Emotional Abuse: The Invisible Train Wreck

In hindsight, I never felt my relationship with my husband of 22 years was abusive. One would certainly think it would be so easily detected; so easily felt. I would have never believed it could have been part of my life. The abuse crept into my life effortlessly and I subconsciously learned to survive through the horrific dysfunction. I despised it, yet couldn’t give it up.

Unlike physical abuse, emotional abuse is often more difficult to recover from, as the scars can often be more self-destructive. There are no visible marks and friends and family can barely detect your pain.

In the beginning, I thought my relationship struggles were the typical marital woes everyone faced as newlyweds. I felt determined to work through the battles I constantly faced. I thought it was that part of my marital journey where I would suffer through and learn to accept my significant other’s faults. I was proud of my ability to survive. The scars on my heart began to thicken and block my ability to love this man. The mistreatment felt so wrong, but my learned ability to forgive trumped all my instinctive feelings.

The turmoil was relentless. The few people I shared this with were oblivious to any abuse. Their empathy quickly turned to excuses for my husband’s irrational behavior. They’d never witnessed any of it, so I am wondering if they ever really believed me or maybe thought I exaggerated the truth. The ups and downs became a regular gig in the days and months of my marriage. It never stopped or slowed down. It was and is a toxic cycle in any abusive relationships. We would have great normal days, but then someone or something would cause a trigger reaction where there would be arguing, threats, and intimidation, then denial, blaming, and saying I caused him to act that way. There was never an apology, but there was always a guaranteed silent treatment that followed and lasted for days. The communication would just stop. I became invisible, as well as my feelings.

The times I wanted to leave were immeasurable. He was an expert at convincing me I would never make it on my own and that the kids would hate me forever. Self-doubt was inevitable. The abuse became such a profound part of my life, yet I stayed. The level of toxicity increased through the years. I became very depressed during our last years together as a couple. At one low point, I developed shingles. I felt trapped and unable to see how diminished my self-respect had become. I lost my ability to be combative in arguments, because I’d have rather kept the peace than trigger an emotional outburst.

The joy and happiness in my life was trapped underneath the misery. I worried more about my kids’ and my husband’s lives than my own well being. It was pathetic, but it became my normal. Truthfully, I did not even know what emotional and financial abuse was, or that it was considered domestic violence until I finally broke down and secretly went to a local women’s abuse center for counseling. Knowledge became power for me. I began to research and read up on the issues. They all resonated with me. I learned the best way to handle an abuser and how to leave an unhealthy marriage.

My husband’s goal was to gain control and power over me through all the belittling, financial control, and manipulation. His behavior had become unpredictable and troublesome. The more I pulled away from his grip on me, the tighter he held on. I had to carefully plan my escape. The last few months we were together, I had to act like I would try to work on our relationship. I pretended to care, when deep down I hated him, and I hated myself for allowing this man to tear apart my soul.

I began regular therapy, which gave me instant perspective. Every time I left the sessions, I felt more powerful. Just having an outsider view my marriage, who acknowledged my disheveled marital unraveling and allowed my doubts and fears to slowly dissipate. It was if when I was inside the confines of his delusional world, I couldn’t think straight or function as the strong woman I once was. His constant barrage of hurtful words kept me fenced in on the emotional merry-go-round. My therapist explained once that this vicious and toxic cycle was what we needed in each other as partners. He needed to be in control of my life, and I became accustomed to forgiving his bad behavior.

It took me an excruciating year of facing my fears to realize I had to leave or I would never make it out. I was afraid I would become seriously ill from internalizing the abuse for all those years. The strong fist of domestic violence would end up costing me my life, my soul and my being! It wasn’t up to me to help him see his evil ways or making him better. That was his karma. He had to help himself, and I knew I had to jump off the merry-go-round no matter how difficult it would be.

I blindsided him and left while he was away one day. With the support of family, my therapist, an attorney, and friends, I am starting a new life. It was the scariest decision I had ever made, but I now consider it to be an exciting new beginning for me. A new chapter has begun. I now write my own future and that is the power of self.

