Emotional abuse is a pattern of non-physical behavior designed to control and demean the victim. Verbal abuse, or using words to assault and wound, is the most common type of emotional abuse. Other forms of emotional abuse include cold, disapproving looks, withholding attention and affection, physically abusing other members of the household such as children or pets, controlling household resources and establishing humiliating rules for the victim to follow. It's important to remember that abuse is a pattern of behavior used to intimidate. A single bad-tempered remark may be obnoxious, but it is not necessarily abusive.
If you are in an emotionally or verbally abusive relationship, your first coping strategy should be safety awareness. While not every relationship that is emotionally abusive becomes physically abusive, most physically abusive relationships begin with emotional abuse. Even if your husband never escalates to hurting your body, verbal and emotional abuse can shred your self-esteem and lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. If you are being abused in any way, it's important to have a plan in place that will allow you to leave quickly if you need to. Consider going to a hotel, staying with family or friends or escaping to a domestic violence shelter. If you need help making a safety plan, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
Another coping technique for surviving an emotionally abusive marriage is to avoid being isolated. Abuse thrives on secrecy. If the abuser's behavior is exposed, he may even change his ways. Make every effort to maintain close and loving relationships with your family and friends. Don't feel shamed into trying to hide the abuse. Tell the people who care about you what is happening to you in the marriage. Let them know how they can help you.
You can also cope with an emotionally abusive spouse by making it a point to do things that build your self-esteem. Don't forfeit a job or an activity that you enjoy just because your husband asks or even orders you to. The more you come to believe in your own strengths and abilities, the less you will want to be in a relationship that doesn't nurture you.
Finally, there may come a time when you decide to confront your husband about his emotionally abusive behavior. Do this when you are both calm rather than during a heated argument. Describe the behavior that you find objectionable and how it affects you. For instance, you might say, "It hurts my feelings when you make jokes about my weight," or "I feel embarrassed when you tell other people I'm stupid. I want you to stop doing that." Be warned, though, that abusers are not often open to change. In most cases, the best way to cope with an emotionally abusive marriage is to end it and find someone who treats you better.