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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)

Thank you so much for replying, I really appreciate it. I will read the article for sure and check out the website. I'm starting to feel less alone.

May 26, 2017 - 9:22am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to kimromancorle)

Even though I have been divorced for 14 years and have a wonderful therapist, after 23 years of silent abuse, I almost cried when I read your article and the woman's (anonymous) story above! At last, an article that described the hell I lived through and the mental devastation it causes. I am sending it to my grown children! (article only). I have been trying for years to describe why it is so hard for me to attend family functions when he is there. "Mom! It's been --years! Get over it!" Well, I'm trying! So, I pray that woman hears the truth when you say, " Honey, you are being emotionally abused, controlled and gaslighted!" Keep up the good work!!! I pray we women help each other!

May 25, 2017 - 8:18pm
EmpowHER Guest

I believe anybody that owns 100% of your heart is worth fighting for. Yes, I am boasting because I never adhered to some negative advice from my parents when I was about getting married. There was a war between our two family then my husband was his mothers puppy, his family members used him a lot that he cant make any decision without consulting them. What surprised me most was the moment a 36-year-old man seeks his parent and some family members consent before dating anyone, the worst happened when he was instructed to bring me along to their country home in N. Rampart, New Orleans, it was risky to accept such invitation.
The war between our families started when he finally proposed (that was about 4 years ago), his family gave some conditions if he must wife me (we have to live with them), I was in shock when my husband accepted and was happy with their conditions (so crazy). My family wagged and demanded I should breakup with him immediately.
I decided to give him the last shot as a man whom has already taken over 100% of my heart, I took a risk to go spiritual with them by consulting Priest AKOBE via [email protected], I dont know how but the spiritual father already knew I was going to consult him. He first of all told me the danger I was into and how my husband has been enslaved since birth, how they keep brain washing him to do their wills.
Like the quote that says a person sees clearly only with the heart, I realized that nobody saw what I saw in my husband and thats why I used the help of PRIEST AKOBE to put him out of his misery. His eyes where opened by PRIEST AKOBE for the first time, his family fell in love with me and granted every of our request, our families have known peace since after the love spell. It is over 2 years after the love spell and my husband has continued to improve every day without interference from his family. I have waited too long to share this amazing piece. Thanks for your time and also to PRIEST AKOBE. I knew him through reading some amazing testimonies on blogs

May 22, 2017 - 10:02pm
EmpowHER Guest

I was in an emotionally and physically abusive marriage for 13 years. We had two daughters. When my youngest was two, after trying every thing that I could think of to save our family, I gave up and left him. I was escorted out by the police and victim services. I supported my daughters pretty well on my own for 10 ten years. When my youngest was 13, he removed her from public education and illegally enrolled her in home schooling in his home. For many months I tried to fight him in court since I had all educational decisions. The law basically told me that she was of age to decide. Fast forward 12 years - her education stopped there and she is his farm hand and raises horses. Living her dream as he puts it. Sadly I am extremely allergic to animals and can't be part of her life. The older daughter lived with me for the most part and graduated from university. She is now a chartered accountant. I financially supported her education. When she was young he fostered a love of dogs and showing dogs in her. Sad for me - also allergic to dogs. Now they are both adults and the youngest lives at his home. The other spends a lot of time there because his new wife shares the dog show hobby. I rarely see them unless they need money or something done for them. I am a good person (by all reports) and can not understand why this has happened to me. I was encouraged to leave him for my safety and to empower my girls against following in this abusive life style. Sometimes I am so sad I doubt my choice about leaving.

May 7, 2017 - 4:46pm
(reply to Anonymous)

It is really hard when you have to let go & let be and one of the hardest things in life is to accept people for who they are. That includes our kids, the decisions they make and how they live. You are a warrior and brave and absolutely, positively did the right thing - can you even imagine how they would have turned out if they had been witness to all of the abuse? They would seek out abusers on their own and continue the cycle. You broke it and did it single handedly. Get some therapy, go to a community event, volunteer or find some new friends who share a hobby. It's time for you to get the support you need, this will all work out in the long run, things always do. Sending you a hug.

