Abuse in an intimate relationship manifests itself in many forms. While physical abuse leaves more visible scars, the horrifying significance of verbal and emotional abuse cannot be discounted.
A study found that psychological aggression by an intimate partner was reported by 48.4% of women and 48.8% of men across the USA. This included expressive aggression such as name-calling, and coercive control such as isolation tactics or threats of harm.
Since verbal and/or psychological abuse is more covert, it’s tough to acknowledge that you are in such a relationship, and far easier to brush it off as regular conflict. After all, having a verbally abusive wife or husband is rarely something people want to talk about.
While the figures seem to suggest that cases of verbal abuse are reported by almost equal numbers of men and women, we’re focusing on how to deal with a verbally abusive wife here.
However, the insights provided by counseling psychologist and therapist Neha Anand (MA, Counseling Psychology), founder-director of Bodhitre India and chief consultant counselor at Bhimrao Ambedkar University Health Centre, and lawyer Shonee Kapoor, a legal evangelist at Tripaksha, are applicable no matter what an abuser’s gender. They talked to us about verbally abusive wife signs and how to cope.
What Counts As Verbal Abuse?
According to Neha, verbal abuse in a relationship is where the perpetrator wants to demean, control or dominate their partner. She explains, “It can be obvious or subtle, sometimes wrapped in sly humor. Unlike physical abuse, it doesn’t leave visible bruises or broken bones, but it can be deeply tormenting and torturous just the same.
“Abusers often suffer from low self-esteem which makes them devalue or disrespect their partners by exerting power over them with the primary urge to dictate or dominate others.”
When she is deliberately hurting you through her words, bringing up old trauma or saying things she knows will trigger your worst fears and insecurities, you’re living with a verbally abusive wife.
Related Reading: 5 Signs Of Emotional Abuse You Should Watch Out For, Warns Therapist
7 Signs You Have A Verbally Abusive Wife
The scars left by verbal abuse are not like physical bruises, and so, it’s easy to miss the signs. However, living with a verbally abusive wife can leave you with deep-seated insecurity, low self-esteem and may even drive you to self-harm.
It is vital, therefore, that you recognize the characteristics of a verbally abusive wife, . Once you realize the verbally abusive wife signs, it’ll be a little easier to cope with it.
1. Shaming and blaming
Neha explains, “Verbal abusers tend to blame-shift and put the responsibility for everything that goes wrong in the relationship on their partner’s shoulders. The motive to do this is to make their partner feel guilty and trap them in a vicious cycle of insecurity and self-dejection.”
“My ex-wife had me believing that she was the victim, not I,” says Grant. “Anything that went wrong, from a scuffed shoe to a bad day at work – she would take it out on me and make me feel it was my fault. It was her way of making me feel small at all times.”
It’s difficult to wrap your head around the fact that you’re being abused if you’re caught in a vortex of shame and constantly being made to feel that everything is your fault. It’s even more difficult to make your way out of that vortex and take a stand. This way, you fall completely under your verbally abusive wife’s control. Shaming and blaming is absolutely one of the signs of a controlling woman, or man.
“When one partner denies facts and mentally overpowers the other by shunning responsibility and distorting the truth, that’s a powerful form of psychological manipulation and manifests in verbal abuse,” Neha says.
Gaslighting is definitely one of the characteristics of a verbally abusive wife. Imagine that you bring up something hurtful she’d said to you earlier, and she denies it entirely. In fact, she has you believing that you imagined the whole thing, and that you’re weak-minded and overly fanciful.
Mostly, a gaslighting spouse will speak with such confidence and conviction that a victim will end up believing them and doubting their own version of events as they actually happened. In other words, your verbally abusive wife can twist your reality by simply telling you that something’s not true.
It’s so deceptively simple to see name-calling as a harmless, childish pastime, rather than a tool of verbal abuse. In fact, this could be one of the hardest things to link with having a verbally abusive wife.
“When one partner makes hurtful, triggering statements, either overtly or subtly, and if this becomes a consistent exercise, it turns into a toxic relationship, and is a surefire example of verbal abuse,” Neha says.
“I’ve always been conscious of my body,” says Patrick. “I’m a little overweight and I have trouble losing the extra pounds. It’s terribly hurtful when my wife casually refers to me as ‘chubby hubby’ or saying things like, ‘cut down on the pancakes, fatty.’ She laughs when she says it, but she knows it keeps me feeling low.”
