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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.

Add a Comment378 Comments

HERWriter (reply to long2bloved)

I'm a Christian too. And while I believe that God has the power and can heal a marriage, He doesn't always. That's not His plan for everyone. Thankfully, it wasn't in His plan for me. You can work on changing you and making you a better person. The problem with someone with this kind of personality is he doesn't realize how destructive he's being to everyone else and denies that he has any sort of problem or that he needs help or that he needs to change. It's part of the personality that they're incapable of understanding and it's a waste of time trying to explain it to them because they'll always have sort of excuse as to why they do what they do. They'll never take responsibility for their actions or inactions. Eventually I stopped explaining what I needed from my husband and how he was making me feel because it never made a difference. He never truly got it. 

Loving someone else means self-sacrifice sometimes to provide what they need from you as a partner. As much as you try to set the example, as I did, they just don't get it and think everything is fine, meanwhile your heart and soul is neglected and basically withering away and dying. Mine was.

I will pray for strength, comfort, courage and wisdom for you. At least as a Christian you know you have someone you can lean on and cling to for what you need day-to-day. Make sure you keep a healthy prayer life, that will keep you connected. I know my heart and soul suffers when I miss doing my prayer journal for a couple of days even when I tell myself "I don't need to do it today". Learn to count your blessings every day as well, that will help your mind and spirit looking at the positives, which goes a long way believe it or not to keeping you sane. I will also pray that the Lord will show you a way out, if that is His plan for you and if it isn't that He will give you the strength and encouragement to carry on.

Please keep us posted on what happens. You can send me a PM through EmpowHER site, as well. You're not alone in this.



August 9, 2014 - 5:23am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Darlene Oakley)

Loved your post! I believe that the most important component with women in these situations (like myself) is the "unknown" of IF he will change or regretting "giving up and leaving". I agree it does evaporate your spirit and no one should live this way and often they DO NOT get it or understand how destructive their behavior actually is. No decision is easy, it all boils down to doing what's best for you when your ready!

August 15, 2014 - 5:46am
EmpowHER Guest

I was married to one of "THESE" for 30 years. Mine was absolutely charming to anyone outside the family (we endured a HITLER type of control behind closed doors) and is very well respected at work, so much so that immediately after divorce ( he instigated and blamed me for) he met a wonderful lady whilst out dog walking. The lovely lady took him home for the evening and the very next day they were a couple (she is a work colleague he's worked with for 12years.) He once described her to my daughter as a BITCH "he would not like to cross.") He proposed after a week together (this marriage proposal happened the day after my daughter told him how disgusted she was at their behavior and unbeknown to the new wife, he only did this to appease my daughter.) They have now been together two years (during which time he worked away & spent only weekends at home....however he's now home permanently) and it seems he's the perfect husband, step daddy, and grandfather having nothing to do with his children and grand children but at the moment seems to be reaching out to our son who lives with me. The new wife seems to disappear when my son visits our family home where he was actually forced to leave. Can anybody tell me if his TRAITS will surface in this new life of his, as it seems I've done all the hard work and this new wife and family have come in and are REAPING ALL I EVER WISHED FOR ....and it hurts

July 29, 2014 - 3:45pm
HERWriter (reply to Anonymous)

He may not show that behavior to her, but I'm sure he does.

Yes, it hurts to see him giving someone else the love that he never gave you. But I wouldn't wish his behavior on any other woman. Besides how do you know she's not just putting on a show?

You will have a chance to have someone appreciate and love you the way you deserve. Don't waste any more of your time, heart and mind on someone who doesn't deserve it.

July 30, 2014 - 6:01pm
EmpowHER Guest

Thank you for your article, I have been in a relationship for five yrs., we were to get married but I have decided to put it off. At the start of our relationship and thru the first three yrs., things were great. Much affection both verbally and physically. But after the three years things have changed. He has withdrawn, at first I explained how I felt, he just looked at me, no response, just stared. I left him alone thinking maybe he needed time to take in what I said. I explained I was beginning to feel separated from him . He would get up the next day and acts like I never said anything. He withdrew sexually. I waited and again approached the subject, I wondered if it was work etc., he would just stare never talk. This went on for a year, me still hoping things would get better. I did the all the things you think would bring the affection back. Nothing, he is a good man as far as him supplying the needs in a household. He never yells just sits on the sofa and watches tv, I have told him its like the joy inside him has died. He just stares and says there is nothing wrong. I finally yelled and told him I can't take this anymore and like all the other times things were ok for a short time but it goes back to this way. He doesn't talk, he has told me, he's just not into showing affection. At first I thought it was me, I cried, pleaded everything, he just stares nothing is said. I feel like he shows some affection, maybe every two months just to shut me up. I now feel violated, I don't want him to come near me. Now he realizes how I feel and he's all over me. I was confused, I mean I was walking around with my thoughts, thinking its me, its me. NO its not, I just feel so drained. The problem is I feel like his mother now, taking care of a child. I'll be honest, I'm think about leaving, but part of me feels bad cause he makes a great friend but not a person to spend the rest of my life with. He has told me he can be very cold when he wants, it almost sounds like he's proud of that.

June 24, 2014 - 4:15am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

He also sounds like he is suffering from depression. He needs counseling, it appears your married life will be miserable if you go through with this. See if he will go to counseling if your not yet ready to leave and watch him from there then decide!

August 15, 2014 - 5:51am
(reply to Anonymous)

I can so relate! It appears these types of men have the same behaviors. While attempting to confront my spouse on issues, he has this blank stare in his eyes, as if "what are you talking" about. Interesting! I say keep the faith, and get out of this relationship!

July 31, 2014 - 12:47pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to long2bloved)

I'm the woman who was in a relationship for 5 yrs., last night was the final straw, leaving as soon as I can. He went off on the phone but when he got home he was like what are u talking about. And then I was told as like all the other times, its you. After a few words I asked, do you love me, I was told I DID, but not how you are now. I guess he doesn't like me standing up for myself. I asked just to see what he would do, do you want to work on this, and again I got the stare, he laughs at me if I say something which he doesn't want to answer. Right now I am scared as money is very tight and I am an older woman, but I can't see myself living life this way the rest of my life. As long as he's happy the world is fine, but if you step one way or the other look out. The people around us think he is the greatest person alive, would do anything for them. But if I ask for a little affection, which I have stopped doing all hell breaks out. I cook, clean etc., an thats fine, I'm the maid not the partner.

August 3, 2014 - 5:05am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Good for you! I wish you the best. Build yourself up & try to be more observant in the future with the men you choose. I plan to do that definitely if my situation comes to this. I am on my "last" round with him & I feel we are in the "Honeymoon phase now", I will see how long this lasts.

Take Care!

August 21, 2014 - 5:51am
HERWriter (reply to Anonymous)

I apologize for the delay in responding. I was caught up in a move to another city.

It sounds very much like my relationship with my ex. Completely oblivious to your feelings, and where you feel like you're looking after a child. I felt the same way. Very good idea to call off the wedding. This is certainly not the way I would want to spend the rest of my life.

Loving someone means going against what you're inclined to do because that's what's required and that's what your partner requires and asks--you just want to see them happy. Sounds like he has no interest in sacrificing anything of himself to make you happy. He just wants to continue looking after himself.

I have a friend who's married to a man who doesn't engage much in parenting or anything and thinks that so long as he's providing for the family financially, that's enough...and it's not, and she's spent a lot of the last 15 years trying to get him to see that. They're still married, but if there are signs that that's how he's going to be, it would scare me away.

Keep us posted on what you decide.

July 22, 2014 - 11:44am
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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.