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, but there are times when this behavior may be damaging or even abusive. Sometimes, it is hard to tell if you are, as you may not have the level of insight needed to think about your actions objectively. Or, you may think your behavior is "normal" because you grew up in a household where abusiveness, dysfunction, and negativity were normalized.

Abuse can occur verbally, mentally, and psychologically. It is not just the physical version, also known as "domestic violence," but also other forms of domestic abuse including verbal, emotional, financial, sexual, and cultural abuse.

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 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.

Signs of Abusive Behavior

There are some signs that may help you better recognize abusive behavior patterns. If you are concerned that you might be engaging in abusive behavior, ask yourself the following questions:

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

Engaging in behaviors that are hurtful, damaging, or dismissive are signs of abuse. Recognizing these actions is the first step toward getting help and making a change.

Issues Your Partner May Have Raised

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

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

If your partner has raised such issues, it is important to consider how they feel and reflect on your own behavior. It may also be helpful to discuss these concerns together with a couples therapist.


If you answered yes to many of the questions above, you might want to consider talking to a mental health professional. Many different professionals can help you address these issues, including a licensed professional counselor, clinical social worker, psychologist, marriage and family therapist, or psychiatrist. If you're unsure where to start looking, consider asking your primary care physician for a referral.

You may find it helpful to start with individual therapy, where you can discuss your concerns and work on new coping skills. Eventually, you and your partner may then choose to talk to a couples therapist together.

A mental health professional can also recommend other tools, resources, and treatments that can help change aggressive or abusive behaviors. For example, they might suggest treatment options if you are also struggling with a substance use issue and recommend anger management classes that can help you develop new ways of dealing with feelings of anger and frustration.


If you are worried about your behavior and communication in your relationship, talk to a mental health professional. They can help you better understand your actions, find new ways of interacting and responding to your partner, and address other mental health issues that you might be experiencing.

How to Stop Abusive Behavior

To improve your behavior and your relationship, it is important to be able to do an honest self-appraisal and be willing to seek help. Changing how you interact with your partner means letting go of the need to control them. It also means being able to reflect on your actions, take responsibility for your own behaviors, and understand how your actions were hurtful.

The change also means healing your own past hurts. This can be distressing and difficult, but it can also be cathartic and ensure that you do not continue to take out your past traumas on others.

It is normal to feel a sense of guilt for your behavior and remorse toward people who may have been hurt by your actions. Self-compassion is important, as is learning to accept what has happened and forgive yourself. By seeking help, you can give your full effort and motivation toward learning appropriate communication skills, boundaries, and a healthy view of love.

Healing can be difficult. Giving it your full effort, showing compassion to your partner, and learning new ways of behaving and communicating can help heal some of the past hurts you may have caused while protecting the future of your relationship.

A Word From Verywell

If you suspect your behaviors have been harmful or even abusive, just saying 'I'm sorry' isn't enough. It's important that you take complete responsibility for your actions and hold yourself accountable for any future behavior. Listen to your partner if they say you are acting in an abusive way and do what you need to do to change.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. MedlinePlus. Domestic violence.

  2. Nemours Foundation. Abuse.

  3. Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. Types and signs of abuse.

  4. Karakurt G, Silver KE. Emotional abuse in intimate relationships: the role of gender and ageViolence Vict. 2013;28(5):804-821. doi:10.1891/0886-6708.vv-d-12-00041

  5. Sweet LP. The sociology of gaslighting. Am Socio Rev. 2019;84(5):851-875. doi:10.1177/0003122419874843

By Sheri Stritof
Sheri Stritof has written about marriage and relationships for 20+ years. She's the co-author of The Everything Great Marriage Book.