64 Abusive Actions That Spell Trouble for Your Marriage

Abuse in Marriage

We live in a culture and world racked by a rising and alarming number of sexual abuse accusations right now. But in marriage, the issue of abuse of every type can be extremely murky and convoluted. I think that’s because it’s so hard to know when your spouse is crossing a healthy and appropriate boundary line in your marriage.

This reminds me of the old “frog in the kettle” metaphor. Are you familiar? The frog starts out in a kettle filled with room-temperature water that’s slowly ratcheted to the boiling point. Unfortunately, the frog never jumps out and is eventually boiled to death—all because the temperature was increased so subtly and slowly he didn’t even notice.

Abuse in Marriage

If you’re in an abusive marriage or relationship, the abuse probably started out small, incremental and subtle. You probably even grew up in a family where abuse was the norm. So your abusive spouse feels more “normal” (or familiar) than if you were married to someone healthy and boundary-loving. In the interest of helping pull off any “blinders” you might be wearing, I’m going to list abusive actions that are troublesome indicators in any relationship and marriage.

[bctt tweet=”Pull the blinders off of abuse in marriage. #64AbusiveActs #StoptheViolence #StoptheHurt” username=”BethSteffaniak”]

If you see one or more of these abuses in your marriage, don’t panic or even declare that your spouse is “abusive.” Consider how often and how many of these lines get crossed, as well as how destructive the abuses are—all within the context of shorter periods of time. In other words, don’t recall one time ten or twenty years ago when your mate really lost his/her cool with you. And thus, claim that you’re in an abusive marriage. Try to be as objective as possible.

64 Abusive Actions …

Emotional Abuse (some, but not all)

Your spouse frequently does these to/at you or your kids …

  • Yells
  • Insults, belittles and ridicules, especially in front of others
  • Curses
  • Ignores your needs and requests
  • Tries to frighten and intimidate
  • Forces you to do humiliating things
  • Demands obedience to whims
  • Treats you like a “servant”
  • “Loses it” when a household task isn’t done
  • Acts jealous or suspicious of your friendships
  • Puts down your friends and/or family
  • Monitors and/or controls your time away
  • Sulks or gives you the “silent treatment”
  • Makes decisions—especially big ones—without you
  • Withholds affection
  • Threatens to leave, beat, and/or kill
  • Withholds resources like money for groceries, etc.
  • Refuses to help with household responsibilities
  • Does things to spite you
  • Restricts/controls your use of a phone or car
  • Keeps you from leaving the house
  • Forces you to adopt his/her way of thinking/believing
  • Tells you your feelings are irrational
  • Turns others against you
  • Blames you for your mate’s own violent or problematic behavior
  • Keeps you/kids from receiving medical care
  • Throws objects (though not at you or others)
  • Damages your home or possessions
  • Makes threatening gestures at you/kids
  • Threatens to kidnap your kids
  • Drives dangerously in order to scare you
  • Spits on
  • Threatens with weapon
  • Had or has had an affair (yes, this is emotionally abusive!)

Sexual Abuse (some, but not all)

Your mate will often do these to you/your kids …

  • Demands and/or forces sex
  • Demands and/or forces sexual acts that you’re uncomfortable with
  • Demands and/or forces penile penetration (oral, anal, &/or vaginal)
  • Inserts objects or fingers in any way against your will
  • Drugs you in order to rape you
  • Physically abuses sexual parts of your body
  • Insists on risky or dangerous sexual acts
  • Knowingly exposes you to sexually transmitted diseases (with or without you knowing)
  • Forces participation in viewing pornography
  • Forces sex while others watch
  • Forces sex with other sex partners
  • Forces you into prostitution
  • Forces sex with an animal
  • Forces participation in sadomasochistic acts

Physical Abuse (some, but not all)

Your mate will often do these to you/your kids …

  • Slaps or hits with open hand
  • Scratches
  • Pushes, grabs or twists forcefully
  • Pulls hair
  • Hits with fist
  • Throws objects at you/kids
  • Stabs or slices with sharp objects
  • Kicks and/or bites to injure
  • Throws or body slams you/kids against a wall
  • Pushes, shoves, drags down/up stairs or raised platform
  • Scalds or burns
  • Forces you/kids out of moving vehicle
  • Holds down to tie up against your will
  • Holds down in water to drown or torture
  • Locks/chains you/kids in room or small space
  • Chokes/strangles
  • Attempts to or use a weapon against you/kids

After reading through this list, you might have found more of these being committed than you ever expected. But I want to warn you against running out and finding a divorce lawyer OR quickly trying to separate from your spouse without support and guidance.

