Coping With Verbal Abuse In Marriage
Updated December 04, 2019
Reviewer Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC
If you are experiencing verbal abuse in your marriage, it can be difficult to know how to cope. You might feel anxious or depressed as a result of ongoing abuse. You could also feel defeated and unsure of what to do to fix your marriage problems. The abuse may also extend for so long that it is hard to decipher what is healthy or not.
The good news is, with some attention to detail and work, you can get back on the right path. The path to fixing your relationship won't always be easy, but it will be worth it. If you love your partner and you're both willing to apply some changes, verbal abuse can be a thing of the past.
What Does Verbal Abuse Look Like?
The first step to fixing verbal abuse in any marriage or romantic partnership is recognizing the signs of it. Because it is not as discussed as other forms of abuse, especially physical, it can be difficult for those being verbally abused to realize that there is a problem. Emotional abuse, in general, is not acceptable.
Verbal abuse is any intentional or non-intentional use of destructive language. When your partner is verbally abusing you, he might aggressively criticize or insult you. The intention of this language can be meant to hurt, take advantage of, or control you. Some common examples include:
- Opposing anything you say/always telling you that you are wrong
- Blocking your efforts to communicate by changing the conversation or telling you to be quiet
- Discounting or belittling your feelings
- Interrupting you when you speak
- Denying the abuse or gaslighting (we will talk more about this later in the article)
Verbal abuse in marriage can be harder to spot in some cases, as well. It is not 'black and white' which is what makes it so difficult to confront. Many who inflict this kind of abuse play it off as a joke or a random outburst.
For example, your spouse might put you down by calling you names or demeaning your character but then say 'I was just kidding' when you get upset. The most important thing to remember in this situation is if the joking hurts you, then the behavior should stop. There is never an excuse to use words to hurt someone you love.
Verbal abuse in marriage usually occurs over years of mistreatment. When the issue has been ongoing, it can be very difficult to reverse. One of the most logical resolutions to this is setting firm boundaries. This can might feel uncomfortable at first, especially if you are not used to standing up for yourself.
The first step is to remember that boundaries revolve around your behavior. You will never be able to change your partner with threats or ultimatums. You must decide what you are no longer willing to accept and what you will do if the behavior continues.
For example: Telling your partner 'If you continue to abuse me verbally, you will need to leave the house" is not a good boundary since you cannot control another person's actions. Instead, you might decide that any time a conversation turns abusive, you will excuse yourself.
Once you have a good grasp on your boundaries, pick a time in which both you and your partner are in good spirits. Sit down and talk about to abuse and how it makes you feel. Then, explain to your partner that you won't stand for this behavior any longer. Be careful not to come off as rude or vindictive.
In the beginning, you want to be as gentle as possible, so the transition is smooth and easier to implement. Use 'I' language instead of being accusatory. For example, instead of saying "you hurt my feelings when you xyz," you might say "When you say XYZ, I start to feel _____, what I need is _____."
Once you have set the boundaries, you must stick to them. No matter how much you are tempted to let certain behaviors slide, you must resist. The only way that your partner will know you are serious is by doing this. If you inconsistently allow the negative behavior, your problems will remain and will make for a harder, longer battle for happiness.
Neither of you is experiencing the happiness you are capable of as long as you are struggling with verbal abuse in the marriage, so boundaries are a must. If you continue to struggle with setting boundaries, a mental health professional can be a great resource.
Communicate with Your Partner
Communication with your partner is of paramount importance if you hope to end verbal abuse in marriage. You have already begun to open communication by setting boundaries. Now is the time to take that a step further. This is not to say it will be easy, especially since your partner is mistreating you through communication. The key isn't to change their behavior (at this point) but to modify your own.
When you notice your partner verbally abusing you, speak up. Make sure that your partner knows you recognize the behavior and are not consenting to it. You may also find it helpful to write down the things he says.
This is particularly helpful if your partner primarily uses verbal combat while he is angry. Anger can cloud a person's judgment and cause them to act out of character. When you confront them with their behavior once they have calmed, it can be a real eye-opener for them.
Writing down what is said is also a good way to protect yourself from gaslighting. Many abusers throw verbal insults and then pretend that you are crazy or misunderstood what was said when you call them out. Documenting what has happened is a way to combat this tactic.
You could also set time aside each night to mull over your day. You could discuss this over dinner or right before bedtime. Discuss the arguments or disagreements that occurred in the day and how they made you feel. If either of you verbally abused the other, discuss alternate ways you could have handled your anger. You must make sure you make this a part of your routine if you hope for success.
Repetition is the name of the game when it comes to communication. The more frequently you do it, the easier and more productive it will be. Before long, you will both be pros at communicating, and you can leave your verbal woes in the past.
Remove Yourself from The Situation
Removing yourself from a situation in which you experience verbal abuse does many things. First, it allows you to escape the negativity. Additionally, it sends your partner a message that you won't stand for this type of behavior.
When you are experiencing verbal abuse in the marriage, sometimes you need a break. Constant verbal jabs can take root inside you, causing self-esteem problems and resentment within your relationship. Walking away from the situation can give you time to recoup and gather your emotions. Use this time to reflect on yourself and remind yourself that the insults and abuse don't define you. The last thing you want is to bottle up your emotions to explode later.
Your partner will also recognize this behavior. When you walk away, he will be forced to face his behavior head-on. Walking away also makes it apparent that you won't tolerate his behavior. After doing this a few times, when you get up to leave, it will trigger a response in your partner. He will immediately recognize that he is crossing the boundaries you set. Eventually, this might cause him to avoid the behavior altogether.
One thing is for sure, simply settling for verbal abuse or trying to avoid arguments will only make the problem worse and send a sign to your abuser that you are willing to be a doormat. Standing up for yourself by refusing to take part in abusive situations sets a new tone.
Take A Break from The Relationship
At times, no matter how hard you try, the verbal abuse in marriage doesn't improve. If you have exhausted the options above, it may be time to consider taking a break from the relationship. This will help you support your own peace and give your partner a chance to consider the gravity of the situation.
Taking a break could remind you why you chose to be together in the first place. You might realize things about one another that you have taken for granted. This renewed gratitude you will find for one another will refresh your commitment and leave you better equipped to handle the big issues.
Knowing when to return to the relationship can be tricky. If you go back too soon, you risk falling back into the same habits. If you wait too long to return, though, one of you may move on emotionally from the marriage, and divorce could be the next step. Again, this is where a marriage therapist can be very helpful. Having an outside person who is not invested help you come up with solutions can be a supportive experience.
Trust yourself when deciding to return and if it's too early, you can always separate for longer. This process is largely trial and error, but with some dedication, this method can certainly work for you.
Find Professional Help
If you feel as if nothing you are doing is working, don't be discouraged. Some relationships have deep-rooted issues that are difficult if not impossible, to work through on your own. Help from a licensed counselor could give you the tools you need to get where you want to be in your relationship.
Regain is an online platform that you can use to connect with the therapist that is right for you and your relationship. This is perfect for couples that have conflicting schedules or other problems that make it difficult to be in one place at once. With the click of a few buttons, you can be in touch with a trained professional ready to help you solve your problems.
No matter how big you feel your issues are, there is always something that can be done to help. Get in touch with a counselor today to explore your options!