I'm male. Right now I don't know what to do. I think my wife is emotionally abusive. Some days I try to keep my mouth shut. Today I was mentally hurt by her. I was feeling sad. I should have not told her I was sad because all the sudden she screamed at me and told me she wasn't staying at home. Saying how sick of it she is, slamming stuff around. I'm afraid of this behavior. I don't want to be separated from my kids. But I realize my wife emotionally abuses me. I feel like she might be rubbing off on the kids and maybe someday they will be abusive. That is my biggest fear, for my kids." -Ryan V.
Ryan, you've come to an important realization -- there's a problem in your relationship that needs to be fixed. Too many people in emotionally abusive relationships either never get to that recognition or don't get there fast enough. Congratulations, you've taken the first step towards getting things to change.
What you describe about your wife does sound like emotionally abusive behavior. Some of the signs of emotional abuse are the volatility, anger issues, threats, aggression, blame, and personal attacks by the abuser; then fear and self-blame for the victim. Although there may be things you don't know about that are contributing to why she responded this way, the behavior is still emotionally abusive and wrong.
You're right in being fearful about how your relationship is negatively affecting your kids, because it is regardless of whether you can see it or not. Too often people convince themselves that the kids aren't being impacted because they can't see it. This is a mistake. Kids may not understand what is going on, but they can feel the tension, anger, and fear. And then they feel the same.
You need to be concerned for your own well being as well. In addition to worrying about how "she might be rubbing off on the kids," you need to think and be concerned about how she is affecting you too. A characteristic for victims of emotional abuse is not valuing yourself enough.
Fear is a common feeling in an emotionally abusive relationship, and unfortunately people can allow it to make them feel trapped and stuck. You're not alone in feeling uncomfortable and even fearful of the aggression and volatility that comes from someone who's emotionally abusive. Most people probably would be too. There's something odd about the person who's supposed to love you actually hating you that only compounds all of these conflicting feelings.
Not knowing what to do is also very common. Obviously, deciding to leave is a big, big decision that should leave you uncertain about whether or not to do it. But another effect of having a wife who's emotionally abusive is doubting and questioning yourself. Abuse eats away at everyone's self-confidence and ability think clearly.
Please recognize that emotionally abusive behavior, especially by your wife, is a really hard issue to deal with on your own, so get some support from a professional counselor. If your wife is willing, going to couples counseling together would be a great way for you to get the help you need so that you both can feel heard and understood. If she's not, go get help without her.
-Kurt Smith, Marriage Counselor
Editor's Note: This post was originally published September 25, 2010 and has been updated with new information for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
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