The Marriage Podcast for Smart People


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When Others Don’t See Your Spouse as Abusive

When a spouse is being abused, one of the challenges they may have to face is that other people around them may not believe that they are being abused. When this happens, there are even less resources available to empower the person experiencing the abuse. Let’s look at how this happens and then what to do about it. We wanted to bring this topic forward today because social support is a vital support for helping women recover from all forms of abuse[i]. However, when a woman is in a genuinely abusive situation and her support network do not understand the severity of the problem, then she feels even more isolated and stuck in the abusive relationship[ii]. Often the abuser is pretty slick and he has maybe convinced others — even her own family — that’s she’s having mental health issues or is just not stable or not rational. So you can imagine how profoundly trapped a woman might feel in this kind of situation. It really shakes her core sense of reality and truth. We hope that with this episode you’ll have some real clarity and also a bit of plan for how to navigate your way through this. What Is Emotional Abuse? We have covered the definition of abuse before, but a quick review of the main factors of emotional abuse is in order[iii]: Threats: these can be overt threats to harm you, your children or your family in any way. It includes threats to withhold basic needs: food, healthcare, financial support, safety, etc. Control: control or placing restrictions on your life. This could include things like depriving you of sleep, denying you access to friends, support, money, food or transportation. Destabilization: ongoing intimidation, insults, degradation or trying to convince you that you are inferior and undeserving of better treatment. One-off instances of these behaviors are not necessarily a sign of emotional abuse. A study from 2013[iv] states that for these actions to cross over from bad marital behavior to abusive behavior then it must reoccur repeatedly, without the abuser showing any sign of responsibility for or awareness of the issue. Common Mistakes Others Make Even counselors may not always see abuse for what it is. A study from 2010[v] gives a helpful list of reasons why therapists may miss identifying abuse, and these are reasons that other people in your support network may be prone to as well: Failing to recognize that emotional abuse is an act of violence just as physical abuse is. Not having an understanding of patriarchy, power and gender can lead to a blindness toward abuse. Holding you in any way responsible for your husband’s pervasive pattern of abuse In the context of helping someone see the abuse you’re experiencing, you may need to educate them on one or more of these issues. Referring them to articles such as ours on abuse, or giving them good books such as “The Verbally Abusive Relationship” by Patricia Evans or “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft may help them begin to see the issue. On the other hand, if you come from a family where all of the men operate in a patriarchal mindset it may be impossible to involve them as resources in your support network. Instead, you may choose to turn to others who already are better prepared to understand the abuse and confront it alongside you. Why Do Others Not See the Abuse? They Only See the Good Abuse normally occurs in a simple cycle. You have a period of abuse followed by reconciliation and then a honeymoon period where the abuser is especially kind and loving. Since the actual abuse is normally only done in private, other people only see the honeymoon phase where the abuser appears to be a perfect, even doting, spouse[vi]. Mind Games and Justification Abusive husbands are often very good at belittling their spouses, damaging their self-esteem and convincing them that the abuse is their own fault. Abused women can often be so disoriented by suffering abuse from the person they love that they end up rationalizing or ju...