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Emotional Abuse in Marriage: How to Recognize It and What To Do About It

Domestic abuse can take many forms: physical, emotional, sexual or even financial. Physical abuse is probably the easiest to recognize, because of the physical scars that it leaves behind. Emotional abuse is much harder to spot, because there are no bruises or broken bones to point to.

According to experts, however, emotional abuse has reached epidemic proportions. Though hard statistics are elusive, experts say as many as two-thirds of couples experience emotional abuse. And despite the prevalence in everyday life, few of us recognize it, identify it, or do anything about it.

What exactly is emotional abuse? Emotional abuse is defined as behavior and language designed to degrade or humiliate someone by attacking their self-value or personality. It can take the form of name-calling, shaming, blaming, intimidating, dismissing, stonewalling or making threats. Whatever form it takes, the effects for the abused individual can be crippling. Depression, anxiety, destroyed self-esteem, feeling alone, isolated and unimportant are all common feelings of someone who has been emotionally abused.

At this point, it's probably important to distinguish that emotional abuse is different than an occasional outburst of anger. Pretty much every couple fights, and some might use harsh or negative words sometimes. That is not emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is a cycle or pattern of behavior designed to control, manipulate, or force submission it's not a once in a while event. In a "normal" case of occasionally hurtful behavior (such as a fight), an apology is usually offered and if sincere, can heal the rift that the hurt has caused. In addition, there is usually remorse on the part of the person who inflicted that hurt, after the angry encounter is over and the couple calms down. This is not the case in an emotionally abusive situation. Emotional abusers can also apologize and promise sit won't happen again, but it usually isn't too long before the same pattern develops again. As we said, it's a cycle.

So what should you do if you recognize these warning signs and think that you are in an emotionally abusive marriage?

  1. Recognize the abuse and your role in stopping it.
  2. Seek professional help and guidance. Most women who are being emotionally abused cannot break the cycle without the help and professional guidance from a trained professional counselor. There are often underlying beliefs and attitudes from your family of origin that play a role in your romantic relationships, or marriage.
  3. Set boundaries. Sit down with your partner and let them know the behavior is not acceptable. Discuss ways to end the destructive pattern of behavior, whether that is individual or marriage counseling, separation, or other actions. Note: it is a good idea to get guidance from a professional counselor before attempting this conversation.
  4. Maintain healthy relationships.It is critical to seek support from friends, family, or your church. Support groups are also a good option. This is important because accountability is a key part of ending the cycle of abuse. Ending the cycle is not something that is easily done without a good circle of support!

Though some may say emotional abuse is not as bad as physical abuse, this is simply not true and should be taken very seriously. If you or someone you know is suffering from emotional abuse, please seek help. A good place to start is this help line: Toll Free Phone: 800-799-7233 / 800-799-SAFE. You can also call our office at 714.969.9910 and we can guide you to helpful resources.

Disclaimer – The materials contained in this blog have been prepared for informational purposes only. The information contained is general in nature, and may not apply to particular factual or legal circumstances. In any event, the materials do not constitute legal advice or opinions and should not be relied up on as such.

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