May 8, 2017 - 8:45am

I started dating my now husband when I was only 17 and I felt a sense of freedom that I had never felt before. I came from an abusive household where my sister and I were brought up by a mother with very bad mental health issues and we were very secluded and not aloud to spend time with other children outside of school. It took me a long time to free myself of my family, but my now husband really helped me. He wasn't perfect. In fact, he often made remarks about my physique, my weight, my friends and my family, but I let it slide because I was in love and I felt like he was the first person I could talk to about the hell I experienced at home. We lived together throughout our studies, we got married and had kids.
After my first child was born I had some post natal depression and had bad anxiety attacks that made me stay at home a lot. As we live in a town far from any family and friends i was really isolated. When my daughter was nearly a year old I decided I would go back to finish my studies (that I had broken off because I was pregnant) and he made me feel really guilty about it. He talked about how the whole family had to suffer so I could finish my studies and how he had to pay for a babysitter. And I did feel guilty, so I really put my head down and studied hard. I never socialised with any of my fellow students and always turned down their invitations because I thought it wasn't fair on my family and I was scared that it might upset my husband. He never felt bad about socialising though, but I thought he had a right to it because he was earning the money and I was only looking out for my studies. Of course he would also reinforce this by telling me that I wasn't entitled to anything because I didn't work and that it was his money to spend. I should be happy to even have food on the table.
Then, as I was pregnant with my second and just before my finals, he decided to go on a trip with his brother for 2 weeks to Japan. I was shocked because he wouldn't even let me go for a coffee and I thought we had troubles with money, but there we was, flying to the other side of the planet and at a time when I needed his help and support the most.
I almost failed my exams and I was so stressed out that I started having contractions and was so scared that my baby would be born prematurely. Then, when my baby wasn't even a month old he went on another holiday, to Italy this time, for another 2 weeks. This is when my postnatal depression started and I've been finding it hard to cope. I've been caring for 2 children and sometimes have angry outbursts where I lose my temper at one of the children and scream at them. I never hit them, but my husband still manages to make me feel like the worst mother in the world. He compares me to my mother and although I know I am nothing like her (she often became very violent) I still have this knit in my stomach that I could be harming them in some way.
He, on the other hand, feels no remorse whatsoever in slapping our 3 year old girl in the face when she refuses to put on her shoes or has a temper tantrum. And when I confront him about it, because I refuse to let anyone hurt my children, he projects it all right back at me and tells me that he is stressed because he had to do all the work of looking after her while I was taking care of baby.
He makes me feel guilty for eating too much or for buying things that he doesn't use (like my shampoo or moisturiser or a box of cereal). He complains that the house is a mess but if I then ask him to mind the kids for an hour so I can tidy and clean he complains about that. If I tidy but let my baby cry a little so I can get something done he'll complain that I'm neglecting the children.
I just don't know what to think. I feel like such a failure and I hate him for making me feel like this. I try to put myself in his shoes and wonder if there's something I'm not seeing and if I'm the problem.
I don't have any friends or family to talk to because I've always sacrificed everything for this relationship and I have nobody to ask. All of my friends are just his friends that I sometimes get to spend time with when they come over to the house. And they all love him because he's a very charismatic person.
I've considered leaving him, but I'm afraid that he will take my children away from me and use my depression against me. And I have no job and no support system and I'm not a very strong person. I don't think I would have the confidence or know how and I couldn't live without my children.
I'm so lost. Please help me make sense of this.

