Abusive marriages come in different forms. Most people are quick to think of "physical abuse" but there are definitely other acts of abuse that detriment the wellbeing of individuals at the hands of their domestic partner.
1. Physical Abuse
In theory, in this country, no one can touch you as adults in any way (physically or sexually) without your permission. At the horrendous end of the spectrum of physical abuse are the stories we hear about beating, burning, rape, mutilation, sex slaves etc. and at the lesser end of the spectrum we hear about people using their physicality to bully and get their way. In a healthy marriage the couple respect each other's physical boundaries and sex is a mutually agreed upon part of intimacy. In between the healthy and extremely unhealthy we find what we put up with, what we ignore, what we can't ignore, and finally what we can't accept anymore. Usually physical abuse is easier for the victim to identify with the right questions. We need to provide a safe place for the person going through physical abuse to speak about what is happening, knowing there is a strong emotional component denying, rationalizing, shaming and blaming one's self. If you are in a physically abusive relationship, hire a therapist qualified to help you safely leave the relationship.
2. Emotional Abuse
Emotional abuse again can be on a spectrum from overt emotional abuse "You fat pig, you stupid idiot." To more subtle signs of abuse "Are you really going to wear that?" "Still haven't figured out how to cook yet have you,", "No one would ever have you if you left me," "Haven't you learned anything"?. Even with these more subtle comments we can still identify the emotional abuse happening if we give the victim examples. One client was stunned when I gave her several examples of emotional abuse which she had numbed herself into believing were normal. Other types of abuse are when you are set up and or controlled. When one person has an important event he/she needs to prepare for and the partner feeling threatened and insecure, creates drama to sabotage the others success, this is a form of emotional abuse. When one partner wants to learn something new and the other feeling threatened makes fun of the new information this is also abuse. Lying is a very destructive form of emotional abuse as well. Many forms of emotional abuse are more difficult for the victim to identify due to some accommodating behavior to accept the abuse as normal. Emotional abuse also unfortunately, is the hardest for the courts to identify, so the person often feels abused by the spouse and by the court. A lot more work has to be done with identifying emotional abuse. If you feel you have been a victim of emotional abuse, hire a therapist, read books, attend workshops, so you can get the tools you will need to stop being a victim.
3. Emotional Neglect
Our partners commit to be our cheerleaders, have our backs, encourage us, give us empathy and compassion, care about our thoughts, ideas, and opinions, engage in conversations on a regular basis and provide a safe emotional environment. When one partner withholds this emotional support to punish or just because, we need to identify this behavior. Regular conversations of support are a cornerstone of a healthy marriage and a part of the asset bank of a marriage. If these are not happening, hire a therapist to see if you can get back on track. As we all know when the foundation has cracks the building is at risk.
4. Physical Neglect
The word marriage means we are partners and we have committed to being the best partner we can be. When you start withholding physical affection, touches, a sexual relationship, physical comfort, and generally acting like a roommate or withholding to punish you are not acting in a healthy manner. If both partners agree this is what they want we don't have a victim. If one wants a physical relationship "Houston we have a problem." Hire a couples' therapist to get back on track.
5. Your body is breaking down
My assessment is your body will start to break down when you are lying to yourself. Anxiety and depression are classic signs of something is not right. Physical symptoms may also begin to develop. One woman told me she developed a tumor (benign) in her throat when she was in an abusive relationship and couldn't speak or stand up for herself. Being in an abusive marriage, triggers all the bad juices in your body and you need to be vigilant and not rationalize the symptoms away. Healthy marriages produce better health for both partners so making yours healthy if possible with therapy is an investment in you!
There are volumes written on all aspects of abuse so if you feel you are at risks don't put your head in the sand. Hire people qualified to help you with any form of abuse in your marriage.
"A healthy relationship doesn't drag you down. It inspires you to be better." Mandy Hale
Dr. Anne Brown PhD, RN of Sausalito, California, is a psychotherapist, speaker, coach, and the author of Backbone Power: The Science of Saying No. Anne's approach is especially applicable to people affected by divorce. Backbone Power is a no nonsense self help guide to making decisions while having backbone and integrity in all your choices, short term and long term. In addition to helping the divorce community, Anne has over twenty years experience as the trusted advocate and advisor to influential corporate leaders, trial attorneys, athletes, leaders, physicians and others seeking actionable guidance. Brown is a graduate of the University of Virginia, BS in Nursing; Boston University, MS in Psychiatric-Mental Health in Nursing; and International University, PhD in Addiction Studies. In 1997 Brown also reached a personal goal of obtaining her Black Belt in Soo Bahk Do. You can contact Dr. Anne Brown through her website: www.BackbonePower.com.