Emotional and financial abuse is real, and is as destructive to a human being as physical abuse. Here are some sane and loving directions for anyone who may be on the same park ride as I once was:

  • Get an attorney. If you can’t afford one, there are pro bono attorneys available.
  • If you love your home and find it too difficult to leave, or if the abuser refuses to exit and makes more money that you, you have to have to walk out the door. Make a plan, find a place if even temporary. It’s just a material item. Your sanity is far more important than any replaceable structure.
  • Do research information about emotional abuse. Call women’s centers in your area for free counseling and support. Knowledge is power. They can even help you with housing, finding free attorneys and filing a PFA if your situation warrants that.
  • Do not engage in any conversations with the abuser, especially after you leave. It’s their tool for getting you back on that detrimental ride of abuse. I blocked my abuser immediately from my cell phone and emails. My boundaries were not strong enough to guard off the hurtful words I wanted to leave behind. It has to be an abrupt cut off of all communication. If you have kids, the abuser can communicate through attorneys.
  • Learn how to love yourself. Involve yourself in a great support group or with others who have gone through similar situations. Most importantly, don’t look back; you are not going that way. Get therapy and work on YOU.

About the Author | Mary Elizabeth Robinson

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17 comments to "Emotional Abuse: The Invisible Train Wreck"

  • diana

    Thanks so much for this article. I lefty husband one month ago and for the same reason.. I’m starting to feel better about myself!!


      Thank you Diana. It is not a matter of wanting a divorce, it is a matter of taking care of yourself emotionally and physically. Marriage should not make our emotions invisible. Everyone’s situation varies, however, I was unaware that I was even in a manipulative, and emotionally abusive relationship.
      Thank you for your comment.
      Blessings to you and your family.

  • Betty

    My story is so similar to yours, I felt like I wrote it. I have been out of the abusive marriage for four years and am happy and safe. It is scary, but you must protect your children’s mother.

  • Thanks so much…a great article explaining every emotion u go thru.. My husband is a sociopath too.. and hv been facing a similar issue..unable to break off because of lack of support frm my side of family and no financial back up snc last couple of years..am well educated but not confident.

  • SK

    This is a great article Mary but I noticed that the entire article is one sided; relationships are never one sided. You will have numerous women coming here searching for answers but they must see that your life choices may not necessarily be for them. Not once have you mentioned what you may have done to contribute to a single issue that you mentioned. I am pro-relationship and pro-working through issues. Having been to counselling, I must say that it helped us to the extent of identifying reasonable ethical boundaries for both partners. The ONLY way our issues are ever truly resolved is through both partners taking responsibility and getting their ethics sorted, not just one partner…. and it is ONGOING. Please finish this article with a few comments about how you may have contributed to the ending of your relationship. Also maybe include some advice for people that want to save their relationship. Here’s a start (one of thousands on the internet)… http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/01/how-to-save-marriage_n_3444602.html

    You’ve only given divorce advice. Based on what I have seen with a number of my divorced friends, your readers must understand that life is definitely not always greener on the other side.

    • Kat

      When you are in an abusive marriage, there is no saving it! Abusers don’t change, that’s a fact. Ladies, if your man is abusing you in any way, run as fast as you can no matter what anyone else says. “Two sides to every story” is the BS that allows women to be systematically abused and keeps manipulative, lying men unaccountable for their actions.

    • Patsy Thompson

      I don’t know if you are a man or a woman, all I know is you immediately started to bully this lady, do you really think that people just up and leave their whole life behind for the fun of it! Yep you are defiantly in the abuse family,

    • BG

      No! You do not get to tell a woman who has been emotionally abused that she HAS TO do it your way. She stayed for YEARS. An unhappy marriage may be fixed with effort on both sides. A toxic abusive relationship can only be fled.

  • Shelley Chapman

    I am a 13 year survivor of domestic emotional abuse ! You’re writinf a spot on. I was physically abused for four years then he got in trouble and it became emotional . my story is a story of survival and you just touched my heart because our stories are identical . I read the book the verbally abusive relationship written by Patricia Evans and it changed my life . I had nothing and three daughters and I left and God took me in his arms and took care of every single detail . I am now married six years to my soulmate my best friend and the most amazing kindest gentlest man you could ever me . It took a while for me to be able to be in a healthy relationship because my thinking was very unhealthy and the fact that someone didn’t belittle me was crazy . Not only was I abused by my husband but by mutual friends because he would make fun of me and they would laugh and I became the punching bag or the doormat to all our friends . My life has changed 100% I spot an abuser before they can even get in my personal space and I’m free and I daily teach my children my daughters not to allow abuse in their lives . Congratulations to you for your Courage to leave I know how difficult it is. You were in a trance and now you’re out and your story gave me chills from head to toe . You’re free indeed! “LOVE SHOULDN’T HURT”


