Emotional Abuse


I’ve been reading so many threads where a person complains that they are not getting along with their spouse. It seems to me that much of the time the OP is looking for a excuse to leave the marriage and asking the rest of us to give them permission to leave or confirmation that they are an injured party. Quite often emotional abuse is cited and a legitimate reason to end a marriage.

My question is: ** What consistitues emotional abuse?** Please give examples.


Constantly being told that you’re stupid, a fat cow, useless, etc.
Constantly being compared to other women and found lacking.
Not being allowed to come and go freely.



CCC 1649 Yet there are some situations in which living together becomes practically impossible for a variety of reasons. In such cases the Church permits the physical separation of the couple and their living apart. The spouses do not cease to be husband and wife before God and so are not free to contract a new union. In this difficult situation, the best solution would be, if possible, reconciliation. The Christian community is called to help these persons live out their situation in a Christian manner and in fidelity to their marriage bond which remains indissoluble.


CCC 2383 The separation of spouses while maintaining the marriage bond can be legitimate in certain cases provided for by canon law.

If civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense.

Leah, I don’t know if there are standards that constitute emotional abuse but to my thinking (which, admittedly, may be flawed) when kids are getting a regular helping of cruelty amongst parents, or experiencing one parent vindictively undermining the other (which is scandal against the fourth commandment) or any other such spiritual poison, I think that might qualify as reason to seperate under the conditions stated above.

if a spouse is holding another in a certain type of prison-- disallowing contact with extended family, church, spiritual direction or counseling, I think those behaviors might qualify, too.

unleashed addictions can bring on an entire realm of emotional abuse in the form of heaped insults, blame, or threats against the access to the children. withholding sexual relations is an abuse, too.

it gets tricky because what’s manageable for one person may be completely overwhelming and destructive for another.

what i’ve witnessed, though is this: the question “what was wrong with my relationship with God that I would be attracted to this type of relationship?” is rarely asked by the non-abuser.

In the past, maybe that wasn’t a valid question. St. Rita of Cascia and others may have had very little input into the choice of spouse. but today, that’s not the case.


Criticisms, especially coupled with complete lack of positive statements; finding fault; constant blaming; telling a spouse s/he is disliked by family, friends, and co-workers; running a spouse down to those same people; refusing to allow your spouse to be a part of your other relationships and friendships.

Gaslighting is a huge one-- constantly lying, twisting the truth, telling the other person you didn’t say what you said, that they didn’t see or hear what they think they did, that they misunderstood. After awhile, when this is being done to you, you begin to lose all concept of reality. It’s hard to make decisions because you literally don’t know what’s real and what isn’t anymore. You wonder if you’re really seeing and hearing things and remembering everything wrong. I imagine it’s like being caught in a permanent LSD trip when you’ve never touched drugs. You have no idea what’s real anymore.


My next question is: Is this type of emotional abuse a symptom of a more serious problem in the marriage or a character flaw that could have possibly been apparent prior to marriage?

Although I have never been married and never experienced such emotional abuse, I have been in relationships where I could see that minor criticisms could snowball into something much more serious over a number of years. Fortunately, I left those relationships or fought back to the point that the boyfriend left. Eitherway, the relationships were not meant for marriage.


You have given the classic explanation of emotional abuse. I’ve lived it all and it is insidious and debilitating. For the first thirteen years I just didn’t understand how I could be wrong about so many things so often. Three Catholic marriage counselors, three girlfriends, and twenty years later my kids are grown and I am gone. I don’t have the energy to try anymore. BTW my kids are in counseling now and their counselors told them I should have left years ago.

"What was wrong with my relationship with God that I would be attracted to this type of relationship?" This was not the relationship I had before marriage. My husband was caring, protective and very loving. Perhaps there were signs I missed but my friends missed them too. Maybe better Pre-Cana prep would have helped uncover the problem, but I don’t believe that to be true. I’ve grown closer and more dependent on God and His grace over the years, there were times when He was all that was holding me up. Recently my husband told me that he blamed me for his mother’s death from lung cancer, which occurred about a year after we were married. He felt maybe she wouldn’t have died if we hadn’t gotten married. That was thirty-two years ago but he never said and I never knew. Is that the truth? There have been so many lies I just don’t know. Does this prove there was something wrong with my relationship with God?



your marriage sounds really horrible. if yours was an arranged marriage, the following thoughts are nullified.

you wrote this:

