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Wives Who Abuse: The Other Side of Spousal Abuse

By HERWriter
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Mental Health related image Photo: Getty Images

As promised, in follow-up to my article on women who are emotionally abused by their husbands, and in light of the comments regarding the fact that it’s not always men who are emotionally abusive, I am posting this article regarding wives who abuse their husbands, not only to provide a resource to abused husbands, but to also to hopefully help wives who abuse recognize the behavior and get help for themselves.

Marriage is not about beating someone’s body or soul, whether it be with fists, objects, sex, or words. Marriage is about—or at least it’s supposed to be about—love. Living out the rest of your life with a person you love more than life itself and would give your life for. Most of us would say that about our children. But how many of us struggle with that in our marital relationships.

A World of Opposites

“The U.S. Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) defines domestic violence as a ‘pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner’.” (Wikipedia) Obviously this definition is put forward by a women’s organization, but it applies to men equally.

It’s extremely difficult, perhaps even more difficult, for a man to admit to himself and to those around him that he is being abused at home. More difficult because society’s view of men is that they need to be in control of their situation and that it’s not really abuse. It’s just that the man is being a wimp and letting a strong-willed woman walk all over him—either physically or emotionally. Men may not be believed when they report it to police or a counselor or pastor. They may just be told to stand up and take it like a man.

Unfortunately, the damage done to the psyche of these men can be just as bad as what this kind of advice does to a woman under the same conditions. It’s time to stop the double standard. It is not okay for a man to abuse a woman. That is not what marriage is about, and certainly not a part of the covenant that was signed on the wedding day. It is also equally not okay for a woman to abuse her husband. That is also not what marriage is about and not part of the marital covenant.

A Woman’s Way

Just because women are physically smaller and not as strong in the torso as men, doesn’t mean they can’t get physical or physically hurt a man. They may also, as a means of getting the “upper hand” in a situation where they’re physically out matched, use a weapon—chairs, lamps, pans, vehicles. They can bite, pull hair, throw a kick to the groin, or stomp on toes. A woman’s physical strength is in her hips so many may take advantage of this.

This behavior goes beyond being bossy, difficult, moody, hormonal and strong-willed. And in the vast majority of situations, the wife’s actions are not in self-defense. In fact, a 1988 survey found that in 42-45% of respondent cases, the wife hit first.

A wife may verbally or physically attack her husband as a way of expressing anger, retaliating for emotional hurt, expressing feelings that they had difficulty communicating verbally, and gaining control over the other person (Hines & Malley-Morrison).

But in many cases, the abuse is a symptom of an emotional/mental condition (borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder), probably as a result of abuse in her background.

Dr. Tara Palmatier, PsyD, a clinical psychologist, gives this warning for men:

“Men … [i]f you walk on eggshells around your partner because you’re afraid she’ll flip out on you for minor transgressions or simply because she’s in a bad mood, you’re experiencing emotional abuse. If nothing you do, no matter how hard you try pleases her, you’re experiencing emotional abuse. If she regularly puts you down, criticizes or demeans you through name-calling and humiliation, you’re experiencing emotional abuse. If she shuts you out, gives you the cold shoulder or refuses to have sex with you in order to control your behavior, you’re experiencing emotional abuse. There is no shame in admitting this … it’s your wife or girlfriend who ought to be ashamed.

“Emotional abuse is like a cancer that eats away at your psyche until you’re left feeling powerless, worthless, anxious and/or depressed. Most of the time it happens so gradually that you don’t notice it … She’s not abusive all the time. Sometimes she’s nice. Now and again, she’ll even make a grand loving gesture and you convince yourself that the relationship isn’t that bad. Abusive personality types frequently have a very charismatic and seductive side. If she was all bad all the time, you’d have never become involved with her, right? Their charming side is how they suck people in. Over time, the charm wears thin and their abusive traits dominate.

“You can’t fix this. You can’t make her stop. You can’t make your relationship better … you won’t be able to change her behavior … [I]t’s highly unlikely that [she] will see her behavior as abusive.”

