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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
Anonymous (reply to kimromancorle)

You are right, I have been doing a lot of reading about emotional abuse and how it can sneak up on you. My marriage fits the criteria, we have been together for so long and it just became normal, but now that our daughter is older and he is doing the same thing to her and it effects her. My eyes are wide open now.

June 23, 2017 - 5:42am
(reply to Anonymous)

You are brave. Step by step, bit by bit, moment by moment, thought by thought you will change your life...We are all with you:))

June 23, 2017 - 6:53am
EmpowHER Guest

I kept silent from my abusive husband n cheating husband because of my son....recently because of these. I got stroke. And ending with paralyse .if I divorced long time ago I ll never happen like this I feel sorry all my life. Now I want divorce but hard for me to go to all kinds of court n money people because lawyers are costly in New York. Anybody can help me

June 17, 2017 - 2:42am
(reply to Anonymous)

There are numerous social services offices in NY that can help you with advice, guidance and next steps. No time like the present to take back your power and move on, abuse will continue and you have a chance to change the tide. Take it and move forward - you can do this, and you will celebrate all that you are with every step of empowerment. Hugs to you:)

June 18, 2017 - 9:11am
EmpowHER Guest

I don't know where to start because I don't even know if I'm being emotionally abused. I just know that the way I'm being treated is wrong. I feel sad, exhausted and emotionally drained. We've been fighting a lot recently and I endured lots of "silence treatments", lots of dismissals. If wasn't for the kids I wouldn't even talk to him or address him because sometimes he doesn't even care to answer, it's like I don't exist. I know he's doing it to make a point or to punish me of my wrongdoings and I know it's wrong. I remember once we had a fight and I had to go out and buy something, he hid the car key to punish me, so would walk in the rain. Our recent fight was about sex, we just had a baby and I'm constantly tired, I do my best in this area but most of the time I find myself sleeping before I can even lay my head on the pillow. I feel so guilty about it. I blame myself a lot, mostly for not further my education. I feel like I don't bring a lot to the table. I'm being constantly criticized and feel I'm not doing anything right. I'm at the lowest point in my life. I feel hopeless and powerless.

May 25, 2017 - 11:51am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

I feel the same way its gotten worst since a refirgerator slammed on my head breaking my neck and smashing up my whole back Pray for
Me . I'M Terrance a man. Libra is making me be
Quiet Pray She stop

June 22, 2017 - 9:44am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Why Adopting?Kids are gift and every human,Male/woman born of a woman,Has the Gift of Kids to be a father or Mother....Its not bad to adopt and also its also every mothers zeal to carry her kids for 9months,Breast feed and cater for the baby till adult hood.i had a friend who has been barren for 20years of her marriage and nature has it her husband and family members were encouraging and also prayerful for the gift of the womb,she visited all doctors and hospital for consultation and scans,test to see if her and her husband have issues and to no avail it has been proved by doctors that she would never conceive..She got worried and troubled cause she knew the outcome of been barren towards family members.. Am a Doctor and had issues with my husband too,We were already headed for divorce,I was depressed and have to sort for solution for my marriage,Went online and i surfed all night until i saw a testimony of similar problems in my marriage with a contact ''http://spirituallovetemple.webs.com/''. I have no option than to contact this great prophet Osaze,Who told me all that has befallen my marriage and also the future outcome.I was astonished with his findings and have proceed with a prayer section for me and told me to watch my marriage glow like a Rose flower in the Rich Garden..Behold after 24hrs of his prayer section via Phone calls, My husband came home that evening,pleaded with me not to divorce or never leave him,cause am his breath and life,Promised me he will never break the Vow we have sworn to keep till death...Wow! Great Osaze must be praised again....To cut story short! i referred my friend with this barren issues after i had her scanned in the clinic,Telling her All hope mustn't be on science(Its Man Made),Seek spiritual Help(Eyes of the Creator),I gave her his contact,She contacted him and i was glad that i could help her to cause she had twins after divine intervention...Its a miraculous deliverance for me and her,I have not met this great man,But i Urge all in distress,Breakups,Divorce,financial problems,Lost of jobs,Sickness which sciences can solve E.T.C, Seek for lasting solution to all your worries Contact him Via Email: (spirituallove @ hotmail .com)

June 27, 2017 - 6:38am
(reply to Anonymous)

I feel for you. I'm apparently at the end of a 38 year marriage. I consider myself a fairly intelligent woman but it I feel SO incredibly stupid that it took me this long to admit that I've been letting him run my life. He's been so subtle I'm not even sure HE realizes what he's done. Of course it's "all my fault" so I have to take some drastic steps. Please do not feel powerless. Step up and get whatever support you can. There IS more to our lives than following a path that we can clearly see will ruin us and leave us destitute. NO MORE! You are not alone!

May 31, 2017 - 10:20am
(reply to OCWOMAN)

No, no, no, you are not stupid. You are forgiving, determined and you try hard. When we realize that we are putting good energy after bad, we start to step up and figure things out; when staying becomes more painful than leaving, you are done. I think you are brave and we are all surrounding you cheering you on!!!! HUGS.

June 2, 2017 - 11:23am
(reply to Anonymous)

Honey. You are being emotionally abused, controlled and gaslighted. You are worthy and valuable. Lots of couples have disagreements about sex, but very, very, very few have partners that hide car keys to punish their spouse. The hardest aspect to all of this is the process of experiencing the abuse - you defend yourself which then leads to arguments and then find yourself wondering if it's you or if there is really a problem. Go to www.verbalabuse.com and read up on what is happening to you, it's all there and will help you feel less out of control. The next step is to decide to take back your power, step by step, bit by bit. A therapist will help validate what you are experiencing but the real work is in deciding that you aren't going to live like this. I have some articles and resources as well if you want to email me at [email protected]. Hang in there and keep moving forward, your post is a terrific first step, it's hard to reach out when you are feeling so low. But we are all with you so know that you aren't alone. Sending a hug.

May 25, 2017 - 2:56pm
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