How to Know If You Are an Abusive Spouse

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You may think that the way you treat or talk to your spouse is normal when in reality it is abusive. Sometimes, it is hard to tell if you are, as you may not have the level of insight necessary to figure this out. Or, you may think your behavior is "normal" because you grew up in a household of abusiveness, dysfunction, or negativity.

Abuse can occur verbally, mentally, and psychologically. It is not just the physical version, also known as "domestic violence." Physical abuse may be more obvious, but the other forms of abuse are still very destructive to your marriage. It will undermine the trust, connection, and bond that must exist in your relationship for your marriage to succeed and be healthy. 

If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Questions to Ask Yourself

If you're wondering if you could be an abusive partner, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Did your partner already tell you that you are abusive?
  2. Is your spouse afraid of you?
  3. Have you ever threatened to kill your spouse?
  4. Do you believe that your way is the only way?
  5. Have you ever hit, slapped, pushed, pulled hair, or choked your spouse?
  6. Do you often feel jealous?
  7. Do you believe you have the right to know what your spouse is doing and where your spouse is all the time?
  8. Do you call or text your spouse incessantly when they are out without you?
  9. Do you think of yourself as in charge?
  10. Do you enjoy seeing your spouse in pain, crying, or hurt?
  11. Do you believe your spouse deserves to be hit or yelled at or punished?
  12. Do you believe your spouse 'asked for it'?
  13. Do you break or destroy your spouse's belongings on purpose?
  14. Have you ever been arrested for violent behavior?
  15. Do others tell you that you have an anger problem?
  16. Do others tell you that you seem paranoid?
  17. Are you afraid of asking for help because you might lose everything that is important to you?
  18. Has your spouse ever tried to leave you?
  19. Do you think about "getting even" with your spouse? 
  20. Do you twist things around, lie, or exaggerate to make your partner doubt themself and their sense of reality?

More Clues

Has your partner complained to you about any of the following behaviors:

  1. Interfering in social relationships
  2. Not allowing any privacy
  3. You don't open up and/or often shut down
  4. Walking on eggshells
  5. Too controlling
  6. Too uptight
  7. Everything is more peaceful when you're not around
  8. Not able to spend any money/go out/make plans, etc. without permission
  9. Always in a bad mood
  10. Critical or complaining about everything


If you answered yes to several of these questions, please see a licensed professional counselor or clinical social worker for counseling. Be honest with the counselor or you will not get the help you need. Your spouse can join you in couples therapy, but only if you have your own counseling individually for a while before and concurrent with the marriage therapy. 

Look for an anger management group and read self-help books along with other treatments you are receiving.

If you abuse or use drugs or alcohol, you must stop or get help to stop. Drugs and alcohol are undoubtedly making your behavior worse. A 12-step program or similar is a must. 

You Must Have

In order to improve your behavior and your relationship, you need to have:

  • Honest self-appraisal
  • A willingness to seek help
  • The ability to let go of controlling your spouse
  • A full understanding of why you are abusive
  • Healing your own past hurts so you do not continue to take it out on others
  • Appropriate guilt for your behavior and remorse toward your victims for your actions 
  • Full effort and motivation for learning appropriate communication skills, boundaries, and a healthy view of love
  • Self-compassion and compassion for your partner

A Word From Verywell

Saying 'I'm sorry' isn't enough. It's important that you take complete responsibility for your abusive behavior. Hold yourself accountable for any future abusive behavior—listen to your partner if they say you are acting in an abusive way and stop what you’re doing.

Do not be defensive or become angry, and if you find yourself getting angry, walk away and regroup. Realize this is your fault, not your partner's. If you want to hold onto your relationship, your partner deserves respect and abusive behavior is never acceptable or warranted.

1 Source
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  1. MedlinePlus. Domestic violence.

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