Abuse between spouses is often overlooked or diminished. It is not always easy to spot, especially when negative behaviors are subtle and well-practiced. Emotional abuse can ultimately escalate into physical violence between spouses. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, intimate partner violence was the most prevalent type of violence in the home.

Emotional expression of anger, frustration or irritation is normal. Most people will witness these behaviors in a spouse on occasion. Short or infrequent outbursts are not necessarily a sign of emotional abuse. Emotional abuse differs because one partner uses it to control and manipulate, frighten or isolate the other.

Learning to recognize abusive behaviors

It is essential to begin to recognize abusive behavior patterns. Some people may only engage in one type of abuse. Others may use many.

  • Humiliation—Humiliation can be anything from cruel or unkind pet names to public embarrassment, and everything in between.
  • Control—Monitoring a partner’s daily activities or obsessively checking spending habits are clear signs of control. Threats to walk out of the relationship without discussion or keeping a partner guessing with unpredictable emotional changes are more subtle.
  • Emotional neglect—These are some of the most subtle signs. Ignoring a partner, withholding affection as punishment or tuning out when a partner is communicating may indicate emotional abuse.

Spousal abuse affects children

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own families as adults. The same is true for emotional abuse, as well. Witnessing abuse between parents can condition a child, male or female, to believe these behaviors are acceptable.