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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 Comment379 Comments

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
EmpowHER Guest

Thank you for this. I see comments that say things I have been thinking and feeling for months. I saw something a few weeks ago that described my husband to a T, and said an emotionally or mentally abusive relationship. I never thought about him that way. I have started pushing back in the last several months and I hear, "I don't even know who you are anymore." I know it's because how I was wasn't making me happy, I just thought it was the right thing to do, to make everyone else happy.

May 20, 2014 - 3:41pm
HERWriter (reply to Anonymous)

You're welcome. Sometimes it's empowering enough to hear someone else voice it. Even you explained your feelings to your husband and the things he does that create or cause those feelings, he probably wouldn't believe you or would just downplay them as you overreacting.

The thing with you starting to stand up to him now is that he's used to you just giving in and not fighting back. Don't let that stop you from protecting yourself emotionally from him. Keep explaining to him why you feel this way. It is extremely difficult to get a self-referenced person to take responsibility for his own actions and how they affect others, with the hope of making him see that he needs to change.

The only thing you can change is you and how you react to his behavior and treatment of you. You're on the right track. You do not deserve how he treats you and makes you feel, and whether he likes it or not (or acknowledges it or not) what he's doing is wrong and contrary to the marriage vows you and he committed to.

Please keep us posted on how you're doing. Feel free to PM me through the Empowher site if you'd like to chat some more.

May 21, 2014 - 12:11pm
EmpowHER Guest

When I read what your article said about the self-referenced person I about fell out of my chair. I have told people that my husband would give you the shirt off his back he just wouldn’t care if you were cold. I have spent the last 14 years with this man who I have tried to love. He has withheld his affection, attention and time. He has ignored my pleas that we get help, has promised change but only for a couple months, has ignored my concerns, changed the subject, withheld compliments and kind words, called me irrational when I cried, refused to acknowledge my feelings and withheld sex from me. I have felt like a dog begging for him to toss me a bone. He treats our animals better. I have finally woken up. I have finally realized that I can’t be treated like this anymore. That I have become so broken. Thank you for calling it abuse. You don’t have to be hit or even yelled at to be abused. I have wasted so much time praying and hoping and waiting, trying to be obedient to God and not divorce; trying to keep our marriage together for our daughter. I’m done. I am filing for divorce and now he is angry with me and can’t understand why. I’m not sure where to go from here but I know that I can’t live like this anymore.

May 5, 2014 - 1:14pm
HERWriter (reply to Anonymous)

Thank you for sharing your story.

I, too, was quite surprised when I found this definition because it describes my ex to a tee and that was almost scary. Finally, I wasn't crazy, or just making things up or wondering "is it just me that thinks this is weird or wrong behaviour"?

I have come to the conclusion that he's just incapable of being able to recognize his problem, that he has a problem and be persistent in trying to change those things about himself that hurt other people. He believes as long as he didn't mean it the way people take it that that's okay. And he will never understand why you're filing for divorce because there's an emotional side of living that he just can't fathom or process.

BTW, he has already broken your marriage vows because he hasn't done what he promised he would do in the marriage covenant. I did the same because I believe in the sanctity of marriage and my kids needed a dad--although as far as helping me manage the household he didn't help a whole lot. But they also learn from his behaviour and they don't know that this is not normal or acceptable or reasonable and now they need to unlearn all that they learned from him--the only way they can do that is a healthy relationship with other "normal" male role models.

Please feel free to PM me through the EmpowHer site should you wish to talk some more.

May 8, 2014 - 12:42pm
EmpowHER Guest

Thank you for this post.

I have been married for 26 years.

I have only told a few people like my Mom about the nightmare life I was living. My husband was a mental abuser. He screamed if things wee not going his way and in the end decided not to work for a period of 5 months. When I could not pay all of the bills he said it was my fault things were going wrong. He refused to have sex with me for 9 months. He also chose to sleep in the living room for over 7 years instead of sleeping in the same bed with me. When I mentioned this to him he told me that it was not abnormal. Well I'm finally out of the marriage he walked out when I had to put things in storage and go and live with a friend. I'm so glad to find a website that can help me relieve some of my stress.

November 3, 2013 - 6:31pm
(reply to Anonymous)

It sounds like my husband - blaming me for everything that is wrong but the fact that he can't communicate, show any affection or love, and hasn't slept in the same room for over 10 years has nothing to do with him. I feel so completely alone and worthless and I just want peace in my life. Now, he has the kids wrapped in his little plot so I am all alone and everyone blames me. I need to get out, but I have nowhere to go and my spirit is completely broken. I am glad that you are finally out - it must be such a relief.

October 20, 2014 - 11:38am
HERWriter (reply to Anonymous)

Glad that you are out of that situation and that we can be of support to you through your healing process.

I suspect that there's something more going on on his side from a psychological vantage point that I would hazard a guess might have something to do with his family life growing up. Always wonder why men seem to think this kind of behaviour is right and okay and "not abnormal". Geez. Where do they get this sense of what's normal that seems to be so different from what actually is? And yet if you tell them they're being emotionally abusive, they'd absolutely refute that.

Anyway, thank you for sharing your story.

November 6, 2013 - 12:25pm

Well said, Kim.

Can't really offer much more.

Sometimes you get to the point when you know you've done everything you could to make it work, and realize it's healthier for you and your children to get out.

Love...true love...does not do all the things he's doing to you.

June 5, 2012 - 5:09pm

Ohhh I am sooo sorry Anonymous, that is tough stuff. You are not stupid, you are trying hard and I applaud your efforts. Now you know this isn't going to work for you anymore and you have choices to make. If you start within, with the knowing that it's not your job to keep him happy, calm, or engaged, that will help. I have a tips list for managing emotional abuse, if you want a copy email me at: kimromancorle@me.com. Do you have a counselor or therapist that can help you navigate this path?
Remember you are not alone, there are lots of us out here!!!

June 5, 2012 - 3:25pm
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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.