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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

(reply to Anonymous)

Hi. Did you ever get out? What is a safety plan? I'm desperate. I want to leave my husband so badly but dont know how! If i tried to pack im afraid of what he will do. Any advice is helpful.

December 8, 2017 - 3:11am
(reply to Anonymous)

You are in a cycle - first there is the honeymoon period where everything is fine, then tension builds and things get 'prickly' and then there is an incident and eruption. And then there is calm and it's back to the honeymoon phase. This doesn't go away and usually shortens in time so you are SMART to get going. I know you are tired, it IS exhausting but stay the path, you are doing great! I can send you some added resources if it would help, email me at [email protected] And stay safe, that is the most important thing to focus on is keeping you safe, sending you HUGS:)))

October 13, 2017 - 4:48am

Hello I'm new to the group ok my husband and I have been married for 1 year and 5 months, He's always been controlling, we barely get along we argue a lot and starting to be emotionally and verbally abusive with me now, He call me fat, lazy a follower and he have called me bitches and hoes before, I'm just to a point now that I'm tired I can't take it no more. Everyone I talk with he's say I'm following them he don't go around my family, it's like we're going in two different ways, I barely wanna have sex I cry afterwards I just very emotional most of the time now,I'm just hurt that i feel like I'm gonna have to walk away from a man that I've loved most of my life he's my kids father, I'm just lost someone please help.

September 17, 2017 - 8:19pm
(reply to Patrice Macllen)

When we are in turmoil it can feel like we've lost our way. We often stay in these toxic relationships b/c we think it'll get better, we can adapt to end the craziness, and 'be more understanding'. If you have children with this man, he's even more poisonous to them b/c they are learning how to behave by listening to him and watching how he treats you. As a Mom, you have the chance to make a change and give them a life free of this manipulation and abuse. It's normal to grieve the loss of a relationship, and your sadness is understandable but this is not a healthy and loving relationship - it's a pattern and it's dangerous and it's destructive. No one ever deserves to be treated like that. I'm sorry this is so hard for you but the sooner you move on, the sooner you will heal. Contact a therapist, social services, and legal help and get going. You will be ok, we are all here with you. Hugs.

September 18, 2017 - 10:27am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous

I'm in tears over reading all these comments. It seems that each one had a bit of my story. My domestic partner has outrageous emotional outbursts. Sometimes I'm afraid of him. He has same attitude w my younger daughter and it hurts but if I say anything about him being unfair he continues for months. If he gets mad he stops talking to me for a month or longer. He sleeps on the couch, doesn't want to help w expenses pays rent but gets angry to do so. He is angry at me for 3 weeks out of the month. Does not communicate, if there's an engagement/event he does not inform me and on the day off he gets angry because I don't remember. Gets angry if I go out w friends accompanied by our kids and claims I'm crazy over thinking he is mad. Upon my return he slams doors or once again stops talking to me. It's so much work to keep him content that I just don't know or want to do so. I'm exhausted !! We are on vacation and he got separate beds and kept smirking on his bed. He slammed car doors over me not knowing where we were heading but once again he neglected to inform me where we were heading to. Don't know what to do anymore!!!

September 1, 2017 - 10:02pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous

I was in an emotionally, physically, sexually abusive marriage for 18 years. It has been 9 years since I left and started to recover. I am still recovering and I get so frustrated that it seems to be taking forever. Any advice to speed it up?

What you said about “self-referenced” that explains to me how he thought. I could just never figure it out as I was so confused. Your discussion on sexual intercourse, it was an indignity to my soul and spirt. It was forced, not mutual, and all about him.

September 1, 2017 - 4:23pm
HERWriter (reply to Anonymous)

Don't try to force yourself to speed up the recovery process. It takes however long it takes. For some that's a few years; for others it's longer. 

I'm 7 years out of my marriage and when someone told me that research had shown it would take about 5 years back when I first separated from him, I thought that was an eternity and still tried to find a new loving relationship, even though emotionally, I was nowhere near ready. 

As I look back on it, it doesn't seem like that long at all. It takes a long time to get healthy, to get all that toxicity out of your mind. I'm not entirely sure it will be completely gone. It may be something you have to deal with the rest of your life. 

Try not to be discouraged if those moments still come up. It's all part of the process. Be patient with yourself. :-)

September 25, 2017 - 2:08pm
HERWriter (reply to Anonymous)

Don't try to force yourself to speed up the recovery process. It takes however long it takes. For some that's a few years; for others it's longer. 

I'm 7 years out of my marriage and when someone told me that research had shown it would take about 5 years back when I first separated from him, I thought that was an eternity and still tried to find a new loving relationship, even though emotionally, I was nowhere near ready. 

As I look back on it, it doesn't seem like that long at all. It takes a long time to get healthy, to get all that toxicity out of your mind. I'm not entirely sure it will be completely gone. It may be something you have to deal with the rest of your life. 

Try not to be discouraged if those moments still come up. It's all part of the process. Be patient with yourself. :-)

September 25, 2017 - 2:07pm
(reply to Anonymous)

It's awful what happened to you and I think it is FABULOUS that you left, good for you! For me, I found that journaling, therapy, reading and reflecting all helped me understand what had happened. Yet the real key was when I understood family systems and realized that I was raised in a family where some of this was acceptable and I was always trying to please - and as such, I was more tolerant of his initial behavior which started the whole cycle. You have to find out what works for you, but you will get there, step by step, bit by bit:)) Hugs.

September 2, 2017 - 9:36am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous

I've known my significant other for over 10 years now. He is charming, well liked, a conversationalist, successful and provides us a above average lifestyle. There isn't anyone that wouldn't like him. He has another side behind closed doors at home. He has a history of being physically abusive and anger management issues. When the physical abuse went to far we went to two marriage counselors. The abuse has evolved into belittling, demeaning and coercion. There was two instances of physical abuse since the two marriage counselors. Recently we took a trip and on that trip he used coercion to get what he wanted, threatened to leave if we didn't do what he wanted to do because we spent a day with my lifelong second mom who stood up for us at our wedding. He was going to leave if we didn't share time in doing what we both like to do in the particular city we were vacationing in. He and I had planned for months to look at homes outside this particular city while vacationing. I spent months looking at homes and ran by each home past him prior to leaving. He didn't have to do anything but right along and prior stated we'd put an offer in on a home if we found something we liked. We found something we liked and it was on the second trip to see if we wanted to put an offer on the house he unilaterally without conversation or alternatives decided he didn't want the home and it was too overpriced. He then also said as long as his work was paying him his handsome income he had no intention on leaving. He used more coercion and threatening words, I packed up and left the trip early in tears. Shuttled his butt back to his work. Now I feel I've sacrificed my happiness, dreams for his financial comfort. He says we can look again, why would I look again when I feel placated? I even canceled last minute plans with my friend. I feel betrayed. I am angry, I feel captive and am tired of him. He has lied in the past, he has looked at porn in the past, he has lost his temper, he has been physically abusive even on this most recent trip. I am tired and have sacrificed my jobs to follow my passion that I've finally decided to give up and go into an area that I can get my own job and save money the side while getting an education. No one has a right to tell me where I need to live nor tell me we can do it in a few years when they are ready. This time it went to far. I am tired. I feel that I need to go to a third marriage counselor due to my feelings of anger, betrayal, placated and him putting his job above love (he said he could work from home and then speaks differently when we get home). All he talks about is intimacy and my heart is so far from that.

August 28, 2017 - 10:01pm
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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.