Intimidation and Other Signs of Spousal Verbal Abuse

a couple walking in the street, one looking onto another

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Relationships should nurture us as much as we nurture them. But what about when your partner consistently hurts you with their words? Though verbal intimidation is not as clear-cut as a physical dispute, it still qualifies as abuse.

Intimidation is defined as "the action of frightening or threatening someone, usually in order to persuade them to do something that you want them to do," according to the Cambridge Dictionary. Intimidation has many faces, but is instantly recognizable as a force that causes one to doubt their perception of reality. It is a covert psychological tactic to control someone else. 

What Is Intimidation?

Intimidation is the frightening of someone in order to make them do what one wants. It's intentional behavior that could cause a person to fear injury or harm.

Does this type of behavior seem familiar to you? Read on to determine if you are being intimidated or otherwise verbally abused. 

Consistent Interruptions 

Someone that intends to intimidate another does not want them to be able to express their thoughts or feelings. The intimidator thinks they are superior and know better than any or everyone else. With this thinking, there is no value in listening to an opposing viewpoint, or any viewpoint, whether in agreement or not. 

A spouse who constantly interrupts their partner with a better idea or criticism of what may have already been said is expressing that your opinion is of no value in their eyes without actually having to say it. 

Verbal Attacks In Lieu of Rational Communication

Arguments can devolve into immature name-calling without being labeled as "abusive," but when the aggression is one-sided and happening on a consistent basis, there is reason for concern. When one belittles the other, they are asserting their dominance or superiority. This may also appear when one partner attempts to have a calm, reasoned discussion and the other refuses to play on the same field. 

In a marriage, this can be psychological damaging, given that the one being put down likely still loves their partner and may reasonably assume that they are loved back. Hurtful words are then interpreted as an indication of their unworthiness to receive the same love that they give, though this is never true. Everyone deserves to feel loved. 

Verbal Manipulation or "Sweet Talking" 

Expressions of love should never have a caveat or footnote attached. A manipulative person may use emotionally- or romantically-charged language to get something that they want and retaliate if they don't get it. This is another form of verbal abuse similar to the situation above, as it forces their partner to see their actions as either worthy of love or unworthy of it. 

Public Humiliation

When in public, there are few options to defusing a situation with one's dignity intact. For that reason, an abuser will make humiliating comments in social situations to force their partner into submission. The attacks may be subtle, and seem on the surface—especially to onlookers—like harmless teasing, when really they contribute to a sense of worthlessness and shame. 

Gaslighting and Intentional Confusion

When someone says one thing and does the other, society labels them as a hypocrite. In a relationship, the intent may not be so clear. When one's actions make their partner question their own perception, this is called "gaslighting," and is an attempt at intimidation and control. Eventually, the abused partner loses faith in themselves internally and in their relationship. 

Unreasonable Requests and/or Rules

It follows that relationships where this behavior is prevalent are far from equal. Typically, the aggressor is the one "in charge." In other words, they have a set of rules that they enforce with their partner while disallowing their partner from negotiating the fairness of said rules. Again, this is similar to gaslighting, with more tangible effects on the daily life of the abused. 

Intimidation can be very subtle. Maybe your spouse is always “shocked” at the way you handle life. Maybe it is as simple as the way your spouse sits or stands when communicating with you. It could be a certain look your spouse gives. It can be as severe as physical violence, hurtful words, and threats to your loved ones. Intimidation is done to teach you that you and your needs don’t matter.

The first step in breaking away from the intimidator is to fully realize that you matter as much as them. Seek a trusted friend, family member, or counselor if you feel psychologically abused by someone you love. 

Article Sources
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  1. Thomas L. Gaslight and gaslightingLancet Psychiatry. 2018;5(2):117-118. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(18)30024-5

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