April 19, 2017 - 2:42pm
(reply to Mulan121)

You are very strong and determined - going back to school, managing all of the upheaval and still noticing what is going on and seeking help takes courage. You are not a failure b/c you are in a controlling and abusive relationship, you are just trying hard to keep things going. First, get to the Dr and find some help for the depression, he/she will also be able to guide you on social services and what is available so you can get some counseling and help. Know that he will complain about any and everything so all you can control is your reaction - if you give his complaints a big mental 'whatever' then you will find that the power he has over your emotions will begin to subside b/c if you aren't worried about keeping him happy, you won't be caught up in his demands. This is easier said than done but you can do it. Leaving him would be the best gift you could give him, you and the children. Abuse and control are cycles and once the explosion/complaint is over, there is a honeymoon period where you think 'ok , things will be alright' and then there comes tension, and then another explosion and on it goes. 99% of physical abuse begins with verbal and emotional abuse so what you are experiencing is considered abuse. Quietly reach out to friends and family and find some support, you'll be surprised at how much help is available once you start down that road. There are websites with tons of information, including Patricia Evan's website, www.verbalabuse.com - I have some other resources if you want to email me at [email protected] I will send them to you. Hang tight sweetie, you are on the way to a healthier life. HUGS.

April 20, 2017 - 7:19am
EmpowHER Guest

I have been married to my husband for almost 11 yrs now. We have two children together. He has cut people out of my life. I have no family or friends. He talks like I don't need them in my life because they are not perfect. Because they have problems Yet so does he and he doesn't even talk to his own family. He is on SSI and I work full time and have the one car when I am at work. But if I am not at work I am with him. He complains that I don't love him or give him enough attatien when he is the only person I conversate with other than co-workers at work. He makes me call him and take pictures with my cell phone when I leave work, arrive at work and go on break. He has a camera in the car to watch me. He tells me who I can and can not have on my Facebook page. Today I got off of work 10 mins late and he started yelling at me, saying I must be cheating on him with someone because I should not be getting off late everyday. I work in customer survice so I don't always get off on time. He argued with me for two hours about this and brought up other old stuff from 8 yrs ago when I told him little white lies. When I arrived home I forgot to lock the car door. Later that night he came down staris to check the car (he does this everynight because he doesn't trust me to lock the car) This is the first time in over a year I forgot to lock the car door. He came up stairs and be littled me, yelled at me, told me it's over (he always does this when he is angry, and he's angry every few days) how I am a bad mom and a stupid person. In front of the children and the agurement went on and on and on. I have to leave the apartment to end it because he does not stop. I feel trapped in this marriage and I don't know what to do. :( We have two children, no family around us and we have one car. I can't even leave if I wanted to because I can't leave him with the children with no car and I can't leave without a car. I have been trying to keep this marriage alive but I just can't take this abuse anymore. Also if I refuse to have sex with him he get's angry and says that I don't love him and he says this is way he is the way he is and why he doesn't trust me because I don't want to have sex every few days. I used to be a happy person with lot's of friends, now I am a shadow of my formor self with no one but my children keep me going in this life. Help me.

April 13, 2017 - 9:37pm
(reply to Anonymous)

The funny thing about being controlled is that you never know what is coming next - you didn't clean well enough or you shopped at the wrong store or you can't talk to other people because they are bad or whatever......so know that it will always (!) be something b/c people who need to control others have fear and insecurities. They have their path and you have yours. You are in a tricky situation b/c of the car and distance issues but there is help out there. This is unhealthy for all of you (including him b/c it continues his illness) and the hard reality is that you will have to take back your power and begin to make changes. I had such a hard time realizing that my ex didn't 'make me feel guilty' but that I was buying into his craziness. So step by step I got help and figured this out. It takes great bravery to move forward, find some counseling or social services that offer some help and stop the madness. Reach out to family members when you have some privacy and see if they can help. Let us know how you are, we have all been there and you aren't alone and you aren't a bad person and you aren't a bad Mom. You are tangled in a controlling and abusive relationship and need to untangle this cycle. If you want some additional articles and info, email me at [email protected] Don't give up, you can do this, sending you a big hug. Stay strong.

April 20, 2017 - 7:05am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

have you sat down with your husband and told him exactly how he is making you feel.. this is not just abuse hun hes controlling you. no one should have to live like this,
you might be his wife but he doesn't own your life hun.. you should be doing things you like to do. not what he wants you to do.. this control has to stop hun put your cards on the table and tell him straight,. as for the camera watching you.. I cant believe it. tell him this is not happening . I sure feel for you , infact I could cry

April 18, 2017 - 6:20am
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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.