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Is there emotional abuse in your home?

Posted June 13

In this edition of LIFEadvice, coaches Kim Giles and Nicole Cunningham explain how you can recognize emotional abuse in your home and change it.

Question:

I have been married for over 20 years. During this time, I have tried unsuccessfully to make my wife happy. I have initiated counseling sessions several times only to come out worse for going. I recently had a friend say they think I'm a victim of emotional abuse from my wife. I have tried to see her side of things and understand where my wife is coming from and to even work on myself. But am I using this as an excuse? Do many men get emotionally abused? When do you work on yourself and when do you insist a wife's behavior isn’t OK?

Answer:

If you want a healthy relationship, you must constantly work on yourself, and you must insist your partner do the same. If your partner is abusive (which we will determine below) and they are unwilling to admit their behavior is wrong, change the attitudes that drive the behavior and get professional help, there may be cause for you to leave.

We say this, because you teach people how to treat you by what you allow. If you are willing to keep living with someone who is emotionally abusive, why should they change?

If they know you are too scared to leave or are a pushover, they have no motivation to change anything, and it takes a great deal of motivation for an abuser to change their ways and give up the power they get from the abuse.

We also want to reassure you that abuse by women against men is not uncommon at all. Both genders are actually almost equally abused. One report showed that 40 percent of victims of "severe physical violence are men, who are victimized by their intimate partners, and men are also more often the victim of psychological aggression." You can read more about this on www.batteredmen.com.

Also, remember we are in the classroom of life to learn about love. So, allowing someone to mistreat you is denying them an important lesson they have coming. It is not OK to disrespect, insult or be cruel to any human being. Someone has to teach that to your spouse, and the universe has selected you.

We want to clarify what behaviors constitute abuse though, because some of you are so used to abusive behavior, you actually think it’s normal and therefore OK. Everyone has disagreements with their spouse, but some kinds of fighting behaviors are not acceptable, ever. We believe there are three types of bad behavior that show up in relationships, and we want you to recognize them so you know what is OK and what is not.

Here are the three categories of bad relationship behavior:

1. Garden variety bad behavior caused by fear and stress. When people are stressed, hungry, tired or overwhelmed, they get grouchy and selfish. If on occasion, your spouse has one of these bad behavior moments (and it doesn’t happen often) you should just forgive them, understand it wasn’t really about you (it’s their fears about themselves) and let it roll off. No one is perfect and everyone will snap, lose their temper or say something selfish on occasion. When your partner offends you with this kind of behavior, forgive them and let it go, because you want your small "mess-ups" to be forgiven, too. If you have a lot of this in your home though, some fear-focused life coaching would make a huge difference.

2. Offensive behavior that should be brought up, worked on and not ignored. This kind of treatment includes: unintentionally being inconsiderate or unkind, criticizing you on a rare occasion, talking down to you, or doing something that is selfish or thoughtless. If these behaviors show up often (every week) you should definitely have some conversations about it and ask for different behavior in the future. You would also benefit from some professional help or coaching and you should ask your partner to participate in it too. (If your partner won’t work on these behaviors, you don’t see any noticeable improvements, and/or your partner refuses professional help, you may move the behavior to category three.)

3. Abusive behavior that is not acceptable. This includes inappropriate behavior from category two that isn’t changing, has become too frequent, or has escalated to any of the things mentioned below. Also keep in mind that these behaviors toward a child are also unacceptable. If your spouse treats your children this way, you must do something to protect them and get professional help involved.

These types of behavior are unacceptable:

  • Calling you insulting names or labels
  • Yelling and screaming
  • Repeatedly putting you down
  • Comparing you with others to show how inadequate you are
  • Intentionally hurting your feelings
  • Socially isolating you
  • Belittling you on a regular basis
  • Ignoring you
  • Disapproving and contemptuous looks
  • Blaming you for their problems
  • Controlling you or punishing you for small offenses (not getting dishes washed or something cleaned well enough)
  • Threatening to leave and take your children away
  • Threatening to kill themselves
  • Falsely obtaining a restraining order against you
  • Lying to you
  • Intimidating or threatening you
  • Breaking things
  • Correcting everything you say
  • Always taking the opposite view from yours
  • Cutting you off from your family and friends
  • The silent treatment for hours or days
  • Forcing you to own responsibility for every problem
  • Checking up on you and being overly suspicious
  • Nitpicking and lengthy interrogations or lectures
  • Refusing to honor your requests for time and space
  • Withholding affection
  • Demanding sex
  • Temper tantrums to get what they want
  • Discounting your perceptions and feelings
  • Constantly denying anything is wrong
  • Verbal abuse that attacks your nature and abilities, so you begin to believe there is something wrong with you.
  • Out of control or irrational behavior and physical violence of any kind whatsoever — these should not be tolerated.
If you are experiencing this kind of behavior regularly, please don’t accept it as normal and let it continue. You can also take an emotional abuse test at this link.

If you are seeing signs of abuse, you should seek professional help and do something about it right now, especially if there are children in your home. We often hear people in abusive relationships say they are “staying for their children” and don’t want to break up the family. You must understand that even watching this kind of abuse can damage your children. Safe Horizons, a website for victims of abuse, says that without help, children who witness abuse are more vulnerable to being abused themselves as adults or teens, or they are likely to become abusers themselves.

You and your children deserve to feel safe and respected in your home. You should also be able to have mature, rational, mutually validating conversations about problems that arise with your spouse. If your partner can't do that and is tearing down your self-esteem on a regular basis so you feel miserable and worthless, and you experience fear whenever they are home, you are probably a victim of abuse.

Your rationalizing this behavior as normal makes sense, if it is all you have ever experienced, but it is not normal or acceptable. If you love yourself, your children and your spouse at all, you owe it to them all to seek help. It is time for your spouse and children to learn that all people deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.

We know that change and seeking help sounds scary because "the known," even though it’s bad, feels safer than the "unknown." But you will all grow and learn so much it will be a win in the end. There will be some hard moments, but you are stronger than you think you are, and you deserve better.

You can do this.

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