The Relationship Blog

Couples Therapy – Emotional Abuse

How Do You Approach A Couple That Complains About Abuse?

The whole area of abuse gets distorted because we are biased. We tend to define abuse based on whether or not there has been physical battering or not. But the physical abuse that occurs in relationships is a very small amount. The much bigger abuse is people who emotionally abuse and beat up on their partner emotionally. Yet they don’t consider it abuse because they aren’t breaking any laws, like in physical abuse. However, the emotional abuse can be quite dramatic, in my opinion. As well as the abuse that goes on where they constantly threaten the partner. Again, this wouldn’t meet the legal definition of abuse, but in a relationship where there’s constant threatening there is tremendously abuse and leaves you totally unsafe, insecure, intimadated, and frightened to a point where you feel that anytime you breathe the relationship will blow up. So I think emotional abuse is a much bigger issue than physical abuse but it doesn’t get the publicity. A lot of women get away with emotional abuse while the men get attention for physical abuse. Emotional abuse is much easier to get away with.

Women Abusing Men Emotionally

A lot of men cannot match women emotionally, as they don’t have as much access to their feelings. Women, however, have more access to their feelings. If their feelings line up with their power then that becomes a deadly combination. For example, some women blow up anytime you approach them This leaves the other out in the dark. Men can be just as abusive when they shut down and withdraw at the slightest hint of conflict. Either way they both use their styles to control the other. Another example is a partner who keeps the backdoor open. That means there’s always the threat of an exit. Every time there is a fight they will want to end the relationship. If the other person is not into that kind of a threat, they just freak out. “We were just arguing, why are you threatening the relationship?” Partners are left tremendously scarred and wounded.

Do They Really Want Out Or Is It More Of A Ploy?

It’s more of a ploy. I don’t trust anyone who says they want out in the middle of being angry, or in a fight, or while trying to prove something. If you’re really serious about wanting out, then you need to say “I love you and no longer want to be with you.” No blame, no finger pointing, no hostility.

Why Is There So Much Abuse?

No one takes a course to get married. You just have to go down get a license and you’re married. That doesn’t mean you’re qualified in being married. In my opinion, a lot of people are not ready to be married. They have no idea what marriage is. They have no idea how demanding it is and that it will expose them to every part of themselves.  So they enter into these adult relationships when they are only little girls and little boys. When you have a relationship that contains tremendous intensity and vulnerability, in the presence of little boys and little girls, it’s like a bomb. The couple sets themselves up for disaster because they’re not prepared and they don’t have the maturity to handle it or deal with these kinds of things. They will act out, or act in. To me these solutions are both the same; just two different directions. In acting out and acting in, there will be a lot of abuse. I had one couple where when she did something he didn’t like, he didn’t talk to her for an entire year. For an entire year he punished her by saying nothing. That’s a very high level of abuse.

If I had my way, everyone who was getting married would have to at least answer The Four Yeses: I accept this person emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally. If people had to say that at the wedding ceremony, less people would be married and you would have less people getting divorced.

What Is A Definition Of Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse is anytime you use different feelings or different emotions to manipulate and control the other person. Take something, for example, like anger. Most people who say they are anger, are not angry. Anger is a five minute event and it’s over. When you see most people displaying anger, it’s not a five minute event. It can be a five year event. So what most people do under the guise of anger is hostility, resentment, punishment, and disgust. These things have no time limit. All of those expressions, when in a relationship,  don’t have a beginning or an end to them, and thus become abusive, especially when it goes on and on and creates tremendous emotional damage to the relationship.

Author: Bruce Derman Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice for couples therapy in Woodland Hills and Los Angeles, California who specializes in working with people in all stages of relationships. You may reach Dr. Derman by calling (818) 375-7194.

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