The Difference Between Domestic Abuse and Normal Marital Conflict

When the definition of domestic abuse becomes skewed.

Courtesy Domino Stone via Getty Images


When Someone Has a Skewed Definition Of Domestic Abuse:


My ex-husband left me accusing me of domestic abuse. I remember standing rooted to the grounded when he told me he was leaving because I had “abused” him. It was dark out, he had moved out three weeks before with no explanation and when he finally gave one, it wasn’t what I was expecting.

When I asked for an example, of a specific instance of domestic abuse he said, “Do you remember that night you were having a nightmare and sat up in bed flailing your arms around?

You hit me in the head, Cathy, you abused me that night.”

There is no way to respond to such an accusation. You take it in, try to make sense out of it but it is nonsensical, irrational and you feel like the crazy one when you hear such words from someone you love.

When he told me that wasn’t the only time I had abused him I was all ears. I was finding it hard to process what he was saying but was doing my best to at least hear him. He said, “You used to say to me, I’m getting laid tonight, you are welcome to be there if you would like. That was verbal abuse.”

Not only had I physically abused my husband I had also verbally abused him. I didn’t defend myself against his accusations. I knew that anyone who thought those were examples of domestic abuse was beyond listening to reason. I walked away from that conversation knowing that my husband wanted out of our marriage and was grasping at straws for an excuse to leave.

I hear stories like this often in my work as a divorce coach/consultant. Most come from women who are looking for a way out and have a skewed view of what domestic violence is. If they are annoyed or feeling harassed in any way, then “he is being abusive.”

My own history with false allegations of domestic abuse means that I take seriously such allegations and listen closely when dealing with anyone who is making such allegations.

I’ve learned over the years that we’ve become a society that throws the term around loosely and at the expense of innocent husbands, wives, and children.

For some reason women are finding it easier to say, “I was abused,” instead of “I no longer love you” when attempting to get out of a marriage.

According to the Center For Disease Control, “domestic violence is abuse or violent action that occurs between two individuals in a close relationship. Physical abuse includes acts of violence in which one partner physically hurts the other by kicking, hitting or using other methods of physical force. Sexual abuse occurs when a partner is forced to have sexual contact without his or her consent. Emotional abuse includes acts such as controlling finances or outside relationships with friends and family, making verbal threats, or routinely making comments that damage a partner's sense of autonomy and self-worth.”


The Difference Between Domestic Abuse and Healthy Marital Conflict:


Healthy Marital Conflict:

Marriage is both a challenge and an opportunity. There will be times during any marriage when forming and maintaining an intimate bond is challenging. Couples who are able to meet the challenges and overcome them become better partners, lovers, and companions.

What are some of the challenges that a marriage may face?

  • Conflicting beliefs on child rearing,
  • Differing beliefs on how finances should be handled,
  • Differing sex drives,
  • Health issues,
  • How household chores are divided,
  • An inability to communicate,
  • Loss of trust,

If a couple can handle the above issues as they come up without hitting, screaming, blaming and belittling each other then you are experiencing healthy marital conflict. You HAVE to be willing to work through conflict as it arises, though. To ignore problems as they come up and avoiding conflict is one of the most abusive things you can do to the relationship with your spouse.

And, we all communicate and come at solutions to marital problems differently. If you and your husband are having financial problems and he puts you on a budget, he isn't abusing you, he is looking for a solution to a problem.

If a wife expresses to you that you have hurt her feelings or, she would rather not have to ask you to do something a dozen times with no response from you, she isn't belittling or, abusing you, she is attempting to be heard by you.

Normally the difference between normal marital conflict and domestic abuse is thin skin and an inability to take responsibility for helping find solutions to marital problems.  

Domestic Abuse:

Although there are challenges to be dealt with during marriage if you feel as if you are in a constant battle for your marriage you should take stock and put thought into the fact that you may be in an abusive situation.

There are layers upon layers of the types of abuse one can experience in any intimate relationship. Below are examples of a few that are definite examples of domestic abuse.

Your husband…

  • Hits, punches or kicks you,
  • Screams and yells at you,
  • Calls you names,
  • Controls your comings and goings,
  • Limits your activities with friends and family,
  • Controls the money,
  • Pressures you to have sex or engage in sexual acts that make you uncomfortable,
  • Withholds sex from you,
  • Ridicules your beliefs, religion, race class or sexual preference,

A woman I spoke with recently left her husband because she had read in a “domestic violence check list” that if your husband tried to keep you from doing something you wanted to do, he was being abusive toward you. This woman wanted a new car that the family couldn’t afford, her husband would not agree to the new car and in this day and age, that is grounds for divorce due to domestic abuse. And this woman had no qualms about telling others that her husband was abusive toward her.

False Accusations of Domestic Abuse:

The sad fact is, allegations of domestic abuse are being used by women and men who are ill equipped to deal with the give and take of marriage.

My ex-husband, for example was a man who thought that love meant NEVER exchanging angry words. He had a romanticized notion that being in love and married meant living a life of daily tip-toes through the tulips.

I find that many people marry with the expectation that marriage will make them happy. People have become so focused on what “makes” them happy that they have forgotten how to get happy.

Happiness in any aspect of life is unsustainable unless we make the sacrifices and engage in the work needed to attain happiness.

Marrying and expecting there to be no conflict is setting your marriage up for failure. When conflict does arise, if you are not being kicked, hit, punched, choked, raped, screamed at, called names, degraded and on and on and on then you are not being abused. More than likely you are being asked to make compromises or negotiate problems and that seems to be the one thing that some who marry feel is tantamount to abuse.

So, I suggest that before marriage learn the fine art of compromise and negotiation and let go of the idea that just because your every waking hour isn’t filled with happiness you are being mistreated. You and your marriage will both benefit.