Your Spouse Loves to Call You Names—Is It Verbal Abuse?

Verbal abuse is hard to spot, so here are steps to cope

Men Being Verbally Abused
GlobalStock/Creative RF/Getty Images

We have all had altercations with our spouse. What should normally blow over may infect a relationship in the long-term. At a certain point, these fights are no longer just little cracks—they are part of a pattern of verbal abuse. 

Victims of domestic abuse, whether physical or psychological, tend to internalize the effects of their partner's actions. Have you found yourself feeling small or unimportant when your wife yells at you? Does your husband punish you with his words? Words that hurt, belittle or put another person down are abusive and therefore you may be enduring verbal abuse. 

Read the four tips below about how to cope with a verbally abusive wife or husband in your life. 

Boundaries for Your Spouse

Set boundaries on what you will and will not accept from your spouse. Communicate what is and isn’t accept when speaking to you or about you. Let her know in no uncertain terms that you will not accept being belittled or having your intelligence or your character demeaned. 

When you first begin to set boundaries around verbal abuse, your spouse may balk and push the line to see if you are serious. If you are going to set boundaries on someone's behavior toward you, you have to be willing to stand your ground and guard your boundaries. When you don't, the door remains open to more, and possible escalation, of abuse. 

Get Some Space

To complement the boundaries you have set, try to get some space from your spouse. This is a good way to reinforce your limits and emphasize their importance in order to keep verbal abuse at bay. This is an especially good thing to practice if the verbal abuse continues—your spouse should know your boundaries,  so walking away from dangerous situations is a good way to separate yourself from the problem. 

It could also be helpful to have a conversation about this as a type of additional boundary—if any name-calling or insults happen in the future, you are committed to distancing yourself and returning when you see fit. Beyond physically removing yourself from a situation, there are multiple ways to step away from a verbally abusive environment—namely, financially and emotionally. 

Boundaries for Yourself

Not only do you need to set boundaries with your spouse, you need to set boundaries with yourself. Doing this means not fearing a confrontation. Many women fear confrontation, and similarly, men fear hurting their wives. By not holding your ground,  you allow your spouse to cross your self-imposed boundaries of what is and is not okay in their life and the relationship. 

Don't Play the Victim 

Do not play the victim or try to gain anything from your status as the abused. Show with your actions that you are your spouse's equal and will only accept respect from them. You do this by not responding to ugly words with anger or victimization. Remember that an abuser thrives off of the power dynamic they establish, which is to say that they prefer when you feel small. Wen you show them that they have succeeded, they will use this as more reason to belittle you. Breaking the cycle is tough but will have a lasting impact on your relationship. 

Confrontation may be a step toward no longer being a victim, but "confrontation" is not the same as "conflict." It is important to not return their hurtful words with inappropriate words of your own and to be respectful. Try not to raise your voice when having these conversations; some people find it helpful to prepare something to say when you are ready to confront your spouse. It could be as simple as saying, "I no longer will accept your verbal abuse. I'm asking you to stop saying hurtful things or our marriage will not survive." 

We should all know our worth and value. We should not fear standing up to someone who attempts to make us believe we are not worthy of respectful treatment. Doing what is suggested above is your first and hopefully, only step in dealing with your spouse's abusive behavior. If they don't respond in a positive way, then seek marital counseling. 

Watch Now: Signs of Verbal Abuse in a Spouse