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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

(reply to Anonymous)

You are brave to stand up and notice this - it's not easy and we all have our paths to walk as we figure out what is happening to us. Your children are learning from you, what works, what doesn't, and what is acceptable. Facing this and saying 'no thank you, I won't be treated like this anymore' is a healthy decision that will empower all of you. Big hugs to you.

February 4, 2017 - 9:27am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to kimromancorle)

Thanks so much

February 9, 2017 - 12:17am
EmpowHER Guest

My wife is emotionally abusing me. We have been married for a little over a year and we dated about six months before marriage. At first, I thought her angry assaults were my fault, until I started doing some research. The more stories I read, the more I realize my wife fits the description of Borderline Personality Disorder exactly. She explodes on me for the smallest of things. She blames me for everything. She calls me awful names and cusses me often. If i disagree with her, there is hell to pay. I really want to leave badly, but feel guilt for leaving her and her two teenage boys. Although, her 17 year old son is very disrespectful and hateful towards me.

February 2, 2017 - 9:58am
(reply to Anonymous)

Dear Anon, I'm so sorry. I did the same thing, dated for 6 months, got married, things were awful and I was yelled at constantly and wondered what the hell had happened. Guilt means you feel you haven't done as much as you could and as you know, you can only control and manage yourself so I would offer you a pass on this, you can't fix someone, that is their journey. Get a good therapist, keep your boundaries and move along. Life is too short to be someones whipping post - I gave it nine years and it was nine years too many. p.s. Disrespect doesn't below in any house, that is just unacceptable, even if it is your stepson. Hang tight and take care of yourself.

February 3, 2017 - 10:28am
(reply to kimromancorle)

Thank you:)

March 1, 2017 - 2:15pm
EmpowHER Guest

I'm a man and I'm being emotionally abused. This is going on two years now. Is there anywhere where I can get help? Please help me. I can't take it anymore.

January 6, 2017 - 8:36pm
EmpowHER Guest

I have to tell you, this article touches me because it is so unbelievably accurate to my life. EVERY WORD is accurate. Every word used. I feel imprisoned and I am not sure what to do. On one hand I stay because my children need what I was never given: stability. I am the child of an abusive alcoholic and his enabler, I am biracial and was never liked by either side; too dark for the one, too light for the other. I was bullied by girls as a young woman because we were poor, I was never dressed well and was always the new girl...and was painfully shy. Long story short, but I am an only child, and my Dad was quite clear on binges (he was a mean drunk) that I was supposed to be male, since only men make men. So I ran as soon as I turned 18 to the Army and ended up marrying the first guy that was nice to me, and I have been married for almost 26 years. I was going to leave a long time ago when he read my journal but my Dad told me that I had made my bed and I needed to lie in it. So I have. If you met him you would love him, he is outgoing, very friendly to all he meets...he never meets a stranger. Everyone, and i mean everyone, loves him. Women in our church told me that I could leave, just let him stay. Imagine how that felt. See, the problem is, we see him behind closed doors. We see who he really is, the person he REALLY is. Not the show you all see, because that is what it is; a show. He is the guy that will have drinks with you and put draino in your shampoo to make your hair fall out, and chuckle about it. And all the time you would have him over for barbq and think what a wonderful guy this is, and you would probably think I am the PRICK because I am actually a real person that does no put on a facade. I will not go into detail in regard to our relationship, but your article is truth, and I am not sure what to do or where to go. Adding to this, I am a cancer survivor and suffer from aggressive RA and need medical insurance, so my decisions are not as easy as just getting up and leaving. And you add my children and the fact that I believe in God and take my vows seriously. But I am simply miserable, my life is walking on eggshells.... doing everything I can to change myself, doing everything I can to keep a peaceful environment for my children. What will make him happy, how to make him happy. I never, ever complain. Ever. I id on Sat and wow, did I pay for it, he chewed me out and as always, would have left had I not become tired of it. He knows I have abandonment issues from my own Dad and he preys upon them, he will tell me quick "I'll just leave"....anytime he may not get his way. I have been blamed for everything from his lack of happiness to his being an ahole to his genetics in the past, he even created an online persona so that "person" could REALLY tell me what he thought about me...and boy, did they ever. The cruelty in the words that came from the IMs and emails of that "person" I have never been able to get over or forget. They were spitting with pure venom, calling me a bad mother, human being, wife, everything but a child of God. Our house is peaceful....as long as I never complain or disagree. As long as he is in complete control and I am the humble, meek wife its all good. I just do not know me anymore, and I dread intimacy. At the same time, I look towards a life of never owning a home, never really moving forward. Its the same thing with me, I think I shut my mind to things. I did not realize that I was sexually abused by my uncle until I was in my 30s. Why would I, it was the only time I had ever felt loved, as sick as that sounds. But the honest truth is, the only "love" I remember is when my uncle did very bad things when I was 8 years old, so it was hard to see them as bad. But again....until then, we were evicted every few months, my dad beat my mom and did drugs, ran with other women, my mom resented me for keeping her in the relationship, noone really loved me because they hated my dad so much and i was too mexican for the whites and too white for the mexicans....so for someone to tell me that i was beautiful and a good girl, i just ate it up to be honest. And now I am more lonely than I have ever been, completely isolated., and I have to find my way with my babies. I just don't know how.

