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Spousal Abuse

Spousal abuse occurs when one spouse in the marriage uses physical or non-physical means to control and instill fear in their partner. This can include physical violence like slapping, shoving and punching, or non-physical acts like verbal insults, threats of violence and neglect.

You may be in an abusive relationship if you have experienced one or more of the following scenarios. Does your partner/spouse…

  • Blame you for anything bad that happens
  • Abuse other family members and pets
  • Put you or the people around you down, including your family and friends, or call you/them names
  • Vent their anger on you
  • Try to isolate you and control whom you see or where you go
  • Force you to engage in sexual activity when you do not want to
  • Get rough with you (e.g. push, shove, pull, squeeze, restrain)
  • Threaten suicide if you talk about breaking up
  • Threaten to harm you, your children or other family members if you talk about breaking up

and you are…

  • Afraid to break up with your spouse
  • Feel like you always have to check in with your spouse
  • Unhappy or depressed, and find yourself crying a lot due to conflicts with your spouse
  • Worried and obsessed about how to please your spouse

Characteristics of Perpetrators of Spousal Abuse

The abusing spouse may:

  • Be ignorant of their behaviour and feel they are justified
  • Have unrealistic expectations and demands
  • Have a strong need for power and control
  • Blame others for their actions

Effects of Spousal Abuse

People who are abused by a spouse may develop:

  • Problems sleeping
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of trust in others
  • Feelings of abandonment
  • Anger
  • Sensitivity to rejection
  • Worsening mental and physical health
  • Inability to work
  • Poor relationships with children and loved ones
  • Drug and/or alcohol abuse as a way of coping
  • Reluctance to report the abuse for fear the perpetrator will face legal consequences, will cause harm to the family or worry about the family unit breaking up

Effects of Spousal Abuse on Children

In homes where spousal violence occurs, fear and insecurity replace the love and care that children need. Children are affected, even if they are not abused themselves. When there is violence in the home, children may live in constant fear that a loved one is going to be harmed.

Read about the long-term consequences of abuse on children.

Abuse May Start Before Marriage (Dating Violence)

Research shows that in many cases of spousal abuse, abusive behaviour was already exhibited before marriage (i.e. when the couple was still dating). Dating violence usually follows a pattern, with the perpetrator showing a series of abusive behaviours over time. These behaviours may be subtle and can be easily overlooked at the beginning.

For instance, while dating, the perpetrator may be controlling the partner in order to gain power over them. Many victims enter marriage believing that the situation will improve, but that may not always be the case. In fact, violent behaviours may intensify if not dealt with and marriage may make it harder for the victim to leave the abusive relationship.

Cycle of Violence

The cycle of violence is a pattern of behaviour that keeps a victim locked in an abusive relationship. There are three stages in this cycle and these stages will repeat until the victim seeks help.

Stage One – Tension Building

The tension steadily builds as the perpetrator starts to get angry. Communication breaks down and the victim feels the need to listen to the perpetrator to try to avoid angering the perpetrator further. As the tension increases, the victim feels uncomfortable and lives in fear, watching the perpetrator’s every move as the victim attempts to calm the perpetrator down. There may be physical and verbal abuse such as slapping, shoving, yelling and criticism.

Stage Two – Explosion

This is where a major act of violence occurs. It can take the form of physical, sexual and/or emotional and psychological abuse.

Stage Three – Honeymoon Phase

Some perpetrators may feel guilty for their abusive behaviour and apologise for the abuse. They may also beg for forgiveness. There is very often a show of love – perhaps giving gifts and even promising to stop the abuse. Other perpetrators may simply blame the victim for the abuse or try to claim that the abuse was not so bad. The perpetrator may even deny the incident. The victim – in this stage – will be hopeful for change and desperately wants to believe the perpetrator’s promises to change.

Break The Silence

I want to report domestic violence

I am experiencing abuse

I witnessed abuse

Contact the National Anti-Violence and Sexual Harassment Helpline (NAVH) or the police

Seek help from a Family Service Centre, Protection Specialist Centre, Family Justice Courts, medical professional or temporary shelter

Find out how to support someone who is abused or safely interrupt the abuse