Please understand: if you’re truly in an abusive marriage, separating can be the most dangerous thing you do! Separating might just put you in your abusive mate’s crosshairs! Read Brad Hambrick’s article—How to Develop a Safety Plan for Domestic Violence—for more insight and resources, before you try to escape your abusive spouse!  

[bctt tweet=”Separating from an abuser can put you in your abusive spouse’s crosshairs! Only do this with support and guidance!” username=”BethSteffaniak”]

Want to know some initial and proactive steps you can take for dealing with a mate who is abusive? Then consider reading my most recent post, 8 Red Flags That Might Mean Your Mate is Having an Affair. In that article, I offer 5 ways you can bring calmness, comfort and perspective to yourself in the midst of the chaos and confusion that situations like abuse and affairs create.

Also, if you only identified a couple of abusive actions that your mate does frequently or even occasionally, this is not okay either. In these lower-level situations, you need to know how to confront with graciousness and must learn how to set boundaries. A good Christian counselor can be an invaluable resource for you.

However, if you’re experiencing frequent and severe abuses, do not hesitate! Immediately GO to a good Christian counselor and/or pastor so that you do not walk through this confusing maze alone.

Sadly, the amount of good Christian books on the subject of abuse—especially physical and sexual abuse—are slim to none. But here are some I would recommend on the subject: The Verbally Abusive Relationship, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, Self-Centered Spouse, Finding Your Way Through Domestic Abuse.

Also, Leslie Vernick, author of The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, is a Christian expert on all types of emotionally abusive relationships. She offers a tremendous amount of insight, as well as resources, on her website.

Brad Hambrickauthor of Self-Centered Spouse, did an entire series of blog posts on Marriage with a Chronically Self-Centered Spouse and is a great Christian resource and expert on abuse, PTSD, grief and other important issues in life and marriage as well.

Remember, if you’re in a physically abusive relationship, separating from you spouse can ignite more and even WORSE abuse! So be sure to contact the sources of support and information included below for how to separate safely:

National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1.800.799.7233

National Sexual Assault Hotline – 1.800.656.4673

National Child Abuse Hotline – 1.800.222.4453


How would you encourage a spouse who realizes s/he is in an abusive marriage?


What abusive actions could be added to the list above?


64 Abusive Actions


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21 responses to “64 Abusive Actions That Spell Trouble for Your Marriage”

  1. I agree GET HELP. There is so much of this today, isn’t there Beth? GET HELP.


    1. Yes, it’s really important to seek help, Susan, especially if there are many of these actions being done against someone or if there’s been serious abuses being done. But none of it should be ignored or brushed under the rug. Thanks for stopping by, sweet friend! Blessings to you!


  2. Chandra Italian Belly Avatar
    Chandra Italian Belly

    I hope people will have the courage to recognize these signs and do something about it. #breakthrulinkup


    1. Yes, that’s so true, Chandra. It takes courage and the willingness to push past that veil of denial. Thanks for stopping by and nice to meet you!


  3. This is an important, urgent post, Beth. I’m putting it up on LinkedIn even as we speak.


    1. For some reason Disqus does not like me talking to you! I’ve tried to comment like three times and it keeps telling me that it needs to be moderated. I’d say that Disqus is being a little too controlling like the abuser I describe above! Lol! Thanks for stopping by and sharing, Linda! You’re a sweet friend!


  4. Thank you for sharing. This is such an important topic to cover.


    1. Thanks for stopping by and encouraging me, Barbie!


  5. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    Sobering post, Beth.

    I would say that if anything on the physical abuse list happens, even once, the marriage should be over. Forgiveness, yes, but don’t ever consider reconciliation. And never confront without armed support, because a one-one-one discussion, however gracious, can end in a very painful and messy death.