December 5, 2016 - 12:16pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

I feel for your predicament. I can't truly relate, but I do feel that you NEED TO RUN! with every ounce of your being! Seek help, go to counseling. I did. Best decision I've EVER made. Your husband sounds not only like an emotionally abusive drunkard, but also a very Sociopathic Psycho. Sorry to put this so bluntly, but honey, I'm dealing with a gambling addict. He's smooth. He's carefree.... as long as I don't ask him where my things went or argue with him. Once it starts, he accuses me of every disgusting act of depravity I've NEVER heard of, until I make him explain what he's talking about. I've not wanted to touch him or be touched by him for a long time. My christian upbringing keeps popping into my head EVERY TIME I deny him sexual intimacy. But I stopped caring. I've become empty and I now know why. It was not my fault! It was my HUSBAND's!!! Once I realized that, I've never been so clear-headed, never felt so empowered to do what was right. Not just for me, but for my children.

December 14, 2016 - 2:50pm
EmpowHER Guest

I sympathize emphatically with all these sad women. I can say as an abused husband all these situations apply to me as well. Glad to have more insight into my pathetic situation, I need to clear the guilt. We are not going to continue as victims but feel better for escaping now.

November 11, 2016 - 6:05pm

Hey, I'm new on here but would like to share my story with people whom I feel could help to give me strength, courage, and insight. I'm 23 years old and have two children, I've been married to my husband for 3 years and with him for 6. One year ago I decided to speak with him about a divorce, here's why... We argued every day, we wouldn't ever do anything together as a family, he started to neglect our children and lash out on my son who's 4, nothing I did was up to his standards, he'd show myself and children little to no attention. My husband would take care keys from me, leave myself and the kids stranded at home, I had no access to money unless he gave it to me, he started getting your a point where I couldn't attend family functions anymore. He'd constantly go through my phone, lash out on me about friends on my social media, threaten to kill people if I didn't take them off. He had 3 bank accounts behind my back, and all of the vehicles I had limited access to. He git to a point where I could no longer speak with my friends, my family was restricted, and I felt as if I was imprisoned in my own home. My days consisted only of getting up at 6:00A.m cooking him breakfast, making his lunch, doing all of the laundry (washing, ironing his uniforms) yard work, house work, dinner by 5:30 pm and single handedly caring for our kids. When I got up the courage to tell him I wanted out, it got physical. We couldn't even get half way through our paperwork before he started threatening me, and telling me I better not put this asset on there or request certain things. He's a Corrections Officer and had threatened me that if I went to police with my pictures of my bruises he'd get me into trouble because he "had that authority." For the last year I've been fighting tooth and nail to escape him, he has made it extremely difficult for me to find a job, but I'm about to start work soon... I just don't know what more to do. I feel as if I'm honestly trapped. :'(

July 6, 2016 - 9:40pm
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