Make different choices about how to respond. You can’t change his behavior, but you can prevent your own feelings from plunging you into depression. If this happens often, you probably go right from hearing the abuse to feeling bad. Think about the step in between — your belief about what happened and why. Chances are, the reasons for what happened are not specifically about you, but about the frustration and rage of your husband. Make it about him rather than about your perceived failings. Try thinking to yourself:
He was mean to me about how long I took in the bathroom — I shouldn’t feel bad about taking the time to shower and put on makeup. He can easily use the other bathroom.
He refused to eat the food I had cooked again. He said it looked gross. But this isn’t about my cooking — it’s about him wanting to make me feel bad about myself. I’m not going to do that.
He told me I looked fat in my new outfit. I know that I don’t. He just wants me to feel insecure.
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Examine your emotions. To get yourself ready to engage with your husband, figure out how you are feeling and how you can explain those emotions to your husband. Are they healthy — sadness, disappointment? Or are they unhealthy — beating yourself up for not being good enough, anxiety, self-hatred? Work on moving your reactions toward the healthy category and decide how you want to express those feelings to your husband. Think about the following kinds of questions:
How do I feel about him making fun of me and my friends and how we like dumb movies? I shouldn’t care. It’s sad he can’t be happy for me that I have good friends.
I am disappointed he won’t come with me on a hike even though he made me feel bad about going without him. I don’t want to spend another Sunday cooking and cleaning for him — he would just be mean to me about it anyway. I need to get some time away from his negativity.
I am good enough for my husband. He says that I’m not, but it’s really about his own insecurity and problems at work.
Draw your husband’s attention to his words. Because he is the one creating the problem, he is the one who needs to change. It’s probably going to take a lot more than making him think about his words, but you can put the idea in his head. Sometimes just by making it a big deal rather than being silent or moving past verbal abuse, you can start to make your husband realize what he’s doing. Keep calling attention to his words. Sometimes they might just be belittling, rather than screaming and name calling — it’s all meant to put you down, and you shouldn’t have to deal with it. Some ideas for doing this are:
“When you make fun of the way I look, it makes me feel bad. Could you try to not do it anymore?”
“When you get mad at me about the laundry not getting done on time, it makes me feel upset and anxious. Maybe you could help me instead of getting angry about it?”
“Telling me that I am stupid all the time makes me feel like I am. I know that I’m not stupid, so please don’t call me that.”
Engage your husband when he is verbally abusive. Sometimes just by responding rather than ignoring him you can help change the interaction. Keep in mind, however, that this often does not solve the problem. Verbal abuse often follows a script, and you can disrupt it by engaging:
”Stop talking to me that way.”
”I want you to write down what you said to me so that I can keep it and read it back to you later.”
”I’m walking away from this conversation. When you are less angry we can talk.” (Don’t do this if it will escalate the situation.)
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Don’t try to reason with him. Verbal abuse isn’t rational. You are not going to be able to get to the root of it on your own, and he will probably not want to discuss the reasons for it anyway. Realize that it is irrational and don’t even try to reason out why it is occurring. Don’t attempt couples counseling — it’s not a good idea for an abusive relationship.
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Set boundaries. When your husband becomes verbally abusive, tell him that you will not deal with it anymore. Explain that you have chosen to set limits on what you will hear from him, and choose not to hear abusive words. If he continues, you might want to leave the room, unless you believe that will lead to escalation. Turning your back and doing something else would be another choice to show you are setting limits. You also need to let him know that you are considering leaving for good if he doesn’t decide to change