This article was published first on KSL.com
My friend recently told me that the way my husband treats me is emotional abuse. We have been married for almost 30 years and the way we deal with each other seems pretty normal to me, but I'm wondering now if it is normal. Do other women get yelled at or criticized as much as I do? I know my husband doesn’t see any good in me at all and never has, so we don't have a very loving relationship, but how would I know if his behavior is crossing the line and is abusive?
I'm so glad you asked this question because you are not alone on this. I think a lot of people put up with abuse because they think it's normal.
According to a study from the National Clearinghouse on Family Violence, 39 percent of women have suffered emotional abuse by their husbands/partners and this kind of abuse can go on for years for the very reason you described. It is so easy to rationalize, misinterpret or overlook once it feels normal.
The problem is not only coming from men though. Women can also be the perpetrators of emotional abuse and the problem with accepting this behavior as normal is that you are teaching the man (or women) in your life that it's OK to treat people this way, so they will never change.
We are here (in the classroom of life) to learn about love, and your spouse has some important lessons coming that he really needs to learn. You have (apparently) been selected as the teacher on this one because you may be the only person who can teach him this vital human lesson — it is not okay to be unkind and cruel to other people.
You are not serving anyone’s best interest when you allow him to mistreat you. It doesn’t serve you, your spouse, or your children. It sets a terrible example and gives power to the idea that some people have less value than others, which is not true. All people deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.
Everyone has disagreements with their spouse on occasion, but some kinds of fighting behavior are not acceptable. I believe there are three types of “bad behavior” in relationships and I want you to be familiar with them so you can tell what is okay or reasonable and what is not.
Here are the three categories of bad relationship behavior:
Safe Horizons (a website for victims of abuse) says that without help, children who witness abuse are more vulnerable to being abused themselves as adults or teens, or they are likely to become abusers themselves.
The Help Guide Website also has more about the clinical symptoms of emotional abuse that you may want to read.
The bottom line is, you deserve to feel safe and respected in your home. In a healthy relationship you should also be able to have mature, rational, mutually validating conversations about problems that arise. If your partner can't do that and is tearing down your self-esteem on a regular basis (so you feel miserable and worthless) and you experience fear whenever they are home, you are probably a victim of emotional or psychological abuse. Your rationalizing this as normal makes sense when it is all you have experienced for most of your adult life, but it is not normal or acceptable.
If you love yourself, your children and your spouse at all, you owe it to them all to seek help. It is time for your spouse and children to learn that all people deserve to be treated with kindness, respect and compassion.
If you don’t have a religious leader, counselor or coach to go to for help, start with the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, they can point you in the right direction.
I know that change or seeking help sounds scary because ‘the known,’ even though it’s bad, feels safer than the ‘unknown.’ But I promise (and I know this from personal experience) you will grow and learn so much from standing up for yourself. It will be a huge win in the end. There will be some really hard moments, but you are stronger than you think you are, and you really do deserve better.
You can do this.
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is also the author of the new book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and is a popular speaker.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.