What Is Verbal Abuse in Marriage?

You haven’t felt good about your marriage in a long time. You know, or suspect, that your spouse is verbally abusive, and a part of you wants out STAT.

But the other part of you is afraid. What if your spouse gets angry at your decision to leave, and decides to make things worse for you or your loved ones? 

What if there’s a chance your spouse will revert to the loving, kind person they used to be, and you regret leaving them behind? 

What if everything you’ve been through is all in your head, and you just need to sit it out until the storm blows over? 

Know this: Regardless of the reason, no one deserves to be abused, verbally or emotionally. It’s one thing to anger people every now and then. It’s another for them to take it out on you on a regular basis for no apparent reason — other than they can. 

So what is verbal abuse in marriage? Here are some of the signs you should watch out for:

  • You get shouted at on a regular basis. 
  • You don’t feel free to talk about certain things with your spouse, because they either blow up at you, or shoot you down with invalidating remarks and backhanded insults. 
  • You’re consistently on the receiving end of derogatory comments about your gender/religion/social status/etc. When you call them out on those comments, they respond with, “It’s just a joke!” or “Geez, you’re so sensitive about these things.”
  • You’re blamed for all their problems, even the ones they bring down on themselves, and expect you to take 100 percent responsibility for those problems. 
  • You’re given the silent treatment. There’s a “Cold War” in the house more often than not. 
  • You never hear from them when you do something good. But when you make the tiniest mistake, they can talk all day about what a pathetic wretch you are. 
  • You feel guilty when you’re out with people who are not your spouse, because you feel like you’re neglecting them somehow.
  • You always feel like they need to have the last word. 
  • When you threaten to leave them, they apologize over and over, only to go back to their old ways once they “earn” your forgiveness. 
  • You’re beginning to question your sanity and intelligence, because they somehow manage to make you look and feel like the “villain” all the time. 

Even after reading those signs and symptoms of verbal abuse, you may still be reluctant to do anything. Maybe there’s a perfectly rational explanation for your spouse’s behavior. Maybe your spouse didn’t get the love they needed when they were children, so it’s up to you to fill up that hole in their heart. Maybe, just maybe, they’re also trying their hardest to make your marriage work, but can’t express themselves properly.

The thing is, none of those “Maybes” are within your control. You can spend your days reflecting on them for the rest of your married life, but they won’t change anything, not anymore. 

Unless you take the steps below.

1. Stop Trying to Change/Rationalize Your Spouse’s Behavior

At this point, it doesn’t matter what happened in the past, or why your spouse chooses to behave the way they do. Your spouse is already an adult, and if they don’t have the self-awareness to realize something’s wrong, there’s not much you can do to convince them to turn the other cheek. 

And if they do realize, it should be their choice to change and make amends for their behavior, not yours. Behaviors learned from childhood take a long time to unlearn, and expecting them to shift their personality 180 degrees overnight isn’t going to help.

2. Avoid Fighting Fire With Fire

Whatever you do, don’t throw their verbal abuse back at them. Do not shout when you’re being shouted at, or be passive-aggressive when you’re the recipient of the same. This is easier on paper than in practice, but it’s crucial that you take the high ground. Otherwise, you’ll reinforce their belief that you’re the one in the wrong, and the situation might change for the worse.

3. Set Boundaries, and Stick to Them

Tell your spouse, as calmly as you can: “I’m sorry that’s what you think/how you feel, but I will not be treated like this.” Explain, in the most matter-of-fact way you can, the behaviors that you prefer to see from your spouse, such as, “Whenever we have an argument, I want us to sit down, take a deep breath and hear each other out.” 

If your spouse scoffs at your idea, or continues their verbal assault, walk towards the nearest exit and say: “I understand you need to think about this, so I’ll give you some space. I’ll be back in an hour, I promise.”

4. Practice Self-Care

It’s hard to cope with an abusive spouse when you’re not at peak health. That’s why, even if you don’t feel like it, you have to take care of yourself. 

This is the time to up your game with eating nutritious foods. Take regular walks, ride your bike to work if that’s feasible, and spend more time in nature. Arrange a night out with your friends at least once every week. If you can’t get support from within your household, it’s perfectly okay to get it elsewhere. 

5. Seek Counseling

If you think there’s the slightest chance your marriage can be saved, find a counselor or therapist as soon as possible. You can do this for yourself, for your spouse, or for both of you. 

Look for a therapist who specializes in treating couples and marriages. Verify the therapist’s credentials through your state or country’s license verification portal. Schedule at least one session, so you’ll know whether you’re a good fit for your therapist or not. 

6. Leave     

If you’ve exhausted every option, and you’re increasingly afraid of being under the same roof as your spouse, start building your escape route now. Make sure you have enough savings to live on your own, and contact your local domestic violence hotline for help. Do everything to get away while you still can. 

Verbal abuse is no laughing matter. It’s a real and all too common thing that happens to married people everywhere. If you’re suffering physically, mentally and psychologically, take matters into your own hands before it’s too late. 

Marla Rondo

Marla writes about relationship help topics. Marla lives in Bend, OR and enjoys hiking and reading.

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