By Guest Contributor Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC   |   May 21st, 2011

When we hear “abusive behavior” we often think of physical violence. Abusive behavior is not always physical. Even though there may be no visible wounds, abusive behavior can be very damaging to the individual, the relationship and the family. Consider if these abusive behaviors are present in your own relationship.

  • Criticizing you, your friends, family, job, or anyone or anything important to you. 
  • Blaming you for everything.
  • Making fun of you in front of other people. This includes remarks about your looks, family, job, or sex.
  • Demanding that you account for all your time.
  • Listening in on your phone conversations.
  • Reading your mail or e-mail.
  • Isolating you from your friends and family.
  • Yelling, throwing things, slamming the counter, slamming doors, punching walls.
  • Using sarcasm.
  • Ordering you about.
  • Controlling or limiting your access to money.
  • Discussing you behind your back.
  • Demanding s/he have everything done her/his way.
  • Controlling what you wear.
  • Forcing you to have sex or to do sexual things you are not comfortable doing.


Some women have commented, “Well, he does some of those things, but don’t all men?” No, not all men behave this way! It is not normal to hurt the person you love. This is abuse and women aren’t always the victim. Men sometimes find themselves the target of their wife’s verbal assault.

Regardless of who is doing the abuse, the advice for abused spouse is the same. Stand up to your spouse and let him/her know that this behavior is unacceptable. You do not have to be abusive back. State calmly that it is not acceptable. Don’t threaten or yell. That only challenges the abuser to try to control even more. Underneath the bravado, abusers often feel weak and insecure. By intimidating you and making you feel bad about yourself, they make themselves feel powerful. By knocking you down emotionally (“Who would want you?”), they think they make it impossible for you to see you have other options. Seeing the behavior for what it is can help fortify you to make changes. When to talk to the abusive party, don’t try to analyze their behavior, he/she will only guffaw and act worse. Talk about yourself. Stay focused on your choices and needs.

One important word of caution: If s/he lays a hand on you – a slap, push, or punch – it is time to leave. Maybe not forever, but until s/he gets help. Without professional help, physical abuse escalates. When a spouse has crossed that line from hitting the counter to hitting you, then it is time to go. Without help, it will only get worse. Don’t think, “Oh, s/he would never do that.” Many women who lost their lives to domestic violence said the exact same thing.

You really can’t change another person. They have to want to change. What you can do is change yourself. By no longer accepting unacceptable behavior you shift the focus from your partner to yourself. Consider your options. What do you want from your life? A need to be treated with dignity, respect and love is not asking for too much! If a partner is unable to do that, then make sure you treat yourself that way. Think of it this way: While you may not be able to stop someone from throwing snowballs at you, you can certainly duck. Get out of the way and move on!

donnabio.jpg©2005/2011. Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC, is a licensed psychotherapist in Connecticut. Her newest book is available at bookstores everywhere, or at This article is from her first book, From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce, which won an Honorable Mention Award by the Independent Publishers Association. To read more about the author and her work or for a direct link to Amazon, please visit

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Guest Contributor Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADCAbout The Author: Guest Contributor Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC
Donna F. Ferber, is a psychotherapist in private practice for 28 years. She is a licensed professional counselor, a licensed alcohol and drug abuse counselor and an educator. Donna works with individuals and in groups. Her office is in Farmington, Connecticut.

Would You Recognize This as Abusive Behavior?
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