure if what you’re experiencing is emotional abuse, please join us in the Marital Discovery and Recovery group and share your story.

Sources: www.focusonthefamily.com; “The Silent Killer of Christian Marriages” by Amy Wildman White (http://www.safeplaceministries.com/pdf/The Silent Killer of Christian Marriages.pdf)

Add a Comment380 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

Every day, I ask God to forgive me for not waiting for my true soul mate. I met my husband at the age of 27yr. and am now 38yr. with four years of marriage. I am a Registered Nurse and he is a security guard which asked me to loan him money when we dated, so he can go to school for nursing. Immediately after marriage he began to use hurtful words like “your now old and no one want you anymore” and do many hurtful things. He made me sit in the back seat in the car so that his friend can sit up front. Opened doors for everyone but me. I told him this was wrong he said, "fine he won't do it again" but he did. He also immediately dropped out of college and brought three cars for himself, a Mercedes, a Lexus, and a truck. I am Christian and have been told that one should remain married unless there is abuse or under certain conditions cheating. About two years ago he made me give up my seat in a public place for a girl in her twenties. She actually laughed at me for this and that may be the moment I began to be extremely disgusted and lose any love for him. I told him that I will not file for a divorce since I am Christian but that I wanted to live separate from him because I can no longer stand the site of him. He cried hard and swore he would change. He is now a lot better, but I told him that I have fallen out of love with him and now see him differently. He now does things like open doors for me and go to church with me. The one important thing I have not mentioned is that we have only been through foreplay all the years we known each other. He said he is too scared that he will hurt me with penetrating sex. My mom swears that I am messed up in the head by now and that he is probably cheating and gay. Every day, I have prayed that God separate us somehow or help me to actually want him. I know something is wrong with me, but I haven't brought myself to the point of looking for a counselor. I need help.

December 13, 2017 - 12:18am
(reply to Anonymous)

God helps those who help themselves and I can't imagine anyone wanting you to stay in such a destructive relationship. You already know this so I'll put it out there - your relationship is lacking true intimacy between husband and wife. Something is missing and I think running to the nearest counselor is a good first step. His answer for not wanting to have sex with you doesn't make sense. Stand up and move forward, you can do it and he's only one man in a sea of billions. It'll be ok, there is nothing bad about you for having married him, just take your power back and get some help. Hugs.

December 27, 2017 - 3:55pm
EmpowHER Guest

I have been emotionally abused for so long. I contemplated suicide around year 7. I decided to get therapy because I was so scared for me. While I am better now and out if a crisis state. The relationship continues to deteriorate because I have become detached in order to survive. I also feel as thought I have to remain closed off to a degree emotionally out of self preservation. Now I am concerned for my spirituality that I am done how being unforgiving. He does not get it and refuses to get help. When I bring up divorce he gets irate. Not to he too is miserable as I no longer feel compelled to have sex with him. I explained how I understood his need and it was based on That need that I continued to have sex. He indicated that he did not want me to if I did not really want it. So I stopped; my giving it myself to satisfy his need was not appreciated. So I simply stopped. Its not that I don't care about him I simply have no desire to be intimate with him nor will I be responsible for his feelings. I feel stuck ....year 18 on the way. How do couples last 40 and 50 years. I am sure some real hurt occurs in every marriage. I feel like something is wrong with me. I don't know what to do with the years of abuse in order to act like it never happened. He still tries to manipulate me by making me feel bad for not having sex: distant... little or no conversation, hurtful or insulting text messages. He actually said he acts that way do.I will know how much it impacts him because it does not seem to bother me. I said so you are trying to.manipulate me? He said no awkwardly. This behavior still continues today after he moved out of our bedroom. His rationale for moving out of the bedroom was because he wanted me to ask him not to. I don't know how to go forward or how to get out.

