Facebook Pixel

Emotional Abuse: The Invisible Marriage Killer

By HERWriter
Rate This
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

i've be married 8 years to my husband. It started out a little rocky but we were young and figuring things out. I can't even begin to tell you when the control started but I noticed he started using words like "don't cry your just being emotional " or "well that's not smart". then nothing was good enough. i wasn't working enough, i worked too much, i shared too much, i don't talk enough, i dont make enough, i spend to much (when he actually spends more than me). the list goes on. and then the demeaning stuff. how i'm not as successful, i'm not capable of doing things on my own. i am too sheltered. I asked my husband for romance once and he said "he's too busy and too tired and i could never understand because i have it's it easier".
i am 29 year old and stuck in loveless marriage with a very emotionally abusive husband and I will end up the bad guy if i leave.

March 1, 2017 - 1:15pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Did I write this?? Also 29.. turning 30 in a couple weeks in a pretty sad and lonely marriage. Hoping to leave this world sooner than later. Good luck to you.

April 9, 2017 - 8:27pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

"Hope to leave this world sooner than later". Don't allow another person to influence you so deeply, please. You are worth more than you believe - allow yourself the chance and time to realize this. Please keep us posted. If you have nothing else, you've got some anonymous people rooting for you - that's a lot more than nothing. Hang in there...

April 11, 2017 - 11:03pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

'I will end up the bad guy' are words that keep you in place and being judged is what you are used to - sounds like you are married to my ex-husband, there was never 'enough' of me to do anything right. And then one day I realized that it didn't matter what I did, it would never be enough and he wasn't changing. More importantly, it wasn't my job to change him, that was his journey. So I got busy. I learned about verbal and emotional abuse and I stopped trying to please. The better I became, the worse things got and that was b/c he couldn't manipulate me anymore. Get some education (go to verbalabuse.com for starters), go to a therapist and get moving. You are young and your soul knows you are hurting which is why you are seeking help. I also have some tips to share. Stay strong, we are warriors and this takes bravery. Hugs.

March 29, 2017 - 10:38am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

I know its really hard to just up and leave. This can also potentionally put you in alot of danger. First off, realize "I am being abused." accepting it is hard, feeling valid is hard as your abuser makes you feel like its not bad or you're not supposed to be suffering from this, but take my word that you are valid. This is allowed to hurt you. I'd say to go to a friend's or relative's house, and there, talk to them about it, then discuss with them the options you have. If they invalidate your abuse, find someone else.
You are not the bad guy. You never are when being abused, its not your fault. This will be hard, but its better than staying there right? I believe in you, and best of luck in your healing process. Love, a abuse victim, we're strong, we're not the bad guys.

March 29, 2017 - 9:57am
EmpowHER Guest

Someone help. I am a lady.... I am hurting...unshed tears seem to chock me all the time. I cover up my unhappiness with telling jokes at work and generally. I have done all I can to get work..good paying work but have not succeeded yet...I left a good job thinking I will get a better one 8 yrs ago but that has not happened. Then I fell in love. O I fell in love. I have done all in my power to support my family..including venturing into business that have failed...I have hawked soap on the streets to get us a meal, sold my clothes in the same vein so that my unemployed husband survives...borrowed left and right to pay our rent after our house was bought...my husband used most of the money by the way to pay his debts...after all that my husband has stated that I am the cause of our present problems. I am crushed beyond what I can say...everytime he's unhappy he goes silent and even refuses to sleep in our bed...then when he is happy he expects you to respond to his happiness like nothing ever happened. I understand pain and I feel for him, but what do I do after I am drained myself. Even when he had a job, he still threw these silent tantrums, then I would throw the loud tantrums..I remember one loud one specificall, a sign that I too I'm broken ...now I have prayed and I find myself silent but unhappy...so unhappy. What do I do?

February 25, 2017 - 6:58am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

LEAVE this SPOILT CHILD CONTROL FREAK. Is IT really a man OR A DRAG QUEEN? They behave like that!! Rotten parenting - mum and dad must have been selfish too, just like him, to raise this dog.

March 16, 2017 - 2:41pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Leave. This sounds like my life. Leave, and the sooner you leave, the sooner you can eventually begin to heal. Leave.

February 26, 2017 - 8:09pm
EmpowHER Guest

i have been emotionally abusive to my husband of almost 14 years. we have 3 kids together and things got noticeably worse after our first child was born (9 yrs ago). i put my baby at the top of my priority list and i treated my husband with little to no respect. each new baby put my husband lower on the totem pole. i have demeaned him in public and in front of the kids, i have cheated on him 3 times, i have used anger and emotions to control and manipulate him. i have also just learned that this is emotional abuse. i see clearly that i learned this behavior from my mom and have been modeling her behavior as an adult - despite being determined "never to be like my mom!". my husband had an 'awakening' about 2 weeks ago and as a result is dealing with a level of depression and anger ive never seen. he has been bed-ridden for a week and basically lives in our basement. he was prepared to divorce me almost immediately because of the trauma ive put him through. we have since put a pin in that plan as i have done everything i can to rectify the situation. i am now in therapy to understand my problem better and to unlearn this behavior but my husband is so so doubtful that i can make the changes necessary for him to stay in our marriage. i want to change for many reasons - the biggest ones being i dont want my kids to model my behavior with their partners, i dont want to rip their worlds apart and i feel devastated that ive created this huge, heart-breaking hurt. i know i cant erase the past but i could really use some guidance and support from others who understand my story. thanks in advance

February 21, 2017 - 11:27pm
EmpowHER Guest

Wow I honestly didn't know that what I have been experiencing for the past 11 years was abuse. The first time he ignored me for three days. We were in our first year of marriage and I felt like my heart was literally being ripped out of my chest. I would try to speak to him to find out what I'd done that was so terrible and he looked right past me as if I was invisible. I cried myself to sleep every night until finally he broke the silence and told me what the issue was. His reason was valid so I accepted that his reaction was valid as well until this became a pattern. Minor "infractions " resulted in three days of silence as well. Early in our marriage I'd do my best to fix it. I felt like his affection was vital to my sanity as well as my self esteem. We have 4 children in our home and I felt that him leaving would be devastating to all of us so I'd smooth things over. Massage his back. Speak softly and lovingly even though he refused to respond or even acknowledge what I now realize was groveling and begging like a dog. Sometimes it worked and I'd feel so accomplished. If he wanted sex of course I suffered through it even though I felt nothing because the emotional connection wasn't there and I blamed myself because I love my husband and didn't understand why my body would not respond. When he completely rebuffed my apologies I'd feel even worse than if I'd stayed in my corner. Now 11 years later I'm finally aware that this behavior cannot continue. I thought that I could or should continue to suffer in silence until my children were older but I am going to have to rely on my real source of support and that's my creator. I can't continue to make my husband my God. I won't allow him to control me and my emotions not one more day. Thank you for this article. It confirmed what I knew in my heart was true.

February 4, 2017 - 7:22am
Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy
Add a Comment

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.