If you—either husband or wife—are reading the below checklist from Dr. Tara and realize emotional abuse has infiltrated and infected your marriage, you need to get help for yourself, foremost, and, if possible, your spousal abuser:

• "Are you spending more and more time at work because you don’t want to go home?
• Have you dropped out of touch with friends and family? When you communicate periodically, do you smile and tell them everything’s great as you feel the knot in your stomach tighten and the lump in your throat harden?
• Do you always feel like you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop?
• Have you withdrawn from life while retreating into alternate realities, e.g., books, films or the Internet?
• Are you experiencing feelings of shame, worthlessness, low self-esteem or emotional numbness?
• Are you experiencing physical symptoms like chronic stomach pain, nausea, headaches, digestive problems, insomnia or fatigue that your doctor can’t diagnose beyond 'may be stress-related'?
• Are you drinking more or using recreational drugs more than you used to? Are you using them to escape from or numb yourself to the unhappiness of your situation?
• Do you feel unlovable? Like something’s 'wrong' with you or that you’re 'bad' or 'crazy'? Do you worry that if you left your partner that no one else would want you?
• Do you experience symptoms of depression, including thoughts of suicide?
• Do you engage in risky behaviors in which your death would be considered 'accidental' like reckless driving, riding your bike along through rough terrain, going into dangerous neighborhoods, or walking into traffic without looking?

(**Note: If you are a wife reading this and you recognize any of the above or the following traits in yourself and in your relationship with your husband—or he has tried to talk to you about your behavior in the past—please seek counseling right away. This is not only affecting your husband, but also your children. It is NEVER okay to abuse another person. You are killing their spirit and their body. That is not what “love” is.)

Sources: Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org – again, used for basic definition purposes); Men’s Rights Agency - American Television Programme on Men as Victims of Domestic Violence (ABC Television 20/20 21st September 1997, “Men Battered by their wives”) (http://www.mensrights.com.au/dvusa13g.htm); “Psychological Effects of Partner Abuse Against Men: A Neglected Research Area” by Denise A. Hines and Kathleen Malley-Morrison, Boston University (Psychology of Men & Masculinity 2001, Vol. 2, No. 2, p. 75-85; http://www.fact.on.ca/Info/dom/hines01.htm); "When Love Hurts: The Emotionally Abused Man" by Dr. Tara Palmatier, PsyD (http://shrink4men.wordpress.com/2009/01/23/when-love-hurts-the-emotionally-abused-man/)

Add a Comment4 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

My fiancee is clinically depressed and not only does she constantly talk about wanting to die and to kill herself but she will tell me things like: I dont make her happy, I am not good enough, and "I'm drowning and dying every day. I want to give up".

We have spent a lot of time working together to understand her depression and I try to support her and follow the tools I have learned from various websites . I dont blame her, I dont try to fix her, I let her know that while her feelings are extreme she is never wrong for feeling a certain way. I ask how can I help and reassure her that I am here for her always.

Still, am I not allowed to feel like shit when she says shes rather die than be with me another day? Is my fiancee emotionally abusing me? It sure feels like she is. Or am I an idiot who doesn't understand hardcore clinical depression?

September 10, 2014 - 10:48am
HERWriter (reply to Anonymous)

Sounds like you're trying to manage her depression without seeking professional help from a psychiatrist. That level of depression needs to be treated not just managed. I admire you for how you're handling it by not blaming her or belittling her feelings. You have to know that it really has nothing to do with you, but I think on a certain level she understands that no matter how much you want to help her and love her, you can't. I don't think she really means to make you feel bad, but this really is beyond your abilities. People who are mentally ill really don't have control over what they're saying or doing, they're just reacting out of their extreme pain or condition. Yes, she is being emotionally abusive; however, there is a psychiatric/psychological condition from which her words and attitudes are coming. 

Before you walk down the aisle, I would really highly recommend that she seek professional help. There is often a chemical imbalance that needs to be treated medicinally when depression is that deep -- I'd also be curious how long this has been going on, if there were any recent triggers.

Anyway, to get your marriage off on a more solid footing, you and she need to do this. She might protest getting help and if she does, you need to guide her along through the referral and appointment process because it's the only thing that can help her. You also need to know and understand how hard it's going to be living day-to-day with that depression, and the professional can help you with that as well.

Thank you for sharing your story. Hope this helps.

September 11, 2014 - 11:37am
EmpowHER Guest

Women have been abusing men for years. I went through one of the most horrific periods in my life when my ex wife used the Family Court system to terrorize me and destroy my life almost entirely. Emotional abuse is much worse than physical abuse. The average male has no chance of protection in the family court system. I spent 2 and 1/2 years recovering enough so I could begin to live some kind of life.
This type of article is long overdue and there needs to be more on this subject.

May 15, 2011 - 7:05am
HERWriter (reply to Anonymous)

Thank you for sharing your story. You're right it is long overdue and I hope that others that read this article who need help will take advantage of the information and resources I've listed at the end of the article. Obviously it's not an exhaustive list, but it's a start.

May 16, 2011 - 6:58am
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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.