Articles

Men's Emotional Abuse of Women Tragically Common
By Dennis Goodenough
The Capital Times
August, 1999

Hillary Clinton's story about a husband who endured emotional abuse isn't that uncommon. Since my divorce back in 1991, I've dated many midlife women who tell of former partners damaged by emotionally and sometimes physically abusive home lives. I found their revelations different from Hillary's in a major way. My dates talked about lovers who grew up and turned into abusive men.

Eight years of intimate conversations have opened my eyes to this epidemic. More than half the women I know are or have been involved with emotionally violent men. Overwhelmed by such evidence, I'm forced to conclude that emotional abuse is going widely unrecognized as the primary reason interpersonal relationships between genders break down and fail. It's so pervasive in our culture we consider it “normal.” Outlandish? Perhaps not.

Overwhelmingly, domestic violence is male perpetrated. In the United States, 4 million women are attacked each year and 4,000 die from their injuries. It's the single biggest cause of injury to women in the country.

The most important thing to understand is that physical battering represents only the tip of the iceberg. In the vast majority of cases, abusers use emotional violence to subjugate others. These men never lay a hand on their partner. Like many people, they rationalize that “if no one's been hit, then no one's been hurt.”

Nonsense. Women's advocates and abuse survivors know very well it makes little difference whether a man assails with his fists or his words. The domination of his partner is just as complete. Her fear and depression are just as deep. If she gives up hope and takes her own life as many do, emotional abuse is the cause of her death.

In my experience, I've seen victims of verbal battering reduced to zombies. The midlife singles scene is laden with iron-clad women too frightened to love fully and freely, their creative life stunted. These are the ones that got away; those who stay in destructive relationships live with chronic pain.

Just what is an emotional abusive male? Simply, he is someone who tries to totally control the life of his partner to meet his needs and will use any resource at his disposal to do so. He will charm, bribe, threaten to withhold affection, sulk, coerce, demean, induce guilt, become insanely jealous, or terrorize during raging tantrums and much more. In the end he is determined to have his own way.

If a woman is ever frightened of her partner, if her world is getting smaller, she's giving up friends, activities, her opinions, just to keep the peace, most likely she's involved with an abuser. Learning better conflict resolution or communication skills is of little use with someone who chooses to behave like an emotional thug.

What can be done? Let's start to acknowledge the size and seriousness of this problem. When a women is being “kept in her place,” don't look the other way. Get involved. Talk to her privately. Tell her you feel she is being treated unfairly. Urge her to get information from the nearest women's shelter, or better yet have it with you.

A small intervention can make a tremendous difference, especially to her.