    I’d say the same for most of the items on the sexual abuse list, too; if any are happening, set up a safety net, go, and don’t look back.

    A couple of things I would add –

    Deliberately hurting a family pet (or neighbour’s pet); animal abuse very often leads to the abuse of a spouse or kids. It’s a sort of conditioning.

    Tickling, and continuing to do so when you ask the perpetrator to stop. It’s an underhand form of torture.

    You’re very right in saying that leaving is the most dangerous time, because abuse is all about control, and having the victim of abuse escape is a virtual castration for the abuser.


    1. Yes, Andrew. I am with you on taking this boundary violation very seriously. BUT I never like to say a marriage is beyond repair either. So I will stick with encouraging a swift and well-planned separation with wise and skilled reinforcements in tow.

      I will say that it’s likely that even after a long separation and extensive counseling a physical abuser will pick that same tactic back up later, if not sooner. And abuse like this is often a sign that the marriage is and has been long dead and can’t be resurrected no matter how it’s approached. Still, I don’t ever want to tell someone to divorce another person–at least not in a blog post. I guess what it boils down to for me is that it’s a decision between each person and God.

      Yes, those are important things to add. They often give evidence of what is to come to people or adults. And yes, any refusal to listen to a person’s expressed desire is abusive.

      Thanks for stopping by and weighing in. I do hope you’re feeling some better! Hugs to you and prayers for you and Barbara!


  6. This post is so good. There are so many signs of abuse that we might think truly belong but I know from having a marriage centered around emotional abuse.

    I hope you will write about what we could say as a friend or family member if we recognize some of these signs. The person involved might not be aware of how bad it is. Is there a specific way to speak to them with grace and love without accusing or condemning? Thank you


    1. Thank you, Mary. And I’m sorry to know that you’ve walked this painful road. I did write a couple of posts on how to communicate a boundary in a gracious way. I’ve included the link to that series above. But it’s still something that I think a counselor should help spouses to do. Trying to do this with a spouse that’s even slightly abusive could ignite more abuse. It’s such a difficult line to walk, especially alone. Thanks for encouraging me! It’s great to see you in this space!


  7. Bonnie Lyn Smith Avatar
    Bonnie Lyn Smith

    Wow, I just walked a dear friend through the long, drawn-out leaving process to get safe and restart her life. It was so painful to see what she went through, but she took the steps you listed and is doing well. It was interesting that he didn’t push the same limits with me because I wasn’t under his control. He would be angry and a jerk, but he seemed to know the line not to cross outside his own family. I know of others as well. So incredibly hard. Thank you for an excellent article. Sharing! Blessings!


  8. Such an important post, Beth. I’ve experienced emotional abuse, and you’ve done a very good job of listing all the signs. I pray this post reaches at least one person who truly needs the hope and affirmation it provides. Blessings to you, friend.


  9. Thanks for sharing about the different types of abuse, Beth. Too often we only count physical abuse as abuse, but there are many different kinds, and they each are harmful. Important stuff here.


  10. I stumbled across your blog few years ago when what I can now call an emotionally abusive relationship. Thank you for your honesty and insights through the years. I’ve learned to be more honest and courageous, to ask for help and we both really had to work on ourselves. By His mercy we are at our healthiest place now, but this post was a good reminder to me to keep trusting and clinging to Christ in my marriage. Thank you, Beth.


  11. Thank you so much for this resource, Beth! I shared it with my subscribers.


  12. Thank you, Beth, for posting this! This is such an important message! And, yes, it can take years to sort thru things enough to realize what is really going on and name it as abuse…even longer to figure out what to do about it…


  13. One abusive action that really plays with your sanity and is missing on this list is when the partner threatens with suicide. This is what my spouse did and it’s extremely triggering. I was trying to leave the house, because we had a really bad fight and this just paralyzed me. 100% manipulation and he got what he wanted.


    1. Yes, Suzie, this happened to me as well. Many don’t understand the power they have over you. They just say why didn’t you just walk away? I try educating people that it is NOT that easy to do. I write about on my website as well. resoundinghislove.com if you want to check it out. Praying for all the victims of Domestic Violence.


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