He felt maybe she wouldn’t have died if we hadn’t gotten married. That was thirty-two years ago but he never said and I never knew. Is that the truth?

scenario 1# your husband says he was ruined by his mother’s death, blamed you for another person dying of lung cancer, then hid his accusations for 32 years. you wonder if it’s true? did he really feel this way? he said everything else horrible and blamed you for everything else for 32 years, but may have remained silent on this?

scenario #2 for the sake of argument, let’s suppose it is true. your husband was a man who was ruined by his mother’s death, blamed you for it, tormented you because of his blame but hid his accusations for 32 years and ruined his kids’ emotional health in the meantime. yet you say he showed NO SIGNS of this cruelty and instability beforehand.

in peace and goodwill, MJane, with compassion and tenderness I assert you have a certain culpability. either you’ll find it in scenario #1 or scenario #2. in either, you’ll find that you’re dangerously lacking in discernment (which is a gift of the Holy Spirit) ***or ***you are disinclined to follow the discernment you are given.

this is very hard to approach. i know how hard because i have had to look this very same ugliness in the face-- my own. but MJane, this truth set me free. I pray there’s something here to help you.


I think you’re being emotionally abused if you have a feeling of “walking on eggshells.” If you spend a lot of your time trying to figure out how to keep your spouse from flaring up in anger. If you start to doubt your sanity.

I think normal people can say or do things that are “emotionally abusive” from time-to-time. Normal people lose their tempers and say things that hurt. But, normal people don’t thrive on this.

A normal person will admit that they said something wrong. They will be sorry for it. An abuser may sometimes recognize what they’re doing, but they’re far more likely to take the POV of “Well, no, YOU are the one with the problem.”

If you feel like you’re walking on eggshells, you’re starting to doubt your sanity, or you’ve ever found yourself wishing your spouse would just hit you, instead, then I think you should be looking into the possibility of your spouse being an emotional abuser.


My vote is on a character flaw of which there well could have been pre-marriage signs, aside from those cases where the behavior is clearly tied to starting after some sort of trauma (car wrack, war injury, victimized by a violent crime). This kind of behavior pattern doesn’t just pop up randomly…


I agree completely. That has been my experience. It seems that as a courting relationship grows in time, these flaws start to reveal themselves. I happen to believe in long relationships where these flaws will have time to reveal themselves. When something gets to the point that it really starts to annoy me, then I try to imagine what the future (marriage) will be like when there are the stresses of children, money, family issues, etc. It’s at that point that it occurs to me that the relationship will not survive marriage.

In one case, in addition to the above scenario, I got a hint that one guy’s expectation of me would drasticly change after marriage. In his mind, before marriage, our relationship would be 50-50, but after marriage, it would be my soul duty to serve him and that included a healthy paycheck. Nothing much would be required from him. I quickly ran in the opposite direction.


Oh my–I don’t blame you!! :o I agree with your statement about long courtships. I believe that a person’s true colors will emerge, when a person is in a two year or so relationship.


This might be why you’re lonely and blue. Relationships are not about being perfect but they are sacrificial. Marriage is a sacrifice contrary to popular Cinderella story book themes. We, wife watching me write, sacrifice by learning to forgive and improve with each other in time. Through time we hopefully learn to love each other more like Christ looking beyond the imperfect reality of the physical world. ’

Same thing with having children. Children are truly a celebration of the marriage covenant. We join in with the creation of life in the marriage act. But we pick up our crosses in love to help our children prepare for their vocations in life. Believe me, children are a sacrifice. I remember the days when I thought I knew more about relationships and children…and then I got married and had children. It’s an experience that reaveals Christ. We take up our crosses. We carry each others burdens. I think that is how marriages succeed, not because on or both are “perfect” but because each recognizes that the other will never be perfect. We MUST recognize that or prepare for a long lonely life. Even if we wind up married we’re likely to end up divorced if we have this wrong.

I’d suggest attending some kind of pre-marriage seminar for singles.

PAX tecum


Are you implying that if you are not willing to put up with abuse, you are not being sacrificial?


But back to the original questions.

What constitutes emotional abuse? I don’t know if there is a “dictionary answer”, but basically if someone does something that is inherently cruel, hurtful, and unnecessary, it should be a red flag as abusive. If it has a negative impact on your health - you can’t sleep, your blood pressure goes up, etc. - or if you are afraid to come home, or if you feel that you have to ask for permission just to breathe, that to me means abuse.

It could be either/or, as your next point will point out.