December 5, 2017 - 12:15am
(reply to Anonymous)

Good for you, you have changed your behavior so now he is forced to change his and you are obviously skilled at figuring out his manipulation. You don't have to pretend it didn't happen because it did. You don't have to forget what happened because it did. And you don't have to take it anymore because it will happen again. It's the cycle of violence that ramps up over time. Protecting yourself from the pain is the first step in taking back your power. You are not responsible for what he has done to you, nor are you responsible for giving him absolution over all of the hurt. I think anyone who has bottomed out from this abuse needs continuous counseling, for at the very least, we need someone in our corner helping us navigate next steps. No one wants you to suffer and once you say 'I've had enough' you can work on pulling yourself out of this harmful relationship and gain your sense of self back. I'm rooting for you and think you are stronger than you know. Sending you a hug.

December 27, 2017 - 3:48pm
EmpowHER Guest

I’ve been verbally abused in my marriage for years and the last few years my husband experienced 3 heart attacks and he is a high risk cardiac patient. This has brought me to my knees as I’ve cried out to God and shared w others but I try to live my life to the fullest. I stay with him because I’m afraid he is too ill for me to walk out on this marriage. I have support but sometimes I can hear the insanity and rage in my husband and he refuses to get help. I think he is willing to see a psychiatrist for medication but in the meantime I meditate and am recovering as I abstain from compulsive overeating which is my addiction. It’s good to express the sadness I feel because I don’t want to live this way. I’m staying for now. Any suggestions? I know I can leave but it’s difficult as he is I’ll.

November 16, 2017 - 7:14pm
EmpowHER Guest

Always blaming the husband. Some wifes are the bully of the couple and they too can resort to emotional, verbal and physical abuse

October 26, 2017 - 2:56am
(reply to Anonymous)

Oh my yes, you are so right, this is not limited to men. This area is a safe place for anyone to vent, share and connect, male or female. I'll share a poem written by a man I connected with, he wrote this regarding his soon-to-be-exwife, I think it's marvelous!

You can crush my soul,
You can burn my desire,
You can have all control,
Go ahead call me a lair;
You can hurt my heart,
You can cause me pain,
You can tear me apart,
Go ahead do it again;
You won’t keep my silence,
You can’t break my will,
You are nothing but fear and violence,
Go ahead and try to kill;
You’re the victim now,
You’ve doing nothing you see,
You haven’t won, no how,
Forever I’m always me.

October 26, 2017 - 1:21pm
EmpowHER Guest

This is my story for the past 7years and it takes a toll on you you try your best to keep things all together when inside your falling apart in more ways than one ive left 7 times and have been back with my husband for the past 6 or 7 months started my own buisiness on my hubbies schedule just to keep the peace and still be able to give to others and help others and to keep my sanity .Its a up n down slope all the time lately its control of where Im going and where and with who and gas for the one car after or if ill get the car at all .Ive been given vehicles but my hubby will drive them and wreck them in some way so were down to one car and its taking a toll on me .Everyone feels my hubby is a deterance and his control over me is so hard this time to walk away I feel trapped his parents want me to stay because im good for him but there son is so controlling and ive prayed for deliverance ive done everything I can but its never enough or good enough

October 10, 2017 - 5:21am
(reply to Anonymous)

You are so right, this does take a toll on you and it yes, it makes you feel trapped but you have more power than you know. Sounds like it's time to leave the cycle of control and abuse once and for all. You've done it before so you know you can do it, it's time to get your peace back. Of COURSE his parents want you to stay, you are taking care of him and that is their concern = but it's not your job to give up your life and happiness for him or them or anyone else for that matter. Once you stop the madness you will realize how much you have been managing and can put some of this time back into taking good care of you. Stay strong, you've got this and we've got you - we are all here together, sending you a big hug.

October 11, 2017 - 11:11am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to kimromancorle)

Ty so much Im planning a safety plan as we speak what makes it hard is hes doing the honeymoon side as we speak to .Im keeping the peace and being careful .Im so exhausted ty for the hugs they always help.Im scared and feeling so tired.Its so draining

October 13, 2017 - 4:03am
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