Signs of Emotional Abuse in a Marriage

Signs of emotional abuse in marriage

Often when we marry, we have the belief that our spouses will do what they indicated in the vows they took- that is love us and honor us and be committed to our relationship.  We make promises to be there for each other and to go through life together as one.  We believe that we both have the same convictions and motivations to listen and care about what the other is thinking and feeling and work together to problem solve when there are issues that come up between us.  From our perspective, we believe that we will each have each other’s best interests at heart and it will be a self giving relationship.

It won’t be lopsided with one person doing all the taking and the other doing all the giving.  All of these beliefs and hopes about our relationships are good and right but sometimes one’s spouse says all the “right things” to draw him or her into a relationship and then after the wedding is over, becomes a very selfish, dictatorial person who is emotionally abusive.  At first it may be hard to recognize that is what is happening.  We try very hard to be “perfect” in the relationship but it doesn’t seem to be enough.  We may have intense feelings of hurt and anger, but not understand where those feelings are coming from or why they are even present.

There are a number of signs that we need to be aware of that will help us to identify the presence of emotional abuse.  Let’s take a look at a number of those signs

1. Love and Acceptance appears to be based on performance. No matter how hard you work at making the house clean and tidy or how much time and effort you put into fixing a dinner that is “fit for a king,” it is never enough or done right or done at the right time, etc.  Then you begin to feel that you don’t measure up and cannot possibly be loved by your spouse or even be acceptable to him.  You work harder and harder with the same results.

2. Withholding of affection especially sexual intimacy. Why should your spouse be affectionate toward someone who doesn’t measure up to his standards.  He may state that his expectations are not being met and that you are not worthy of his affection, unless you shape up.

3. Spouse continually criticizes everything about you.  You are too fat, too skinny, too ugly, and on and on.  Your spouse may say you don’t have anything worthwhile to say so you need to keep your mouth shut.  Your spouse may say you don’t take care of him the way he wants you to. Basically, you cannot do anything right!

4. Your spouse calls you all kinds of names such as stupid, brainless, ignorant, loser, and much worse names.  He may even indicate that you are the selfish one who doesn’t care about his needs.

5. In arguments, your spouse is always right and always has to have the last word.  You never have anything worth saying and you are always wrong.  Your spouse will let you know that he knows best.

6. Your spouse gives you the silent treatment, making you guess what is wrong and try to fix it. This creates second guessing of ourselves.  It is almost impossible to fix something that you don’t know is broken!

7. The way your spouse addresses you in conversation is disrespectful most of the time.  He is sarcastic and demeaning whenever he talks to you.

8. Your spouse reminds you frequently how fortunate you are to be in this relationship because “look how well he provides for you and no one else would ever want you!

9. Your spouse uses key words or phrases to manipulate you and your behavior, such as, the “D” word (divorce).  He may threaten you over and over again with divorce if you don’t do what he wants you to do or how he wants it done.  He may threaten to withdraw love from you or withhold finances from you if you don’t “behave.”

10.  If you have children, he may teach the children to be disrespectful of you in how they talk to you and treat you and turn them against you as their parent.

11. You find yourself saying you’re sorry frequently and your spouse never apologizes for any issues that come up or for his way of handling certain situations or for things he says to you or for calling you names or for being disrespectful to you in other ways.

If any or all of these signs are a part of your marriage relationship, there is definitely emotional abuse going on in your marriage. This behavior is never okay in a loving relationship.  You do not deserve to be treated poorly even though you may have come to the place of believing there must be something inherently wrong with you. It is important to seek help to determine why you have allowed the abuse to to come your direction and what you need to do to change it.

Debbie McFadden
Counselor, LCSW, MSW, DMin
Dr. Debbie McFadden is a co-owner and Clinical Director at Village Counseling Center and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Dr. McFadden has been in private practice since 1994, working extensively with adults and couples, specializing in women’s issues. She has completed specialized training in critical incident management to work with victims of severe trauma.

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