While not immediately apparent, the signs of emotional abuse in marriage are many. Unlike physical abuse, which can leave scars and bruises, emotional mistreatment may be difficult to detect. Many husbands and wives live in an invisible mental prison, held captive and bound with chains of intense hopelessness and despair. Victims are usually shy and introverted, withdrawn and insecure. Telltale signs of mistreatment may also include a lifestyle that is isolated or extremely limited; including a lack of contact with friends or relatives. An unkempt appearance, extreme weight loss or gain, or disorientation may also indicate marital mistreatment.
Beneath the signs of emotional abuse in marriage is usually a domineering spouse who desires to manipulate, control and intimidate through an attack on the victim's mind and self-esteem. Through some warped misconception of marriage, the attacker uses wedlock as a weapon to keep the spouse who is victimized in a constant state of emotional lows. The abuser engages in a cat-and-mouse game, constantly watching to see if the husband or wife is experiencing any peace or contentment in the marriage. The moment the victim strives to attain a measure of emotional well being and feeling of self-worth, the abuser immediately pounces with an unkind word, a negative response or worse, a belittling remark to quench any glimmer of joy the victim might experience. "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; ...: "So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church" (Ephesians 5:25; 28-29).
Men and women who display signs of emotional abuse in marriage may experience spousal mistreatment in the form of verbal attacks and some physical abuse, such as hitting or in extreme cases, rape. The goal of the abuser is to control and manipulate the abused into abject submission. Abusers may use language that berates and ridicules the husband or wife; or they may withhold expressions of love and sexual intimacy as punishment for some unexplained transgression. In extreme cases, some abusers may use sex as a weapon to punish the victim, perverting the normal act of physical intimacy into an exercise in mental torment.
Eventually, those who are constantly mistreated may show signs of emotional abuse in marriage by reacting negatively or even violently toward the abusive spouse. In many domestic violence cases, husbands and wives who have undergone years of mental torment at the hands of a domineering mate may shut down emotionally and begin to display aggression. Enduring years of alienated affections, perverted sexual intimacy, and constant denigration can take a toll. Some victims merely cease to feel anything emotionally for the abusive husband or wife; creating an impenetrable void. Signs of emotional abuse in marriage also translate into a lack of communication and a hostile atmosphere that can erupt into a physical altercation. Every word exchanged is wrought with irony, pessimism, and disdain; and having a pleasant conversation is nearly impossible. "A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger. The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright: but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness" (Proverbs 15:1-2). Victims of domestic violence should seek help by calling a local crisis line or contacting a local social services agency or shelter.
From a child's perspective, the signs of emotional abuse in marriage may be perceived as the inability of one spouse to respond appropriately to another. Surprisingly, the victim--disheartened by constant berating--is often seen as the perpetrator of marital disharmony. Children witnessing their moms and dads constantly at odds tend to want to take sides: is Mom right or is Dad right? Why doesn't Mom show Dad any affection? Why do they seem to be always on the verge of an argument or engaged in a cold war? Without recognizing that the alienation of affection is one of the signs of emotional abuse in marriage, children may misinterpret the victimized spouse's inability to display affection and wrongfully accuse them as being cold or uncaring toward their intimidator. One can see that husbands and wives are not the only victims of marital disharmony and mistreatment. Emotionally alienated spouses should take care to observe how the children are affected and take measures to resolve issues before causing them permanent emotional damage.
The signs of emotional abuse in marriage can only be dealt with by discovering the root cause of the abuser's desire to torment, and by correcting negative patterns of behavior. Many times, tormentors have been victims of abuse themselves. Men who grew up with a domineering mother or abusive father may have witnessed a pattern of intimidation which they chose to emulate in their own marriage. Similarly, women who either grew up in an abusive home or were victims of rape, incest, or other types of physical mistreatment may be unable to relate to their husbands with genuine emotion. In any case, the way to uncover the reasons why spouses feel the need to denigrate a loved one is through psychological and marital counseling. An experienced marriage counselor can help guide couples towards a meaningful discussion of conflicts and work towards reconciling hurt feelings and wounded hearts. Negative behavior may also be a result of an inability to forgive past perceived or real transgressions; or the memory of a painful childhood can prohibit the abusive spouse from exhibiting normal affection. The abuser must be willing to face those "skeletons" buried in an emotional closet which causes them to want to dominate, intimidate and control their mates. And the abused spouse must be willing to forgive.