Am I Being Emotionally Abused by My Husband?

I hope you can answer my question, as I am not sure what to do. Basically, my husband isn't the man I married. He is a good provider, whereas I don't work and am dependent on him. And he knows it, and throws it in my face. When I get upset about something, he tells me to get over it or get out, which he knows I can't do as I am essentially unemployable (I have never had a job) and I don't want to lose our two kids. I feel like he uses the threat of my being destitute as a way to get whatever he needs, whether it's for me to do something, perform certain types of sex, or just to get me to shut up. He makes me feel guilty all the time, saying backhanded things just to zing me. I've talked to a good friend about all this. She says it's "emotionally abusive," which I didn't even realize emotional abuse was a thing. He acts totally normal around her, then goes back to being himself when it's just us. My husband has never laid a hand on me, but I feel "less than" I used to feel based on the way he treats and manipulates me. Is that emotional abuse? Is emotional abuse a crime? What leverage do I have to change my situation? What do you think I should do? —Emotionally Confused
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Dear Emotionally Confused,

I’m afraid I can’t advise you on legal issues, but you may want to consult an attorney in your area to get more information about what your options might be should you choose to change your situation. An attorney could let you know about your local laws around custody, child support, and alimony, and help you navigate your options.

What I can share is that the power dynamic you are describing, one in which you feel you have no power and no options, does not sound healthy or sustainable. Indeed, the situation you describe does sound like clear-cut emotional abuse, which is very real. It also can be a precursor to other forms of abuse. Certain forms of emotional and psychological abuse, such as stalking, harassment, or threats of violence, are prohibited by law. You say that your husband has never been physical with you, but if you have any concerns for your safety or the safety of your children, please find some local supports such as domestic violence hotlines or victim advocacy groups. They can provide you with a list of available resources and recommendations.

I want to emphasize that you are not powerless. You are never obligated in a consensual relationship to perform acts you do not wish to perform.

If you are not concerned about your safety or the safety of your children, you can try to engage your husband in conversations about how you are feeling. You may want to do so with the support of a licensed therapist.

I want to emphasize that you are not powerless. You are never obligated in a consensual relationship to perform acts you do not wish to perform. Your husband can tell you to “get out” if you don’t like what he says, but you are not obligated to do that, either. You also don’t have to accept manipulation or his attempts to make you feel guilty. His “zingers” are likely a reflection of him more than you, and while they hurt your feelings and make you feel “less than,” you don’t have to give his words power. Again, I strongly recommend connecting with a therapist to explore ways to empower yourself and keep yourself safe.

A final note about abuse of any form: often a victim of abuse will feel helpless and isolated. Building up your own community of support through friends and family can be incredibly helpful. Knowing you are not alone and you are not “stuck” in a situation that is harmful is important. You mentioned one supportive friend; are there others you would trust to offer support should you need it? If so, I recommend reaching out to them as well.

If you can, you may want to look into ways to become more financially independent as well. Many cities have employment or unemployment agencies designed to help people find work. Having some income of your own might help you feel more secure.

Best of luck,

Erika

Erika Myers
Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC is a licensed psychotherapist and former educator specializing in working with families in transition (often due to separation or divorce) as well as individuals seeking support with relationship issues, parenting, depression, anxiety, grief/loss/bereavement, and managing major life changes. Although her theoretical orientation is eclectic, she most frequently uses a person-centered, strengths-based approach and cognitive behavioral therapy in her practice.
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  • Cal

    Cal

    April 29th, 2016 at 10:12 AM

    No one in any relationship should ever have to feel like they are being abused and belittled but the person who is supposed to love them. I don’t know that I would be able to stay in a relationship like that even though I understand that you have some difficulties because financially you are solely dependent on him. I understand that it can be tough to walk away, but would you rather walk away from it broke financially but intact spiritually? or would you rather stay and have him continue to take apart a piece of you every single day?

  • Rico

    Rico

    April 29th, 2016 at 6:22 PM

    Hi
    I am a male, well my name says. I’ve been in an emotional abusive relationship, the giving and receiving end of it. I can only emphlify certain things Erika has mentioned

    1. You don’t have to feel like going because he provides. Remember everything you guys own is all yours. The fact that he says “you can go” you say I don’t want to go. Don’t do things you don’t want to do.
    2. Every time you allow his words to over power you, you give him the power to what he pleases to you.

    It takes a bit of discipline to change your own ways because you use to accepting. So be fair to yourself when you struggling at the beginning. Eventually it will become a new habit

    Best of luck

  • neal

    neal

    April 30th, 2016 at 1:15 PM

    When someone leaves you with no sense of power in the relationship and leaves you feeling like you are always having to seek out their approval and permission, then yeah, that’s an abusive situation.

  • Laurel

    Laurel

    May 4th, 2016 at 2:12 PM

    Just because someone is a good provider doesn’t mean that he is good for you/
    The things that he takes away from you by being abusive are far more harsh than any good he is doing providing for you financially.
    If you look closely then you will probbably see that he is holding this over your head.

  • ron w

    ron w

    May 5th, 2016 at 1:29 PM

    It is not anything that will ever make this easier but I do agree that the things that he says to you and about you are more the things that he probably thinks about himself but he is putting them on you to make himself somehow feel better.

    Jerks are generally like that.

