Q. I think I may be in an abusive relationship. Out of nowhere my husband becomes upset with me. I don’t know what he’s talking about, and he won’t give me examples. I would correct my behavior, but I can’t unless I know what I’m doing wrong. He won’t tell me. Help!
A. The fact that your husband has a complaint, becomes upset, but will not explain the problem to you is emotionally abusive. Abusers do not play fair, so it is unlikely he will ever reveal what you supposedly do to upset him. If he confronted you with his complaint, you could have an adult conversation. That would limit his power over you.
An emotionally abusive relationship will wear you down. The “you are doing something, but I’m not telling you what it is” can destroy your self-worth, increase your levels of depression and anxiety, and make you feel alone.
There are many definitive signs of emotional abuse. The most telling sign is being fearful of your partner. In emotionally abusive relationships, the fear is that you will be belittled or harshly criticized because you are uncertain of the “rules” or accidentally make a mistake. Most emotionally abused people feel they are often walking on eggshells in their own home.
Although emotional abuse does not leave visible scars, the residual effects run deep. If the abuse continues or escalates, you will eventually stop trusting and loving your partner. Even if the abuse stops, it takes a long time to repair the damage.
Stop walking on eggshells around him, find some interests of your own and contact a mental health professional to help you negotiate your next steps. If your partner is willing, I would suggest that you seek couple’s counseling. However, abusers are rarely open to therapy because they become defensive, think you are over-reacting, and believe that nothing is their fault.
Q. My 25 year-old-daughter had some suspicious bruises on the back of her arms recently. She says her boyfriend gets rough with her sometimes, but he doesn’t mean any harm. I think he is abusing her. What are the signs or domestic violence?
A. According to the website PsychCentral, there are several questions that one should ask to determine if a person is a victim of domestic violence. Share these with your daughter. If she answers “yes” to any of these questions, she is probably in an abusive relationship and should seek help.
1. Are you in a relationship in which you have been physically hurt or threatened by your partner?
2. Has your partner ever hurt your pets, destroyed your clothing or damaged something that was special to you?
3. If you have children, has your partner ever threatened them?
4. Has your partner ever forced you to have sex or perform sexual acts in a way that makes you uncomfortable?
5. Are you ever fearful of your partner?
6. Has your partner ever prevented you from leaving home, seeing friends, working or continuing your education?
7. Has your partner ever hit you or used a weapon against you?
8. Does your partner criticize you or call you names?
Speak to your daughter about your concerns, listen and offer to help her. Do not judge or blame her, give unsolicited advice or make unconditional demands. Help her to find a counselor or a group where she can express her feelings and get the courage to leave her abuser if necessary. There are numerous websites and groups for abused women. She can find the help and support she needs.
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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City where she maintained a private practice. She now teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. The questions will not be answered personally, but could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.