Verbal and emotional abuse in a marriage is a form of domestic abuse which can have extremely damaging effects on the victim. Unlike physical abuse, there are no obvious scars and wounds when a person is being emotionally abused. Instead, the abuser uses words and actions to intentionally hurt, control and manipulate her spouse. When someone is constantly critical, resentful, angry, ridiculing and accusatory towards her partner, she is behaving in an emotionally abusive way.
When a marriage is emotionally and verbally abusive the effects can be long-lived and much deeper than in the case of physical abuse, according to psychologist and author Stephen Stosny in Psychology Today. This is because emotional abuse tends to happen on a daily basis and for years at a time, going unnoticed by friends and family of the victim. This frequency of abuse eventually wears the victim down and causes an ever-growing rift in the marriage. Eventually, emotional and verbal abuse will drain the love and compassion out of a marriage, causing the victim to spend her days walking on eggshells to keep the peace. If there are children witnessing the abuse in the marriage also, it can cause them to feel anxious, less inclined to socialize with others and emotionally distant, according to marriage expert Mort Fertel on the Marriage Fitness website.
Dominance and Control
The abuser in the marriage will gradually gain control of the victim so that he becomes weak, powerless and at the mercy of the abuser. This can include controlling his finances, social calendar, contact with friends and family, work commitments and hobbies, says marriage counsellor Alicia Walker. The victim will start to feel isolated and it is common for the abuser in the marriage to cut off his contact with supportive people in his life that pose a threat to her control over him, adds Walker. This control and manipulation eventually acts as a form of brainwashing whereby the victim will submit to his spouse's demands without question or resistance, which in turn encourages the behavior to become a repeating pattern and cycle.
The person in the marriage who is being emotionally and verbally abused will develop very low self-esteem because the attacks seem personal and therefore victims are likely to start blaming themselves, says Stosny. For example, if the abuser tells his wife she is ugly, a terrible mother, a bad person and that nobody really likes her on a daily basis, she will start to internalize her husband's comments and believe that they must be true. This will damage her self-confidence and therefore her ability to challenge her husband when he is behaving in this way, cementing his control over her.
When people are being emotionally and verbally abused in their marriage they are at risk of becoming depressed, says Walker. Over time, the marriage may become very isolating as the victim withdraws himself and submits to the demands of his spouse. Depression can worsen the situation further as the abuser can use this as another point of criticism to highlight the weaknesses of the victim, particularly if he is struggling to go about his daily routine and function normally. Without the support of his spouse, recovering from depression will be very difficult and so the condition could continue for long periods of time, serving to destabilize the marriage even further.
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- Psychology Today: Effects of Emotional Abuse, It Hurts When I Love
- Marriage Fitness: When Anger Isn't Anger: Warning Signs of Verbal Abuse in Marriage
- Alicia Walker; Marriage Counsellor, London
Emily Watson started writing in 2008. Watson has been published in "Children & Young People Now," "Youth Work Now," "Accent magazine," "The House Hunter," "Gap Year Business," "Timeout Education" and online at Travelmagazine.com and DunningEleyJones.com. She holds an honors degree in history from Newcastle University and has a PMA-Group postgraduate diploma in magazine journalism.