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Can a relationship survive emotional abuse?

(28 Posts)
MartinLikesBiscuits Sun 20-Sep-20 02:11:53

I have been married to DH for 10 years, with 3 children under 7. On the outside our relationship looks very strong, but in reality it has been anything but.

Our arguments usually follow this pattern:
1) I try to explain, calmly and at a convenient time, why X has upset me, X often being something that DH has done/ not done.
2) DH tells me that X wouldn't have happened had I not done Y.
3) Again calmly, I explain that I feel blamed.
4) DH says "I'm not blaming you" and then often tells me that I am overreacting because of anxiety/ post natal depression/ PMS/ PCOS/ basically anything hormonal.
5) It then begins to go round in circles and ends up with him keeping calm and me shouting at him, sometimes very badly, and I end up deeply regretting my reaction (especially if it was in front of the children, which unfortunately it has been sometimes), feeling ashamed, and agreeing that it was, after all, my fault. I know that I am in control of my responses, but sometimes I have honestly felt as though I was going mad. There just felt like no other way to communicate with him. It is like talking to fog, he dodges everything I say.

X can be anything, from small things such as housework, but has also been much bigger things, for example DH drove the car drunk after a work event - he said I was to blame because I would have become angry if he hadn't brought the car home (I ended up agreeing with him, and felt that if only I were easier to live with, he wouldn't have done something so dangerous). I put off getting a lump investigated because he said he couldn't take time off work to take care of the kids (he also wasn't happy at me getting family or friends to help) and I was disrupting things for him. Nine months later, when my GP brother told me to get the lump seen urgently, DH told me that he didn't want to be blamed if anything happened to me (the lump turned out to be benign). Again, I felt it was my fault, I should have handled things better and been a stronger person. A close friend died during lockdown, DH was not supportive and when I complained, he said I was too focused on the needs of other people rather than him. The list goes on.

Stupidly, I only noticed this pattern a few weeks into lockdown, as the arguments had become much more frequent, especially after my friend died. It began to sink in that this really isn't normal. I told DH that we seemed to have a real problem, and he went off and did some "research" - I thought to tell me that I was wrong. To my surprise, he came back and told me that he had been emotionally abusing me, that he was appalled with himself, and that he would get counselling to sort things out. Since beginning the counselling he really does seem to have changed, and we have argued much less frequently, although there have been a few bumps. I have begun to feel much happier on the whole and more like my old self. I want the marriage to work, and honestly when DH is not behaving like this, then things can be really good.

However, I am still really struggling with some of the things that have happened in the past. As soon as any source of conflict appears, I begin to feel very anxious and although it has become a lot better, I am still resorting to a defensive anger. This evening, I reacted with anger because DH said something I was worried about wasn't that important, and I began to shout. Our neighbour, who has been away for several months, stopped DH whilst he was outside, and asked him if he was okay. She told him that she had heard me shouting at him several times in the past, and that I should really get some counselling, especially with such young kids at home. I don't disagree, but it hurts to hear someone else say it. DH later apologised to me for invalidating my feelings.

Absolutely no one we know would believe me that DH had been emotionally abusing me. I often get told how lucky I am to have him, what a wonderful man he is (including by the neighbour). I'm a coward, but I worry that if I get counselling that it will only confirm that I am indeed an abusive and difficult person. It's still hard to accept that he is the abuser.

Just feeling quite broken tonight. Has anyone's marriage survived emotional abuse? What helped?

OP’s posts: |
hobbyhobby Sun 20-Sep-20 04:20:52

It’s bad communication style. Everyone argues it’s just how you go about it to resolve. Have you thought about getting joint counselling?

Gotakeahike Sun 20-Sep-20 04:50:36

I can very much empathize with your situation. It completely makes sense that you’re still reacting to the person he has been for all of these years even if he is starting to make some real changes too. Just because he is making those changes doesn’t erase your experience and the scar that has left. I strongly urge you to consider counseling, preferably with a trauma-informed approach. You need to heal too. Eventually some sort of joint counseling might be helpful, but this isn’t a relationship problem. It is a him problem that he is addressing and it is a need to heal for you. Once that work is far enough down the path, then you can see whether or not you want or are able to have a relationship.

thelegohooverer Sun 20-Sep-20 04:57:26

Counselling will help you deal with some of the things that have happened between you. Emotions get attached to memories but they don’t have to be and counselling is a way to examine them and find peace. Sometimes you can have a lot of insight by telling the same story a few times. Counsellors don’t get bored if you repeat yourself

And yes, there is inevitably shame to confront in counselling. Everybody has shame to work through. Counselling is a great place to deal with these things because a good counsellor is not there to judge you but to listen.

