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The scars left by verbal abuse in your marriage may not be physical but in some ways, they're even worse, because they can permanently disfigure your sense of self-worth. You can't change your husband's behavior but if he has the will to do so, he can [Ref. 1]. Deciding that you aren't going to take it anymore is the first step towards ending the verbal violence. [Refs 4 and 5]
Don't Pretend Verbal Abuse Is Conversation
When your husband starts hurling insults about your supposed shortcomings, he's not interested in hearing you explain why he's mistaken. If you treat his verbal assault as as a form of conversation, you help legitimatize it as an exchange of viewpoints, thereby encouraging repeat performances. Tempting though it may be to respond in kind, if you do, you run the risk of escalating the situation into physical violence. Calmly but firmly ask your husband to stop speaking to you in such a hurtful and disrespectful way and if he doesn't, walk away. [Refs 3 and 4]
Seek Supportive Advice
Women regularly subjected to verbal abuse from their husbands can easily lose perspective on their situation. Maybe I really am what he says I am, they start to think -- stupid, fat, ugly, a bad mother, terrible housekeeper, etc. Before you can take steps to solve a problem, you have to recognize that the problem is real and not just in your imagination. Confide in close friends and relatives -- people who know and love you and can help rebuild your confidence and self-esteem. Seek professional advice, preferably from someone experienced in dealing with domestic abuse, who can confirm that what you're experiencing goes beyond the kind of arguments all married couples have and offer advice on where to go from there. [Refs 3 and 4]
Consider Your Options
You loved your husband when you married him and maybe you love him still. However, if you've decided that one way or another, this abusive behavior has to end, you need time to think, dispassionately and realistically, about yourself, him and the future of your relationship. Only you know how close you are to the point where nothing he says or does can heal the damage he has inflicted. You also probably know him well enough to guess how likely he is to agree to cleaning up his act in order to save your marriage. [Ref. 4]
If You Think Your Marriage Can Be Saved
If you decide that there's a reasonable chance your marriage can be salvaged, couples counseling is a positive first step along the road to a healthier way of relating to each other. An impartial intermediary is capable of translating your thoughts and feelings to your husband, and his to you, while steering the dialogue in a productive direction. If your husband acknowledges the harm his verbal abuse has done, professes to be willing to change his behavior but balks at counseling, see the counselor alone. This won't be the first time she has encountered male reluctance to discuss private matters with strangers, and she might be able to suggest approaches that make the counseling process less threatening to your husband. [Ref. 4]
When All Else Fails
The most drastic way of shutting down your husband's verbal abuse is by leaving him. If you decide to go that route, your individual circumstances will dictate how it should happen. Since the objective of verbal abuse is to control the person on the receiving end [Ref. 2], leaving your husband amounts to a public as well as personal admission that he doesn't have control. At best of times, there's a fine line between verbal and physical violence, but if your husband has hit or threatened you, your departure may need some pre-planning to reduce what can be a life-threatening level of risk, especially if children are involved. The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 is connected to domestic abuse programs in almost every city in the U.S. and staffed around the clock. Their website at www.thehotline.org provides more information about safety planning when leaving an abusive relationship. [Refs 4 and 6]
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- Womenshealth.gov: Violence Against Women: Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence
- American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress: Domestic Violence and Abuse: Types, Signs, Symptoms, Causes, and Effects
- Oprah.com: Life Class: Verbal Abuse: How To Save Yourself
- PsychCentral: Signs You Are Verbally Abused: Part II
- Mayo Clinic: Domestic Violence Against Women: Recognize Patterns, Seek Help
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline: Path to Safety: Safety Planning
Marnie Kunz has been an award-winning writer covering fitness, pets, lifestyle, entertainment and health since 2003. Her articles have been published in "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution," "Alive," "The Marietta Daily Journal" and other publications. Kunz holds a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from Knox College and is a Road Runners Club of America-certified running coach and a certified pole dance instructor.
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