      You are 100% right; Love should not hurt. It not only took me so much courage to leave the dysfunction, but it also took a lot to recognize my life and soul was not in a good place emotionally.
      I appreciate your comment. It means a lot. I wanted to share this with others who may be struggling.
      Much love and blessings to you and your courageous journey.

  • Jean

    SK….!! You obviously have never been in a verbal and controlling situation before!!!
    You are so wrong!!!
    When you’ve been in an abusive marriage!
    There is no two sides about it!
    it’s all about them!!! Trying to control everything and anything you have and do!!
    Every situation is different!!
    But stop trying to defend the Bully!! The abuser!!
    Mine just laughed in my face when I wanted us to see a marriage counselor.
    nobody was going to tell him what to do!!
    And as he’s gotten older…..he’s worse than ever!!!
    Nothing makes me madder then Hell when you have someone come along and try to feel sorry for the Bully!!! (The Abuser) !!!!

    • Sue M

      You are spot on! There are no two sides about it when you’re dealing with an abuser, no matter the circumstances. I endured emotional abuse (passive aggressiveness) for far too long. I am free now, and feel peaceful for the first time in a very long time. The truth is that it crept up and escalated throughout the years, and I kept trying to ‘please’ As soon as I said “no more!” and decided to just be happy, that ended things. His response was to have affairs. One of the many things I learned was to let go of somehow trying to fix or compensate for the other’s behavior, and concentrate on my inner well being and peacefulness. In my case, nothing stopped this narcissist from hurting me, except me. I chose to be at peace and free. I highly urge others to be brave and make this choice. It changed my life.

    • BG

      Loved your response — SK’s answer was crazy. Go read the abuser’s blog if that’s where you are in your craziness. You spoke from your truth with wisdom and strength.

