Recognizing Spousal Abuse – Can you Recognize the Signs

Recognizing spousal abuse seems like a tall order. This is the main problem that besets psychologists and other mental health professionals. It is difficult to tell if someone in a relationship – man or woman – is being abused because as they say, appearances are everything. So if a man and woman seem happy and content to be in each other’s company, the perfect picture of wedded bliss is what observers see. Only the one who is being abused can recognize spousal abuse. Unfortunately, however, some aren’t even capable of recognizing spousal abuse because they’re either blindly in love with the abuser, are in denial, or fear social humiliation.

The saddest thing is that even in industrialized countries where women are liberated and have learned to be militant about matters like equality and discrimination and are no longer expected to fulfill their traditional roles, a wall of silence still exists between certain couples who would rather keep spousal abuse to themselves, convinced that it is a private matter between them which can be dealt with in time.


Spousal abuse does not just happen in the movies. If you remember the film “Sleeping with the Enemy” starring Julia Roberts, she was portrayed as a submissive woman, unable to assert herself every time her husband was being cruel to her. When she finally came to her senses, she took swimming lessons secretly – despite her overwhelming fear of water – so she could one day stage a fake drowning. Her husband was aware she couldn’t swim. She wanted him to believe that she drowned so she could leave him, live in another state and assume a new identity and hopefully find some happiness.

How many women are suffering the same fate and are torn between leaving their abuser and staying in the relationship for the sake of the children?

Spousal Abuse Statistics

Some of the numbers on domestic violence will make anyone shudder:

  • According to a 1996 report from the American Psychological Association, four million American women suffer a major assault by their partners in any given 12-month period;
  • A study by Helton et al revealed that for 30% of women who experience abuse, the first incident occurs during pregnancy;
  • The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia says that violence against women translates into $72.8 million a year for companies due to loss of productivity;
  • More than three women on the average are murdered by their partners or spouses every single day. This was a finding obtained by the Bureau of Justice Statistics Office.
  • The situation in Canada does not look any brighter. The Department of Justice of Canada cited a 1999 Global Social Survey on Victimization indicating that women:
  • …are six times more likely to report sexual assault;
  • …are five times more likely to report being choked;
  • …are five times more likely to need medical care because of an assault
  • …are twice as likely to report being threatened with a gun or knife.

Recognizing Spousal Abuse: Tell-tale Signs

Two levels exist in recognizing spousal abuse. The first level is the individual who is directly abused by a spouse or partner, and the second level is when a third party suspects that a friend, relative, or colleague is being abused.

An unnamed psychologist who wrote an online article on spousal abuse explains that an individual should be able to recognize whether or not he or she is being abused. If an individual answers yes to most of the following questions, chances are that there is abuse in the relationship. Some of these questions include: are you afraid of your partner most of the time, do you avoid talking about issues that you’re aware will make him/her react in an over-aggressive manner, do you sometimes wonder if it’s your fault, or if you’re going crazy and that perhaps you are over-reacting to your partner’s behavior, do you sometimes fantasize about killing your partner so you can live your own life and regain your freedom, do you feel emotionally numb, are you often afraid that your partner might try to kill you one day?

And if you’re a friend, relative or colleague, the following signs should provide clues of an abused individual: bruises, depression, decreased productivity and concentration, frequent absences from and tardiness at work, and insufficient financial resources.

Types of Spousal Abuse

Recognizing spousal abuse is a delicate issue. While we feel genuine concern for the person whom we suspect is being abused, we are apprehensive that expressing this concern may be looked at as interfering or invading another person’s privacy.

Recognizing spousal abuse becomes a more challenging task. Since we are not privy to what goes on in a person’s family life, it is difficult define the type of spousal abuse that goes on.

At least six types of abuse have been identified by psychologists and marriage counselors.

  • Physical abuse
  • Verbal / non-verbal abuse (what is sometimes referred to as mental torture)
  • Sexual abuse (we hear of rape cases even among married people)
  • Financial abuse
  • Stalking

We dare not play the role of psychologist here, but it seems to us that abusers have an uncontrollable anger raging inside them or nurture deep-seated anxieties brought about during childhood. Whatever the reasons for the abuse, both the abused and abuser need help.

This is the reason why the need for recognizing spousal abuse is urgent.

“We can’t do without dominating others…the essential thing, in sum, is being able to get angry without the other person being able to answer back.” Those were the words of Albert Camus.

In that case, heaven help us.



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