Spousal Abuse: It’s Not All Physical


Spousal Abuse: It’s Not All Physical

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The early warning signs of abuse

Before my ex-husband and I married six years ago, the priest pulled us into a back room in the church, talked about the deadly sin of divorce, and made us promise each other that we would not get divorced before he would marry us. Although the priest had good intentions, forcing us to take his well-meant promise as an added oath did more harm than good: it gave my husband the green light to verbally and emotionally abuse me for years.

What qualifies as emotional and verbal abuse?

Verbal abuse is a regular pattern of spoken offenses, such as bullying, threats, and criticism. It may seem unintentional, but I promise you, your partner knows he or she is treating you badly. Emotional abuse can include manipulation, intimidation, and shaming, which the abuser typically uses to control and dominate his or her partner/victim.

What if I ignore the early signs of abuse?

Although emotional abuse and verbal abuse are not always a precursor to physical abuse, those who experience physical abuse almost always were abused emotionally or verbally first. Unfortunately, most victims of abuse often do not realize that they are being abused—especially if the abuse is not physical. Instead, they develop coping mechanisms to deal with the abuse and the long-term effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and dependency, which can be devastating.

What are the early warning signs of abuse?

It is important to acknowledge the early warning signs of abuse instead of simply dismissing them. For me—and similar to the experience of many others—the first indication of my husband’s abusive qualities was him telling me that I couldn’t do something, in my case it was to get a piercing, and that if I did do it in the future, he would divorce me simply because he didn’t like it. The first thing I did when I realized that divorce was inevitable? I got the piercing.

Some other early warning signs of abuse your partner may be exhibiting:

  • Obtaining access to your cell phone, e-mail, or other online accounts to “check in” on you
  • Bragging or joking that he or she has “ownership” papers after you’ve been married
  • Constantly insulting your thoughts or your appearance
  • Exhibiting extreme displays of jealousy, insecurity, and/or possessiveness
  • Being extremely temperamental, having mood swings, etc.
  • Making false accusations to manipulate you
  • Isolating you from your family and friends
  • Telling you what to do or to whom you may talk
  • Manipulating or forcing you to have sex or trying to initiate sex while you’re sleeping or incapacitated
  • Physically hurting you in any way

What do you do if the early warning signs are there?

One of the most important life lessons I’ve learned is that people will treat you the way that you let them. This was especially true early in my marriage, before I found my voice and started standing up for myself like the “old me”—the awesome renegade I lost somewhere along the way after being married—would have done. Eventually, you’re going to be tired enough to ask yourself, Is this how I want to live for the rest of my life?

If you’re at this point, you’ve probably been feeling down and out for a while, or you might even believe there are no options for you out there. No matter how dire you think your situation is, I promise you . . . there are options. You don’t have to stay in an abusive relationship, ever.

Be sure to:

  • Phone home. Talk to someone you respect and trust about what’s going on in your life. That person may be able to provide valuable insight or advice from a different perspective.
  • Document everything. In most states, you can legally voice-record without permission from the other party. Take screen shots of abuse written online or via text message. Do not hesitate to obtain medical care or file a police report if the abuse becomes physical. Keep track of dates and times when things happen or are said.
  • Formulate an escape plan. Eventually, you’re going to want a way out. Do what you need to do so you can safely get out of your toxic relationship.
  • Reach out for help. Divorce and separation don’t have quite the stigma that they used to. Even so, many people are afraid to ask for help. When it came out that I was getting divorced, other women in the “divorced wives club” started coming out of the woodwork to console me—women whom I had no idea even had a “club.”
  • Be the bigger person, even when it’s hard. If you’re going through a divorce, there will be disagreements. Being the bigger person doesn’t mean you have to allow your ex-spouse to walk all over you. You can still disagree and stand up for yourself or what you believe in. But, don’t be petty without cause, especially around the children. As a firm believer in karma, I know that I don’t have to screw my ex-spouse over in court for him to get what he deserves—life will take care of that.
  • Make success and happiness a priority. There is no greater revenge than success and happiness. If there is one thing you do, make it your goal to move forward with your life to do great things.

Be sure to check out ESME’s Domestic Violence Resources and Community as well as our closed Domestic Violence Facebook group to find support and moms who get it.


Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.


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