  • Jamie

    I was 17 and met a guy. We were at a party and he came up to me. He was so cute, tall, dark and I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. He and I were talking and exchanged numbers. He texted me, “I think you’re really cute.” I blushed and he called me that night. We went out a week later and he was the most amazing guy ever! I met his family and they loved me. Invited me to everything like family dinners and so much more. We hungout like everyday and we instantly developed feelings for eachother. He was Prince Charming. Bought me flowers for Valentine’s Day, jewelery for my birthday, perfume, theater tickets, and so much more. After about a month, I felt hard for him. I was so in love with him that he was falling hard for me. We talked about marriage, children, house, cats, pets, and he even told me that we we’re gonna be together forever. I know as a young teen that it probably won’t happen but I thought I had found my soulmate. I never would have thought he was going to be Satan. We got along great but then one day, I gained a little weight and he called me fat. I cried. He begged for forgiveness and I did. He said he was just joking and I take things too serious. That was the start of this behavior. We never argued but all of something, he would pick arguments with me like everyday. He would yell and scream. I would cry because who likes to be yelled at? I didn’t do anything wrong! His behavior got worse and I will never forget when his true colors came out. We got into an argument and he was now screaming, yelling, cursing and threatening and the worst part of that was HE ALMOST HIT ME! He had his hand near my face and hit the wall. I was crying so hard and ran from him. Hid in the bathroom and crying my eyes out. He was chasing me and kept apologizing. Said he took it out on me because he had a bad day. I forgave him because I loved him! I remember feeling so shaky and heart was beating because I had no idea what just happened. Things eventually calmed down and he would be so romantic. Buy me things that I didn’t want. Like a new outfit or makeup. I thought maybe he’s sorry for what he did. So he was starting to act like Satan again. Calling me names like ugly, stupid, fat, worthless, and would always critisize me. He would be so jealous and possessive over who I could talk to or hangout with. I remember if my friends or family were texting he would take my phone and try to block everyone. I would still talk to them and he said to never have communication with anyone. I only have to be with him. That part wasn’t the worst part. I have friends who are guys and he would accuse me of cheating! Just because I have friends! I never cheated! His parents who I thought liked me, now accuse me of cheating! I would have to show proof. They hated that I’m a different religion and always told me to date guys my religion. I didn’t want too! He would constantly call and text and if I didn’t answer, he’d find a way to find me. I felt like he was being the devil and I didn’t want to accept it. I kept thinking what could he do next? Well he told me I couldn’t dress the way that I wanted too. He would buy me clothes but they were so ugly. Like a turtle neck dress or a tank top with jeans a jacket because he didn’t want me to look cute. I couldn’t wear makeup because he would say it’s a mask and you don’t need it. I will wnwver forget when it was my birthday and he called because he was invited to my birthday dinner and he gave me a time to be home so he could see me. If I didn’t get home at that time, he would yell in my face. I got some cute clothes for my birthday and he disapproved everything! I kept everything because I was finally feeling confident. But he made me feel so insecure. I felt like hiding in an eggshell. I cried all the time. Had a hard time sleeping. Couldn’t eat. I was so afraid. He would come to my job and look to see if I was actually working and if I was helping a customer, he would get mad. My job is to help customers. He would tell me to quit my job because I have to be a housewife and he would take care of me. I didn’t quit my job because I love it and he didn’t want me to succeed in life. He would tell me that he makes more money and wouldn’t need my money. He would always talk about his ex gf who left him and he would say how’s beautiful she was and not me. I kept feeling like he’s making me feel ugly. Constantly was mean to my family and would raise his voice to them. I felt like I couldn’t talk to him or feel safe. I was constantly thinking what he was going to do next. Well he said that I was going crazy and I chose to be with him. That’s what I was going to get was how he was treating me. We don’t have kids but there were times when he would tell me that he wouldn’t raise them. I would. By myself. With no help from his family. So I finally got braces and a new hairstyle because I hated my look. He made me feel so self concious and the braces were making me feel so confident. He hated it. Told me to take them off. I didn’t want too. His parents found out and they said I look too sexy for other men. I think the whole cheating allegation against me was because he was being unfaithful and he was! Because I found an email that said I miss you to another girl. I never knew who she was and the message said thanks for the fun time. I confronted him. He was like oh you’re crazy. She’s a friend. I didn’t believe him. He called me from her house and she was saying that they were spending the week together and I instantly hung up the phone and cried. HE CHEATED ON ME!!!!!!!!!!! He didn’t confess but I heard strange noises over the phone. So after that, I finally told my mom. She was in so much shock. She told me everything is okay and he’s a monster. She never approved of him so she said she’s going to help me get out of it. We had a plan. I had enough of his behavior and couldn’t be with him anymore. So he called. He was yelling, screaming, threatening to hurt me and the family. I cried and told mom. She texted him it’s over and it was the best decision ever! I cried after the breakup and he tried to get me back but I said no! I couldn’t do it anymore. He hurt me so bad. I’ve went out with different guys but none I really like. I know this is probably going to haunt me forever but I have my friends, family, job and I’m alive!

  • triciawood_07@hotmail.com

    What a great arrival. Spot on! I’m going thru this same right now. It’s been hell but I finally got the strength to file for divorce. It’s not over yet, but looking back I don’t know how I did it. Educate youredelf. It’s what saved me.

  • Fi Fi

    I could have written much of this myself. Very similar story to mine. Married 22 years before I realised I could have become a murder statistic. I had very poor support when I was trying to escape. I have to say that what he did to me in the years following our separation was so abusive in so many ways – vexatious litigator, extreme financial abuse, stalking, terrorising me, spreading terrible viscious lies about me, lying to the children and more. I was a well educated professional with three children. He went bankrupt so I would get nothing. He haunted my every living moment. I was diagnosed with PTSD. I am so grateful for your post. To know that others have experienced this abuse is more than sad but also a comfort because knowing someone understands what you’ve been through is so important. My daughter said a few years ago how proud she was that I got out when I did. The boys have been amazingly supportive too. I have managed to turn my life around somewhat. The emotional scars are there still and sometimes I still suffer from anxiety. I hope the black hole of depression doesn’t return. My children are now all in their thirties. They have struggled with demons too. They are the mainstay of my existence.
    I do what I can now to support victims of domestic violence.