What you have just posted is a very important point. Abuse typically starts out small, and we may just put up with it because we are conditioned to “bear wrongs patiently”. You are very fortunate to have the insight you have.


Several sites have good definitions of emotional abuse, including this one.
I’ve been through a few rounds of it. It’s always putting the other person on the defensive, no matter what, always blaming, even when the abuser is the one who has just done something wrong, always gaslighting, pretending to care while belittling, pretending to have all the answers while thinking of nothing but how to stay in control, and always working to undermine the other person even when she needs help the most, often especially then.
It’s a mother telling her son he has embarrassed her by being on Santa’s bad list and therefore he will get no gifts without telling him what he did wrong (generally noting at all). That happened to Dave Pelzer just before the abuse escalated horribly and nearly killed the child.
It’s a man refusing to walk a teenage girlfriend to a place where she can use the restroom while on a long nighttime walk together, standing still, then curling up for days staring angrily at her for “leaving” and then telling her repeatedly he can never trust her again after "she left him."
It’s a woman telling her daughter she missed her “only child’s” wedding in reference to the girl’s sister. This happened to a friend.
It’s a man telling his friends his girlfriend is mentally ill and has never held a job, leaving her to wonder why he has such disrespectful friends, then acting soothing with her and saying she just needs to know how to draw them out.
It’s a man having an affair, staying out all night, then marching in the driveway, punching a le in the screen door, slamming the door and refusing to talk to his wife, then taking her on a walk where she expects an apology, but instead accusing her of “making” him have the affair by not being what he wanted, as happened to Alice Lundgren, the wife of the man who eventually got his followers to kill a family of five in his cult in the 1980’s.
All these people started out acting very different. The mother in the first example was a model mom before her son was about four, taking them to the park, explaining everything they asked about, keeping a clean house, playing educational games, and then one day she changed.
The man in the second and fourth examples started out as a kind, childlike, funny, tender person – on the outside – before he started playing his mental games.
The man in the fifth example started out as a polite, earnest man who seemed to want only to be a good husband and to be faithful and to serve in his church.
It’s not predictable.


Norsemen, you have twisted the meaning of my post. I wont’ get into the fallacy of logic that is :smiley: but I wll say NO! silly, I know what emotional abuse is. I grew up with it…survived it from my brother, parents and some church authorities. It’s probably the main reason I left the Catholic Church years ago…and realized people are just abusive everywhere. But, if you think that Catholicism is abusive you should try the Churches of Christ. Surviver Tiber Swimmer, 2007.

I firmly believe that most Catholics are just too plain emotionally insecure for matrimony… Why so many annulments? No one is being properly prepared or better yet preparing themselves for the sacrament. Marriage is not some easy fix to a sex problem or a lonely issue. I spend half my time sleeping in a chair and won’t diverge as to why. I actually like to sacrifice for my wife. It draws us closer. She loves me for it. We attempt to see Christ in each other.

Our former faith rejects all divorce period…I still hold on to some of that as being legitimate because its roots are in scripture. Even the Pope has criticized America for going over board with approving so many annulments. And if the annulments are legitimate, then it is evidence of a higher level problem in the leadership of the Church for not stopping the abuse. It’s rather sad that many cultural Catholics are so darkened by evil that they don’t see the reality of serving the evil one by giving in so easily to divorce, separation and worse infedelity. However, our former faith also taught that there are 2 ways to legitimately remarry, death and infidelity [irreparable]. Too difficult to get into.

Pesonally, its sad that so many domestic churches have paved the way to hell for their children by using and promoting contraception, abortion mainly, dating instead of courting, etc. Men are not just the abusers but in some ways the victims. We need to break the chains by sacrificing for the future generations by setting the example and stop trying to seek the blessings of this world but to engage in the sacrifices for the good of all the Church, which includes ourselves.

If a man abuses you, that’s not acceptable…shame on him. But guage whether or not you are over reacting. I’m sure many of you have been abused as I have been too. But if you play with the devil you will reap what you sew. Don’t get into illicit affairs, marry men for money… The first girl I dated out of the seminary introduced me to her mom. Her mom said, “if he’s not rich at least he went to the seminary”…later said “it’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as it is a poor one.” That is just plain ungodly behavior. Shame on these materialistic women. This thinking is the reason we live in a “Culture of death”.

