You don’t see it. There’s no bruising. There are no broken bones. There’s no physical injury present.
Emotional abuse can fly under the radar from an objective point of view, but it’s insidious nature deteriorates a marriage from the inside. Like a virus that shows no outward physical symptoms, emotional abuse can go unnoticed from an observer, but is felt deep within.
The cutting remarks. The putdowns. The constant verbal onslaught. It can be subtle or explicit. Regardless of the delivery, the results are usually the same. Emotional abuse can be one of the greatest poisons to a relationship and marriage. Below we’ll explore some of the major effects of spousal emotional abuse, both to the person being abused, and the relationship as a whole.
When a spouse intentionally degrades the worth of their partner through their actions or words, it can turn the victim of the abuse into a shell of themselves. Each word or insult thrown their way just chips away at the person that they are. It could be as bold as “God, you’re fat”, or as subtle as “Have you put on a few pounds?” No matter the intent, the person being verbally and emotionally abused watches their confidence in themselves disappear. Since their husband or wife, the person that has committed their life to them, shows them that they aren’t worthy of love, they don’t expect it from others. They close up. They put up walls. When someone is a victim of spousal emotional abuse for a certain length of time, it’s hard for them to see why anyone would love them ever.
It’s hard for someone to admit that their marriage is troubled, let alone that they are being emotionally abused by their spouses. We’ve all either experienced this ourselves or seen it a friends relationship over the years. Objectively, it seems clear that one party is being treated poorly. But the person that is in the relationship can’t seem to see the glaring problem. Or even if they do see it, they don’t want to admit it.
They act as though their relationship is the norm, and cover it up with an insecure “Everyone fights, right?” Well, yes. Sort of. Everyone disagrees from time to time in their marriage, but not everyone spends hours cursing each other out and putting each other down. In an attempt to sidestep the embarrassment they may feel, they turn a blind eye to the real problem. They can’t see their emotional abuse because they don’t want to.
Lack of trust
Beautiful marriages are built on a solid foundation of trust and honesty. When a relationship becomes emotionally abusive, that foundation crumbles. The victim of spousal emotional abuse doesn’t know what to expect from their partner, and they can’t trust them to keep things civil. They ride a roller coaster of emotion, waiting for the next lethal put down to rock their world. In this dynamic, they can’t trust their partner to be faithful, be loving, or even be nice. It’s a life of constantly walking around on eggshells, waiting for the next insult to be tossed their way.
Following from the depletion of trust, someone who is a victim of emotional abuse lives in a constant state of fear. Every action that they take and every word that they say may come back to them in the form of an insult or a form of manipulation.
Also, if their partner is so willing to abuse verbally and emotionally, who’s to say that they won’t cross the line of physical abuse? It’s clear that the predatory partner doesn’t have much regard for the worthiness of their partner, so why wouldn’t they escalate their behavior into the physical realm.
The constant of not knowing when their partner is going to erupt leaves the victim of abuse in a sustained state of fear. It’s nearly impossible to shake once the abuse has been ingrained in the relationship.
State of the children
Emotional abuse is bad enough when it’s only experienced between two adults, but throw a kid or two in the mix and it gets that much worse.
Two scenarios could play out, both of them detrimental to the wellbeing of the child. The first is if the abuser in the relationship doesn’t solely slander their spouse, but takes aim at the child in the home as well. It’s unlikely that someone who is willing to abuse their spouse, someone that they’ve committed to love, will stop short of abusing their son’s or daughter’s emotions. When this becomes the case, the damage that it could do to the children is dangerous. Their young minds may not be able to rationalize why their mom or their dad is acting that way. Worse yet, they could see that as the norm. It spells disaster for their future relationships.
The second scenario is one where the children are simply observers of their parents’ emotional abuse. They aren’t in the line of fire of the emotional abuse, but they have front row seats to the action Like the scenario before, their observation of their parents’ marriage in it’s darkest moments may be seen as normal. They may see their mom crying uncontrollably from something their dad said, or their dad stoic and cold due to a cutting remark from their mom, and assume that’s how all relationships are. Somewhere down the line, they’ll come to accept that same treatment because it’s what they grew up observing.
The effects of emotional abuse in a marriage are many, but each one poisons the roots of a strong marriage. Emotional abuse evokes denial, fear, and dangerously low levels of self-worth in waves. It is a hard thing to escape, and usually can’t be seen unless objective eyes call it out. If you find yourself in a relationship that is emotionally abusive, confide in a friend or seek the help of a counselor. The effects of spousal emotional abuse don’t have to be permanent, but the longer that it persists in a marriage or relationship, the harder it will be to recover from. Talk to someone who can help you; the sooner the better.