Good communication is a learned skill - there’s no shame in not knowing instinctively how to do things you’ve never been taught. As an adult you have the ability to seek out help with those things. Marriage and parenting have a way of exposing the gaps in our abilities. My dps has a very dysfunctional marriage and I’ve carried a lot of weird expectations into mine. Learning to discuss calmly instead of argue was a revelation to me. Because I don’t want to parent the way I was parented, I find myself continually seeking out new skills. I had to learn how not to resort to shouting for instance (that was a habit to break), and with my dc being tweens now, I need to learn how to stay calm but firm under pressure. Often you don’t know what you need to know until you handle something badly. It’s ok to give yourself grace while you figure out how to do better.

There’s two of you in this, and with counselling, you may be able to untangle how much blame lies with you, and how much with him. It sounds like he’s very good at gaslighting you (from the way you end up feeling responsible for things you aren’t) and figuring out how you are being triggered is a very important part of self protection.

Counselling will give you back some of the control you’re lacking and put solid ground under your feet.

However, I would strongly recommend, getting a separate counsellor from your dh

Ffsffsffsffsffs Sun 20-Sep-20 04:58:38

Do you want your relationship to survive the emotional abuse?

My ex emotionally abused me. He still doesn't acknowledge that he had anything to do with our relationship breakdown but there is nothing on this earth including the financial cost of divorce and upset to the kids lives that makes me think I would be better of if I'd stayed with him.

I couldn't get past the ea, can you?

Gotakeahike Sun 20-Sep-20 04:59:14

Also covert abuse is insidious and a special kind of hell. It’s easy to think you’re the problem. It’s easy to believe what everyone else sees. What you described is gaslighting. But the whole point of gaslighting is to get you to think that you’re the one who must be crazy, reinforcing all of the things that other people say. Just because other people don’t see or understand your experience doesn’t make your experience untrue. It’s a very, very hard thing to hold onto when you’ve been in the midst of this kind of dynamic, but I hope you can start to hear it.

And yes, I think it is possible for your relationship to survive if you both get the help you need and that he is genuine about making real changes, but only time will tell.

cantarina Sun 20-Sep-20 06:01:10

My husband behaved badly for years at the start of our marriage. He used to get angry and unreasonable. He is now on anti depressants. He is a changed man and aside from a couple of incidents, it's been very very calm.

He feels guilty about it looking back, he is contrite. When I look back I am resentful at times. The trust is gone. If he went back to how he was I know now I would leave quickly as I am very intolerant of bad behaviour. I'm paranoid that the angry version of him will return. It's an uneasy peace, but it is a peace. We bump along very well.

I would recommend you get counselling if you can.

blackcat86 Sun 20-Sep-20 06:08:26

Relationships can survive EA but usually because the victim has to compromise and move on a great deal. DH got worse and worse when I was pregnant soon after we got married a few years ago and upped it again once baby was here (traumatic birth, very poorly baby). When I confronted him he said he didn't realise it was EA and gave a list of excuses/faults of mine. I had to really push him on it but things have improved.DH now thinks he's some sort of modern day Saint, judging other men's behaviour but I've realised that he is inherently very selfish and entitled (which i guess you need to be to be abusive in the first place). He's moved on but I haven't and still feel traumatised and let down. What I've decided is that I can always end things later on so there is no rush but that doesnt mean I've forgotten what happened and I do find myself reminding DH when he starts to edge towards EA - even if he apologies I feel like the behaviour police

PamDemic Sun 20-Sep-20 06:14:09

I think though OP, and I want to say this in the gentlest way, that it isn't good for your children to be in this situation, to see either him abusing you, or you shouting at him so much that the neighbours are concerned.

I don't know whether this is communication style (as some pp have suggested) or abuse, but either way I think the relationship is damaging all of you too much for it to carry on

Have you had counselling on your own? I realised after my marriage ended that my husband was abusive. I don't think there is any way back from it personally. Abusers don't love you.

Mintlegs Sun 20-Sep-20 06:37:34

It’s goid that you recognise there is a problem. I would try the counselling.

MartinLikesBiscuits Sun 20-Sep-20 10:18:10

Thanks everyone for your messages - I think it’s really clear that my first priority is to sort out some counselling for myself. Thanks again.