“I earn less than my wife and she’s always calling attention to it,” says John. “Every time there’s an argument, she’ll call me a freeloader or an underling.” Words have tremendous power to hurt us and living with a verbally abusive wife is a sobering reminder of this.
4. Constant threats
‘If you act like this, I’m going to leave you!’ ‘If I walk out on you, you’ll never find anyone else.’ Do these lines sound familiar? Are they frequently used by your wife to scare you into submission? Well then, chances are you have a verbally abusive wife.
Issuing threats is always a low point in a relationship, even if it’s done in the heat of the moment. There’s always the hint of violence in a threat, even if there’s no physical intimidation. This is one of the insidious ways a verbally abusive wife or husband would leave scars on your psyche.
Related Reading: Healthy Vs Unhealthy Vs Abusive Relationships: What’s The Difference
5. Discounting and being dismissive
“When one partner dismisses the other’s thoughts, feelings and reality, it’s an indirect way of telling them that whatever they are feeling or thinking is wrong or of no consequence,” says Neha.
If your verbally abusive wife is always telling you things like, ‘No, that’s not how it works’ or ‘You’re just being sensitive’, she is essentially stripping away your right to feel your feelings. She’s also making sure you’re never in a place where you can stand up for what you feel. This is one of the definitive characteristics of a verbally abusive wife.
Since, abuse in all its forms is ultimately a matter of being a controlling partner, to dismiss or discount a partner’s feelings entirely is an ideal way for an abuser to ensure that they continue to hold the reins in the relationship.
6. Judging and criticizing
Exercising judgment in a relationship is one thing, but being constantly judgmental and a harsh critic for no good reason is another. Constant criticism from someone who’s always supposed to have your back and support you, is a bitter pill to swallow. And if you’re living with a verbally abusive wife or husband, chances are you’re forced to swallow a lot of them.
“My wife was forever telling me I didn’t know how to dress, that my sense of humor was poor, that I chose my friends badly,” says Peter. “It came to a point where I was wondering if she liked anything about me at all or if she just liked having someone to criticize. It’s almost like a love-hate relationship.
Since abusers often suffer from low self-esteem, constantly putting other people down is how they boost themselves up. And it’s so easy to make a target of someone you live with, someone who trusts your judgment, that an intimate partner falls prey to this abuse.
Neha explains, “When one partner shuns the significance of their partner’s choices, suggestions or decisions, it creates a toxic space where no matter what you want or achieve, your partner undermines it.”
Trivializing can start small – maybe your verbally abusive wife undermines a great new recipe you want to try out by saying, “It sounds like an ordinary dish to me.” It can then grow from there. Perhaps you’ve just gotten promoted at work and she shrugs and says, “It should have happened two years ago.”
While yelling and anger in a relationship definitely constitute verbal abuse, this subtle cutting down of a partner no matter what they say or do is equally damaging.
Note that by themselves, the words don’t seem that hurtful. But what she’s saying is that you’re not good enough, and never will be. Rather than celebrating you, having a verbally abusive wife means you’re always made to feel less than what you are.
6 Things You Can Do If You Have A Verbally Abusive Wife
Since we’ve covered some verbally abusive wife signs, you’re now probably wondering how to deal with a verbally abusive wife. There is, of course, the option of walking away, but it’s not always that simple. Also, merely walking away isn’t enough – it’s important to build yourself up again after you’ve been broken down so many times. Here are some constructive steps you could take whether you’re divorcing a verbally abusive wife, or continuing to live with her.
Related Reading: Is Silent Treatment In A Relationship Mental And Emotional Abuse?
1. Building self-esteem
There’s always going to be someone or the other who’s trying to take you down. When it’s a spouse or an intimate partner, it is doubly damaging and can take much longer to recover.
“Verbal abuse is emotionally draining and takes a toll,” says Neha. “It could lead you to feel hopeless and shatter your self-esteem. Always remind yourself that you have a legitimate right to be treated well and with respect in a relationship. Don’t give up!”
Ultimately, your life belongs to you, and the strongest validation of yourself needs to come from within. No matter how much your verbally abusive wife batters you, remind yourself that her words are not stronger than who you actually are.
