How to Know if You Are an Abusive Spouse

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You may think that the way you treat or talk to your spouse is normal, when in reality it is abusive. Sometimes it is hard to tell if you are as you may not have the level of insight necessary to figure this out. Or, your may think your behavior is "normal" because you grew up in a household of abusiveness, dysfunction or negativity. 

Abuse can occur verbally, mentally and psychologically. It is not just the physical version, also known as "domestic violence." Physical abuse is more obvious, but the other forms of abuse are still very destructive to your marriage.

It will undermine the trust, connection and bond that must exist in your relationship for your marriage to succeed and be healthy.  

Here are questions to ask yourself to determine if you are abusive towards your spouse:

  1. Did your partner already tell you that you are abusive?
  2. Is your spouse afraid of you?

  3. Have you ever threatened to kill your spouse?

  4. Do you believe that your way is the only way?
  5. Have you ever hit, slapped, pushed, pulled hair, or choked your spouse?
  6. Do you often feel jealousy?
  7. Do you believe you have the right to know what your spouse is doing and where your spouse is all the time?
  8. Do you call or text your spouse incessantly when he or she is out without you?
  9. Do you think of yourself as in charge?
  10. Do you enjoy seeing your spouse in pain, crying or hurt?
  11. Do you believe your spouse deserves to be hit or yelled at or punished?
  12. Do you believe your spouse 'asked for it'?
  13. Do you break or destroy your spouse's belongings on purpose?
  1. Have you ever been arrested for violent behavior?
  2. Do others tell you that have an anger problem?
  3. Do others tell you that you seem paranoid?
  4. Are you afraid of asking for help because you might lose everything that is important to you?
  5. Has your spouse ever tried to leave you?
  6. Do you think about "getting even" with your spouse? 
  1. Do you twist things around, lie or exaggerate to make your partner doubt him/her self and sense of reality?

Has your spouse complained of any of these things about you:

  1. Interfering in social relationships
  2. Not allowing any privacy
  3. You don't open up and/or often shut down
  4. Walking on eggshells
  5. Too controlling
  6. Too uptight
  7. Everything is more peaceful when you're not around
  8. Not able to spend any money/go out/make plans, etc. without  permission
  9. Always in a bad mood
  10. Critical or complaining about everything

Lot's of "Yeses," What Should You Do?

  • If you answered yes to several of these questions, please see a licensed professional counselor or clinical social worker for counseling. Be honest with the counselor or you will not get the help you need. Your spouse can join you in couples therapy, but only if you have your own counseling individually for a while before and concurrent with the marriage therapy. 
  • Look for a anger management group and read self-help books along with other treatment you are receiving.
  • If you abuse or use drugs or alcohol, you must stop or get help to stop. Drugs and alcohol is undoubtedly making your behavior worse. A 12-step program or similar is a must.  
  • Saying 'I'm sorry' isn't enough. It is important that you take complete responsibility for your abusive behavior. 

You must have...

  • honest self-appraisal
  • a willingness to seek help
  • the ability to let go of controlling your spouse
  • a full understanding of why you are abusive
  • healing your own past hurts so you do not continue to take it out on others
  • appropriate guilt for your behavior and remorse toward your victims for your actions 
  • full effort and motivation for learning appropriate communication skills, boundaries, and a healthy view of love
  • self-compassion and compassion for your partner 

*Article updated by Marni Feuerman

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