One of the real dangers of staying in an abusive marriage is that abuse generally escalates. Boundaries are nudged, pushed, and eventually outright challenged so that you find yourself submitting to abuse that would once be unthinkable. Humans acclimate to a wide variety of situations, but in an abusive marriage, this adaptability comes eventually at a severe cost.
The first time I truly realized I was in an abusive marriage was about nine years into the marriage. Before I used the word ‘abusive’, I generally used the word ‘controlling’. No one likes to face the fact that they are abused. I went into a public restroom and on the wall was a poster that listed ten signs of domestic violence. I regularly suffered nine of the ten conditions, the one exception being actual physical violence. While I did nothing then, the information on that poster stayed with me.
But this is a list that goes a little farther than the poster, which listed such things as having no financial say in the relationship, walking on eggshells, and being belittled verbally. This is a list of what it looks like when the abuse in your marriage is beyond the beginning signs in any poster. If you suffer any of these, then I can only urge you to get help, because you are now in Defcon Four out of five.
1. The tone of your sex life has changed to one of either degradation and/or violence.
California recently enacted a law that says that verbal consent is necessary or a person can be charged with rape, even if the couple is married. Whatever your opinions on this law, the message is that any coercion sexually is assault. This goes far beyond simply not being in the mood. Normal looks like two equals loving each other. Abuse looks like ugly comparisons, dirty or degrading words that are not sexy to you, a few bruises, or even just an emotionless event that turns you into an object. That state law would categorize unwanted or unwilling sex as rape should be a warning sign.
2. Your possessions regularly go missing or are destroyed.
Temper is no excuse for breaking your things. When a narcissistic abuser goes after your stuff, he or she is issuing a clear threat to your person. What they do to your things, they would really like to do to you. Make no mistake, when someone wrecks your stuff, they are purposefully intimidating and threatening you with possible violence. If your children regularly witness this behavior, please understand that they correctly perceive this behavior as threatening and will suffer trauma as a result.
3. Your spouse harms your animals.
When my counselor explained to me that typically narcissistic abusers see the value of life a step down from others, it put some things in perspective for me. You see, my ex-husband valued the life of an animal the way you or I might value the life of an insect; to be snuffed out if they prove to be an annoyance. That means that the humans were on the same level of animals. Certainly, his treatment of animals was cruel, not the least so because of the damage it did in frightening me and my daughters. If breaking objects is a threat, harming animals is a giant step up in terms of terrorizing people. If the abuse goes beyond pulling tails and kicking an animal out of the way, you may have a sociopath on your hands, in which case, I recommend a battered women’s shelter to hide in and police intervention.
4. Verbal abuse becomes the norm rather than just during anger.
In a situation of escalating abuse, name-calling is the order of the day. I cannot even repeat what my ex-husband used to call me. It stills hurts my spirit. But that is the purpose of it. He didn’t do it in anger after a while. He genuinely substituted my name in his mind for a variety of animals and orifices. In an earlier article, I wrote that a narcissistic abuser hates his victim. This is true. The push of the narcissist is to make the destruction of your very personhood complete. The best way to accomplish this is to take away your name. When you start answering to foul epithets and disgusting names, you are well on your way to giving up your very identity. There is no way but out from a marriage like this.
5. Your spouse says vicious things about you to others behind your back.
Make no mistake, this is a specific strategy to remove any sources of support from you. People will back away from you and your spouse, sensing something is wrong. Your spouse may try to turn you against your family or your family against you. My ex-husband lectured for hours on the topic of how my parents loved my brother far more than me. The ultimate goal was to confuse me long enough to get me to question my parent’s love. As for friends, they just seemed to melt away. Gossip was just another form of attack on my identity.
6. You begin to suffer severe depression and/or illness.
The human body is not made to withstand a constant barrage of hatred. My mantra for several years was “I wish I was dead”. And I did, too. I felt utterly trapped and hopeless. My ex-husband threatened me with jail on trumped up charges and lawyers out to get me. He had the backing of his wealthy parents. I was constantly ill, despite the fact that I taught seven college courses at three campuses each an hour away from each other. The fact that he did not work was my salvation in the end. It meant I was self-sufficient when I left. But if death looks welcome compared to your marriage, you are not safe, either from your spouse or possibly from yourself.
To those of you reading this with relatively normal marriages, these will seem outlandish, crazy even. But these kinds of symptoms do not occur overnight. It takes years of a systematic breaking down of boundaries and sense of identity, coupled with periods of idyllic marriage with a charming and intelligent master of disguise. You live for the good times like an addict, hoping this time the good behavior would stick. But in time, the good times get shorter, the misery lasts longer, and you forget what was good about marriage at all.
Your life is worth fighting for. It is not too late to have a better life. If you suffer through any or all of the signs on this list, you are living in a danger zone where even the unthinkable can happen. God leads us to live a life of peace. You cannot pursue God’s will for your life if your marriage is a war zone and you are a prisoner of war.
Get Help Now
Do you fear you're in an abusive relationship and need help getting out? In the USA, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). In Canada, click here to get the number for your province.
You can also call Focus on the Family and speak to a counsellor for free! USA 1-855-771-HELP (4357), Canada 1-800-661-9800.
Alice Mills earned her MFA in Creative Writing. An English Professor for twenty-five years as well as a leader or spiritual formation courses, Alice now dedicates her time to writing fiction and inspirational non-fiction. Alice is the mother of six and wife of one great husband. Because of her experience as a survivor of narcissistic abuse, Alice trained in prayer ministry and inner healing. She now uses her training and her story to encourage others to break free from unhealthy patterns and develop an authentic relationship with God.
Find more resources from Alice on emotional healing, faith and abuse on her website: http://poemachronicles.com