Pennsylvania Family Law and Divorce
Lisa Marie Vari & Associates, P.C.

Emotional Abuse in Marriage: A Form of Domestic Violence?

Our Pennsylvania Domestic Violence Attorneys bring you this information on Emotional Abuse and how it can be recognized and prevented:

When hearing the phrase "domestic violence," most think of physical abuse or "battering." However, emotional abuse takes its toll on many marriages, leaving the emotionally abused spouse sometimes unaware that they are really a victim. In a recent Divorce Support article entitled "Are You a Victim of Emotional Abuse," author Cathy Meyer defines emotional abuse as a means of abuse "used to control degrade, humiliate, and punish a spouse. While emotional abuse differs from physical abuse, the end result is the same...a spouse becomes fearful to their partner and begins to change their behaviors to keep their partner happy. The happier their partner, the less...the spouse has to suffer."

Because domestic violence is easier to spot in terms of outward signs such as scars, bruises, or even broken bones, emotional abuse can affect someone in ways that are not easily ascertainable.

Read further to learn the signs of emotional abuse, and how it might be prevented.

Emotional abuse is a scary thing according to Ms. Meyer's article. Specifically, it can "rob a person of their self-esteem, the ability to think rationally, confidence in themselves and their independence and autonomy." Below are some of the "tactics" an emotionally abusive spouse will use to gain control:

  • Isolating their spouse from their family or friends;
  • Extreme jealousy, including getting very angry if their spouse even speaks to a member of the opposite sex;
  • Discouragement from any outside activities, including taking classes, going out with friends from work, spending time in a play group for the kids, etc.;
  • Often, emotional abuse also comes in the form of withholding sexual activity as punishment or requiring certain sexual behaviors to keep the abusive spouse satisfied;
  • Criticism: this can take many forms, but often it involves criticizing the spouse's physical characteristics. This often involves a blow at the spouse's confidence, as the abuser typically criticizes their spouse's body shape or size and recommends losing weight. Additionally, criticism can take many forms, all of which are aimed at breaking the person down so that they feel less adequate;
  • When children are involved, the abusive spouse often uses the children to gain control over their spouse. This involves threatening to leave with the children, or "bad talking" the other parent in front of the children so that they will side with the abusive parent. Often an emotionally abusive spouse will try his/her best to hide the abuse from the children so that they can fool the children into thinking they are the better parent;
  • The abusive spouse is always in control: deciding where to live, where to send the children to school, how to decorate/furnish the home and what vehicle to drive are all in the control of the abusive partner.

Even though a victim of emotional abuse in a marriage is not leaving with visible outward scars, these behaviors are meant to slowly wear down the victim until they can no longer defend themselves from the emotional turmoil. These individuals often become very isolated from their friends/family because of this emotional abuse. Furthermore, the abused spouse usually develops an excessive dependence on his or her abusive spouse. These two factors make it difficult to recognize emotional abuse in someone you know, as they probably become a friend that you begin to see less and less.

If you or someone you know is the victim of emotional abuse or you recognize these signs in a close friend or family member, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline as soon as possible.

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