OP’s posts: |
Palavah Sun 20-Sep-20 10:21:02

I don't think this is just communication style. This sounds really unhealthy.

Please do get counselling for yourself. I believe joint counselling isn't recommended in cases of abuse.

Isthisnothing Sun 20-Sep-20 10:41:38

This all sounds horrible and familiar - I had a similar relationship. My life improved exponentially from the day I left him.

I'm surprised though because your partner seems to be really trying. That does change things. You could give counselling a go yourself to see can you move on with him.

However if you try and you can't or don't want to, you don't need to justify leaving. You only get one life afaik - make it a happy one.

differentnameforthis Sun 20-Sep-20 12:12:33

Look up gaslighting, op.

And this is NOT by you, it's by him.

He hasn't changed. Turning everything around so it's "your" fault, letting you believe it is, and making you so upset/angry that YOU are the one that seems unreasonable is not fair by him. Now with your neighbour believing it's all you, he is once again able to turn everything around on you!

The question isn't if a relationship can survive EA, it's if YOU want to stay after being abused for so long.

differentnameforthis Sun 20-Sep-20 12:26:18


I don't think this is just communication style. This sounds really unhealthy.

Please do get counselling for yourself. I believe joint counselling isn't recommended in cases of abuse.


FeellikeEeyore Sun 20-Sep-20 12:37:53

I could have written your post a few years ago. My ex was exactly the same - whenever there was a problem that I wanted to talk about, it was my fault and I was being aggressive. Always, it came back to me. Men like this are charming, charismatic and respected because they're good at putting on a front to the world - the adoring dad and husband who always spends time with their kids but the reality is so different.

Your H is being completely selfish and I doubt if you went for joint counselling, he would go with both feet in the door ready to sort things out.

You need to sort yourself out and do the right thing for you. Go to counselling if you think it will help you get clarity of the situation but don't expect anything from him.

AttilaTheMeerkat Sun 20-Sep-20 12:45:16

What do you get out of this relationship now

How can you be helped into leaving your abuser?

Abuse is not about communication or a perceived lack of, it’s about power and control. This man wants absolute over you and your children and he will damage them too. They are being harmed because you as their mother is being abused by their dad.

Joint counselling is NEVER recommended when there is abuse of any type within the relationship

AttilaTheMeerkat Sun 20-Sep-20 13:23:13

I would urge you to contact Women’s Aid as they can and will help you here. If you can go into Boots many of these have consultation rooms and it’s also from there that help can be accessed

Many abusers are quite plausible to those in the outside world so a person like this neighbour can be easily fooled

Ren1975 Sun 20-Sep-20 16:12:36

No a relationship cannot survive EA.

This is a classic abusers trick that they will suggest they are broken, damaged. Therapy etc

Sounds to me like in those arguments you had, it was provocation. A manipulation. Just as you are being manipulated now.

Nothing will change in the long term. You have to get out.

Your Emotional Thinking is off the charts. This then reinforces your Emotional Reactions.

You just have to get away.

Ren1975 Sun 20-Sep-20 16:13:37

And listen to @AttilaTheMeerkat. She knows her onions.

LannieDuck Sun 20-Sep-20 16:25:58

It's odd that he went away to research, and came back saying he was being EA. Did he say what made him come to that realisation?

I think I would feel as if he not only needs to stop the EA, but also needs to help you deal with the past abuse. For example, explaining to your neighbour that he's been abusive to you in the past and that as a result some things are now a trigger for you. If he really has changed, he should expect to shoulder the blame in others' eyes and not only in yours.

Ren1975 Sun 20-Sep-20 16:28:40


First rule of abuse is that abusers never stop abusing. You might get a respite but eventually, it will carry on Round and round in circles, you will go.

Get Out. Stay Out.

Abusers can never be fixed.

OverTheRubicon Sun 20-Sep-20 16:35:02

There's a big difference from most situations on here that HE is the one who identified the issue. if he owns it and is genuinely willing and able to address it, then it's very different from someone who won't see or acknowledge it.

Agree you should get counselling on your own to work out what you want too.

LannieDuck Sun 20-Sep-20 16:37:02

Ren1975 I agree - I don't think he's really had a magical revelation. I just can't work out what his game would be when he could have simply denied anything was wrong.

Ren1975 Sun 20-Sep-20 17:21:21

OP, it's a stalling pattern. Designed to make you take him back.

Its abhorrent but that is the way is a-neurotypical mind works

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