I grew up in abuse, I don’t need someone acting like I don’t know what it is. I pray for my parents everyday now that I’m Catholic again and they are dead along with my brother who hung himself over a shark woman that upon discovering my father just drilled a well, struck gas and rolled in a lot of money hit on him within a week of my brothers death. Sick. Dad was sick, gave all that moeny to a friend and never supported us. Mom wrote me and the suicide one out of her wll. So I have a chip on my shoulder with anyone that uses money to marginalize anyone or take advantage of someone. I’ve passed up many jobs that would have made me rich and have the skills to shark my way to the top, but I choose the way of peace. I actually wanted to take a vow of chastity, obedience and poverty in a religious order for the priesthood… But in my woundedness I bailed on the “apostate Catholic Church” for accepting such evil beliefs:o . Rhetoric of that time in my life. I’ve learned the truth sense in more detail and pray for the 90% Catholic populations that are so so lost in their concupicense. Divine Mercy is so wonderful. I pray that God will overlook the iniquities of them and thus me as well.

Sorry if I offended, didn’t mean to, just trying to make a small point about marriage being a sacrifice as is being single, celibate, chaste in any state of life. Many people are abused:mad: and makes me very angry and sad at the same time It pains me to see people in such pain. This is the reason people need to find relationships within Church life. Change Parishs if you have to but keep it with people that are transformed or have hopes for transformation. I found a good Protestant Christian that found the truth in the Catholic Church at the same time I discovered it more fully rooted in historical evidence. But divorce is not always the answer…try **retrovaille **it may be a last chance for a failing relationship. Jesus is the answer though. It’s possible to be abused I know. Just sometimes we overstate things to get what we want. Sometimes we understate things to get what we want too. That’s one reason marriage is a sacrifice. To complex a subject for a board.



My next question is: Is this type of emotional abuse a symptom of a more serious problem in the marriage or a character flaw that could have possibly been apparent prior to marriage?

Oh, yes, it’s a symptom of something that can be so profound as to render any supposed consent at the time of the wedding invalid. And yes, 20/20 hindsight makes everything clear. The abuse was always there. But when you are in love and dating and engaged, you try to explain the behavior in charitable ways. (He had a bad day at the office. She is having her period. His mother was mean to him.) The mind does not want to grasp that some people are downright evil. Much less the person you think you love. So you explain away bad behavior to yourself and unwittingly give them permission to abuse you.

Oddly, abusers seem to gravitate toward really really NICE people. Because really really nice people try to see the good in you and think that you are nice too. For the record, I’m not really really nice anymore. Now I’m open to the idea that some people are really jerks. And I call them on it in the very beginning. And they avoid me. Abusers tend to immediately dislike people who see right through them.

Finally, you wake up to just how evil they are when they say things to you in front of your children like, “Why don’t you just crawl off and die somewhere. The world would be a better place without you.” (BTW that’s a mean thing to say to a post-partum woman.)

Usually, though, you really realize how awful they are once you are married to them. Then once they have you in a no-way out scenario, they show their unbridled real colors. The facade drops away. The courtesy ends. They do thinks like walk into the room where you are reading and pass gas and leave a stench that could kill a cow. Then they leave with a nasty smirk on their face. That, my friends, is pure contempt.

By the time you are in the situation where you realize how bad it’s getting (and they have to ratchet up their behavior to achieve the same effect. They thrive on your emotional pain. It’s like they are emotional vampires or something.) you are married maybe with children.

Then they wear you down and cut you away from family. So the only voice you hear is theirs. And it tells you how much you suck all the time. And no one else is allowed to give a realistic appraisal of you. Sometimes, the last shred of sanity deep down leads you to ask on a board like this “Is it me? Or is that person abusive? Should I stay?” Then someone comes on here and accuses you of seeking permission to break a sacred vow and inferring that this board is a place where people encourage each other to break up a marriage.

Well, if you are living like that, it is not a holy sacrament that brings you closer to God. When you are having to ask strangers if a loving God would make you live like this, there is something wrong.

And no, there is nothing wrong with your relationship with God that makes you end up with a person like this. Sometimes you think you followed the rules and love God, and obey all His commandments and you are trying to help someone else get to heaven, and for the life of you you can’t understand why it’s a complete failure no matter how you try to obey and love God. People like this often gravitate toward those who love God especially. And they take advantage of goodness and kindness. And Satan uses people like this to break down a soul that loves God.

It’s as simple as that.

A spouse who engages in emotional abuse often ends up committing physical abuse. At the very least, they are attempting to destroy a soul. God does not demand that you stay with someone who is destroying your health, safety or sanity.

closed #18

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