In the United States between 40 to 50 percent of married couples divorce. Divorce happens for many reasons, but marriage experts often believe if the couple had taken time apart, worked with a mental health professional, or received pre-marriage education, divorce could have been prevented. However, there is one situation that this does not apply, and that issue is abuse. Abuse begins early in the relationship but continues to worsen the more it is tolerated. When you hear the word abuse, you don’t usually think of your marriage. Most of us think of abuse as violent – bruised faces, swollen eyes, and broken jaws. These physical acts of brutality are real, and they are abuse; however, the same bruises and brutality can happen through emotional and sexual abuse. This is the abuse we don’t hear or talk about, but it’s apparent in many marriages. When baby boomers who have been married for more than 20 years get a divorce, there is a high probability they put up with emotional or sexual abuse for years but were in denial of the severity.
Emotional and sexual abuse can take many forms, but the victims all agree how it makes you feel. You feel inferior, unworthy, weak, ugly, stupid, and pathetic. At this point you cannot resolve or fix the relationship. You must love yourself enough to get out. 90% of all abusers have grown up with or seen parents or other siblings be abused. It’s wired into their minds and acted out in their intimate relationships. For many of them, abuse is a distorted form of love.
An abuser is deceitful, charming, and narcissistic so it can be challenging to know what emotional and sexual abuse looks like. Relationships exist on a spectrum, and it’s not always apparent when a behavior crosses the line from healthy to unhealthy or abusive. The warning signs below could indicate emotional abuse. Do not ignore them because emotional abuse often continues to escalate and may turn into physical abuse.
Checks your cell phone or email without permission. This is called digital abuse. It’s done as a way to humiliate the victim.
Constantly puts you down, especially when you’re alone together
Shows extreme jealousy or insecurity with accusations
Often has an explosive temper
Continuing an addiction that puts your partner or children in danger
Isolates you from family or friends
Physically hurts you in any way – this is a common complaint among couples who are having sexual problems. Someone who loves you doesn’t want to hurt you when they’re making love to you.
Tells you what to do and tries to confuse you or make you believe you’re crazy
Pressures you to have sex
The following actions indicate sexual or physical abuse. They are abusive actions because they are intentional and unwanted contact that aren’t loving, are hurtful, and can scare you.
Scratching, punching, biting, strangling or kicking
Throwing something at you or around you, such as a phone, book, shoe, or plate
Pulling your hair
Pushing or pulling you
Grabbing your clothing
Using a gun, knife, bat, or any weapon to hurt or threaten you
Smacking your bottom without your permission or consent
Forcing you to have sex or perform a sexual act
Grabbing your face to make you look at them
Grabbing you to prevent you from leaving or to force you to go somewhere. This often happens when the abuser wants you to accompany him to something you are morally and ethically against.
If you’re involved with an abuser, the most dangerous time for you is planning to escape, which is why many victims stay. However, you cannot save an abusive relationship nor should you. The only person you can save is yourself and your children if you have them in the home. You need to get out, and here is the most effective plan to enact today.
1. Tell a friend, parent, or someone who can help you and be supportive of a plan to leave. The best gift a parent or loved one can give at this time is a therapist who will help you as you leave this unhealthy relationship.
2. Identify a safe house for your children and you. Have a bag packed and keep it in your safe house so you can run without worrying about having your things.
3. Go to the doctor and talk to them honestly about what has been going on and have photos. Get necessary testing and treatment. Some forms of emotional and sexual abuse are connected to medical issues.
4. Seek out free and available resources around you. I highly recommend www.loveisrespect.org (1-866-331-8453) and Houston Area Women’s Center (713-528-2121).
If you’re a support person for someone leaving an abuser, remember to keep everything confidential. Don’t ever post online about the situation and don’t tell anyone else. The victim’s life depends on you being able to call authorities if and when necessary.
Marriage is a process, and it requires work from both partners. We can fix most marital problems, but abuse – in all of its hidden expressions – is exempt. The only fix for an abusive spouse is to leave. Save yourself and your children; your futures depend on you letting go of a destructive relationship.