2. Be assertive
Standing up for yourself isn’t easy, especially if you’ve been subjected to verbal abuse for a long time. Remember, asserting yourself doesn’t mean you respond with verbal abuse yourself. Sometimes, it can be about taking a quiet stand with confidence and dignity.
“Being assertive is also about refusing to participate in an unproductive argument, which is what a lot of verbal abusers get into,” Neha says.
She adds, “Be assertive in your actions, stand firm and state that you are not going to be part of this relationship conflict. Or simply do not react when they come at you.”
When you refuse to give your verbally abusive wife any importance, the hold she has over your life will shrink as well. You’ll start seeing her for who she is – someone with low self-esteem, who needs help. But also, someone who can no longer control you because she is of no importance. Living with a verbally abusive wife will mean you need to work on your self-confidence.
3. Communicate and do not hide
“It’s always fruitful to communicate your feelings to your abuser,” Neha says. “Confront them and articulate how it feels when they abuse you.”
Looking an abuser in the eye and telling them how they’re making you feel can be one of the toughest things to do. Which is why it’s also incredibly important.
To say to your verbally abusive wife, “You are hurting me, and I don’t deserve it” or “Please don’t talk to me that way, it makes me feel small” can be empowering because you’re letting her know your feelings are valid.
Neha also points out that it’s common for victims of relationship abuse to hide from their family and friends. There is a certain sense of shame in letting people, even those close to you, know that your personal life is in shambles.
“Do not hide the abuse from your family and friends. Build a strong support system and community that you can turn to. You are not alone,” she emphasizes.
4. Practice self-care
One of the characteristics of a verbally abusive wife and relationship is that you’ll be focusing so hard on surviving the abuse that you’ll forget to take care of yourself.
Self-care and self-love are important regardless of your relationship status. But, they are even more vital when you’re wondering how to deal with a verbally abusive wife.
Whether you’re divorcing a verbally abusive wife, or you’re still living with one, focus on you and things that bring you joy.
“I love hiking and volunteering at the local pet shelter,” says Ian. “Unfortunately, my wife always said that my volunteering made no real difference to the pets and hiking wasn’t ‘real’ exercise and so it was pointless. Once we separated, I had to focus really hard on getting back to things that made me happy. But it helped bring me back to my old self.”
5. Seek help
If you’ve decided to stay on with a verbally abusive wife, it’s a good idea to seek professional help. Go to couple’s counseling, or see the therapist individually. The answer to ‘can a verbally abusive wife change’ can often be found in her willingness to seek help and actually do the work needed.
Related Reading: 6 Couples On How Talk Therapy Helped Their Relationship
If you’ve decided to split up, seeking legal advice is important. “Most countries have firm laws around physical abuse, but those around verbal or mental abuse tend to be vague,” says Shonee. However, he adds, continuous and repetitive verbal and emotional violence can be seen as grounds for divorce.
Neha also recommends seeking legal advice and professional help. “Call a helpline that deals with abuse if you think you’d rather not seek help face-to-face at the moment,” she says. Remember, reaching out for help is an important step, and you can take it from there. You could even seek help online or from Bonobology’s panel of counselors to gain an impartial perspective to your situation.
6. Take a firm decision to move on
“If nothing else works, it’s better for you to step away from an abusive relationship,” Neha says. She recommends staying calm as far as possible, not giving in to unfounded fears, and leaning on friends, family and your community.
Moving on isn’t the same as moving out of the house you share with a verbally abusive wife. As someone who’s suffered abuse, coming out into the world is a scary prospect. It’s even common to start seeing the abuse as a kind of shelter because at least it’s familiar. Living with a verbally abusive wife could be seen as preferable to striking out alone.
To move on, you’ll need to break out of the perception that you’re a victim and nothing more. You’ll possibly keep getting flashbacks of the cruel things said to you and freeze up, wondering if maybe you can’t do this alone and should go back. Don’t do it. Take it one small step, one day at a time, and find your strength. You’ve got this.
Dealing with a verbally abusive wife is never easy and will take every ounce of spirit you possess. Ensure you have a strong support system to lean on and remind yourself that you’re not alone.
Acknowledge that you are, in fact, in an abusive marriage or relationship and then slowly and calmly come to a decision about how you want to address it. Don’t brush it aside because your bruises aren’t visible. You have every right to heal and be happy.