  • Brandy L

    Brandy L

    June 2nd, 2016 at 7:21 AM

    Yes it is without a doubt emotional abuse and I can say this knowing it because, I too, live it every single day. It is so sad to me. I have been in abusive situations all throughout my life beginning when I was approximately 8 1/2 yrs old, my brother who was about 3 months shy of being 4 years older than myself, began sexually abusing me but physically and emotionally abused me every single day ever since I can remember pretty much anything. He honestly had to of hated me and I have absolutely no idea why to this day. The sexual abuse lasted till I was almost 12 until I finally stood up to him and told him if he ever came to my room again at night I would start screaming and I would tell my parents why when they asked. He left and never came in again. During those years that he was sexually abusive I also got abused by both my male and female cousins while they were baby sitting me. My daughters father who abandoned the relationship when I was only 3 months pregnant was both physically and mentally abusive. My sons father and my first husband was also both. And neither of them were providers so when I married my second husband whom is my current abuser and also the provider for me and my son, who is now 17, he was 2 when I started seeing my husband. And the first few years of our marriage I never even realized the manipulation. I only realized it when I began to want to do things with my friends, you know girl things that men don’t enjoy instead of going someplace with him to work or whatever and sit there for hours doing absolutely nothing but watching him. When I began to want jus a portion of my individuality back because I had completely lost myself somewhere along the way to the point of not having made a single decision for myself in years. He was in total aND complete control of me for a very long time andtalk to me look I’m an idiot. Make me feel dumb as a rock! However I am now 46 yrs old and have a son graduating high school next year and Going to college that is bound his biological child. I haven’t had a job on a payroll in years since March of 2000 when my daughter was killed. Her death pushed me into drug addiction and mental instability. And actually have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder so I really feel that even if I could get a job I wouldn’t be able to hold on to it simply because off my mental health. Some days I feel normal again but I don’t dare get used to that anymore or have crazy thoughts that I’m suddenly all better cause I can be great for days all the way up till I go to sleep in a great mindset and wake up the next morning just as screwed up as ever. It’s very frustrating to me but honestly I think his behavior and the way he talks, treats, controls, manipulates, etc me that it makes that situation 10xs worse. Nov 2014 I had a mental breakdown_I completely emotionally melted down to nothing. It was truly terrifying but since then I can tell he doesn’t see me the same way and he was the cause of it. He keeps me so worked up stressed out and on edge every day that my mind can’t function properly but I feel so trapped in this whole situation. Up until this yeast though I never even considered leaving because I loved him so much and I still love him but it’s no longer the same. He acts like a parent to me instead of a husband and friend that he’s supposed to be and it makes me really really sad. The whole situation makes me so very sad. He is a great provider but I think he just doesn’t know how to be a husband. And he thinks nothing is wrong with him. Their is so much I could write about the years of mental abuse from him and not only to me but to my son who I’m starting to notice that he acts alot like him and that’s terrifying as well. I don’t even know where to begin to try to fix this. Any of it…

    Sad in Gray, Ga.

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    June 2nd, 2016 at 9:15 AM

    Hi Brandy,
    Thank you for commenting. We wanted to reach out and make sure you’re aware of some resources that may be of help. If you are currently experiencing emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (TTY: 1-800-787-3224). This 24/7 hotline can help you identify steps to getting out of an abusive situation and give you resources for your safety. You can find more help on this page: https://www.goodtherapy.org/in-crisis.html

    We are thinking of you and wishing you the very best!
    Kind regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Jennifer L

    Jennifer L

    August 30th, 2016 at 1:15 AM

    Brandy L, I’m so sorry for what you have been thru. Look into narcissistic abuse. Everything you’ve said is spot on, right down to keeping you on edge – they control by keeping your life in chaos. I’m sure it’s hard to leave at your age, just remember, there are many who would love to have those years back. You won’t get any younger and you deserve to be loved and supported in a healthy way. Everyone on here should remember that the brain reacts much the same to a physical injury to the body as an emotional one. Don’t let them think they’re such great stuff just because they don’t hit you. Look into passive-aggressive if you feel like you live in a house of mirrors. Look up narcissism if they are control freaks who somehow manage to also take no responsibility and are victims in all this (ha!). Look up a psychopath if you have any horrible suspicions that he’s crossing boundaries civilized people aren’t supposed to. If he acts like a prince or knight in shining armor around others he’s what they call covert. (This can be a very difficult one to separate from because no one believes you!)

    The best thing is that if you don’t want to read a ton on this, just go to You Tube. Many experts are on there offering AMAZING eye-opening info for free! 💘✌😄

  • Tony

    Tony

    June 27th, 2016 at 8:04 PM

    After more than 25 years of saying yes to everything to avoid the confrontations which triggers insults and blame against me, something happened that finally made say enough. I am half owner of my house which sits on a hill on a corner overlooking downtown San Antonio, very large one floor house which is good for old people (no stairs) a super beautiful house and paid for, with extra low property tax, which I can pay by myself from my Social Security Check. Now, I am told by my abusive partner that he will sell the house whether I like it or not because we are moving to Eagle Lake, to an old 2 story mansion built in 1910 in this dying town with a lake full of aligators. When the realtor came, I said I won’t sign and I will not tolerate more abuse. THE RESULT, we don’t talk to each other, one on each side of the house. I said to him how I felt about the abuses of all those years and I won’t take no more abuse, I am not scared anymore, I am holding my house. I will leave in a hearse when God calls me in or he does me in. I may forget how to talk because we pass each other without a word, but what a relief not to hear all those insults and telling me I am stupid and good for nothing. God give me strength to go thru with this.

  • Jennifer L

    Jennifer L

    August 30th, 2016 at 1:20 AM

    Good for you, Tony! Don’t get pulled back in, they’re notorious for that!👊

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