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The Signs of Spousal Abuse

by Mary Johnson-Gerard, Ph.D.

Spousal abuse does not always have to be in the physical sense. More often, spouses are abused psychologically and emotionally. This type of damage is typically long term and can cause more damage to the abused person than physical abuse. Physical abuse, however, is not to be overlooked and should be dealt with swiftly. Both types of abuse require intervention and support from friends and family. The first step to helping someone deal with spousal abuse is recognizing the signs. Once the signs are confirmed, a conversation with the abused person will open the door to intervention.

Fear of Spouse

Often a person who is being abused either physically or emotionally is afraid of his or her spouse. Signs of this are sometimes subtle. Watch for avoidance of spouse. If your friend or family member doesn't want you in the house or always wants to meet elsewhere, there could be an issue. If they talk quietly on the phone or have to call you back all the time, that can be another sign. Becoming overly happy, hysterical or agitated around his or her spouse can be a more obvious sign of fear.

Controlling Behavior

Spouses who are abused have to deal with controlling behavior from the abuser on a daily basis. The most common forms of this are financial control and isolation. Abusers control the family's finances and make the spouse ask or beg for money. Abusers will set up situations where the spouse needs money and cannot access it. Not allowing a spouse to be around family or friends is another common sign of abuse. Abusers use guilt, such as, "If you loved me, you wouldn't go," or even physical force to keep the abused spouse at home.

Denial and Excuses

When a person is constantly making excuses for a spouse's behavior, that can be a sure sign of fear and abuse. Many times, abused spouses will try to save face by making excuses for why things have happened. They try to stand up for the abuser. This is part of the dependent cycle of abuse. If excuses aren't working, denial will eventually set in. The abused person will actually deny that obvious things have occurred. This helps the abused person psychologically deal with the abuse. It is a lot like repressing it.

Blaming Themselves

People who have been abused over long periods of time have developed a skewed sense of responsibility for the abuse. They have been told for so long that their behavior "makes" the abusers do what they do. After self-esteem has been diminished, it is common for an abused person to accept the blame for the abuse. It's an irrational response, but due to the dependent nature of long-term abuse, it gives the abused person a reason to stay.

About the Author

Mary Johnson-Gerard began writing professionally in 1975 and expanded to writing online in 2003. She has been published on the Frenzyness Divorce Blog and on Neumind International Pte Ltd. Her book "When Divorce Hurts Too Long—Ouch" was published in 2009. Johnson-Gerard holds a doctorate in educational psychology from the University of Missouri.

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