Breaking the Cycle of Emotional and
Verbal Abuse in Marriage

A Case Study

Successful Professional Uses

Verbal and Emotional Abuse to Control

and Keep His Spouse Dependent

When GL entered the Domestic Violence Treatment Program he embraced the misconception that is common with many domestic abuse perpetrators and the general public: "Verbal and emotional abuse are not true forms of domestic violence."

He believed that as long as there was no actual physical violence, no domestic abuse had occurred. The thoughts echoed by many perpetrators upon entry into a treatment program are "I didn't hit her, so what's the big deal? How can this be domestic violence if I didn't hit her?"

The reality is that verbal and emotional abuse are probably the most common forms of domestic violence seen in intimate relationships. These behaviors can be extremely damaging to individuals, relationships and children of those relationships. The verbal and emotional violence is often insidious and has the power to leave internal scars that can last for years. Survivors of domestic abuse will often say they would much rather have been physically hit than have had hurtful and violent things said to them.

Upon entry into treatment GL's presentation was not unique. He described a long-standing pattern of behavior in his relationship with this partner that was excessively controlling, mentally abusive and calculated to make his partner feel powerless and inadequate about herself. These are the key features of verbal and emotional abuse.

Deep inside, he felt afraid, inadequate, and insecure. He constantly worried that his partner would, at some point, gain a sense of her own empowerment and self-worth that could motivate her to leave him and find a relationship in which she was a not the victim of his emotional and verbal abuse.

It took his participation in the treatment program to see this about himself. While in the relationship, he was invested in keeping her dependent upon him for everything she needed. The power and control tactics he most frequently and successfully used to do this were his emotional and verbal abuse.

To keep the dynamic of his partner's disempowerment in place, GL would isolate her from friends, family or any other source of support; verbally degrade, belittle and humiliate her alone and in front of others; control her financially and through their children; and essentially "brainwash" her into believing that she was incompetent, powerless and had to depend upon him for everything she needed.

He would interrogate her endlessly about all she did and all she thought to the point that she would be worn down and give in to his demands just so the verbal and emotional pounding would stop. He was skillful at identifying her weak points and then zeroing in on them to successfully undermine and cancel out any shred of self-esteem she might exhibit.

GL's entry into the Domestic Violence Treatment Program was precipitated by his partner's leaving their relationship. She realized that it was her responsibility to change the thinking and behavior that led to her continued victimization by her choosing to stay. Through the course of his treatment he was able to acknowledge the reality that his own insecurity, fear, jealousy and inadequacy were the factors that drove him to emotionally and verbally abuse his partner in a misguided attempt to keep her from leaving by controlling her. He was able to insightfully see that the thing he feared the most (his partner's leaving the relationship) was the inevitable outcome of the emotionally and verbally violent behavior he used in an attempt to make her stay.

GL successfully completed the Domestic Violence Treatment Program and learned the damage that can be inflicted on others using emotional and verbal abuse. He was able to empathize with her experience and put himself in her shoes. It also became clear to him that his use of verbal and emotional abuse to disempower his partner was the mechanism he used to conceal and insulate himself from his own feelings of fear, insecurity and lack of his own healthy empowerment. He knew when he finished the treatment he could no longer achieve a sense of his own power at the expense of another.

For more information about domestic violence treatment, visit Partners in Prevention helps couples internationally to recognize, end and heal from domestic abuse. Copyright 2010 Partners in Prevention - Domestic Violence Prevention and Intervention