13 Signs Of A Verbally Abusive Husband And What You Can Do About It

Words have enormous power. 

They can lift us up or crush us.

They may be no more than utterances from our mouths, but the intention behind them can pack more joy or pain than the most loving touch or the cruelest physical blow.

If your husband is using words as weapons to hurt, shame, or manipulate you, the pain is all the more excruciating. 

Unfortunately, verbal abusers tend to attract people susceptible to their insidious and hurtful use of language.

As a caring, loving, and sensitive wife, you may unknowingly be the victim of a verbally abusive spouse. 

It may have begun slowly and sparingly, only to devolve into his chronic communication style that makes you question everything.

Let’s examine how your husband’s use of words might be abusive and what you can do about it.

What Constitutes Verbal Abuse?

Verbal abuse can be overtly threatening, frightening, and openly cruel.

It can include yelling, cursing, name-calling, bullying, and suggestions of future physical harm.

In fact, this verbal battery is often the precursor to physical abuse.

However, many verbal abusers aren't as direct or threatening.

Instead, they twist language and words so the recipient isn't sure what's hit them.

They use subtle abusive language tactics that infect you over time and slowly erode your self-esteem and trust.

It is convoluted and disconcerting, making it difficult to call it out or take action. You may believe you’re imagining it or, even worse, the cause of it.

All of us have wounded others with our words from time to time, especially in the heat of conflict or when we feel hurt or insecure.

But when your husband chronically uses his words to put you down, control, confuse, or manipulate you — and then denies it — he becomes a verbal abuser. 

Whether or not he recognizes it, your husband’s goal is to gain dominance over you.

13 Signs Of A Verbally Abusive Husband

Are you beginning to suspect you’re experiencing verbal abuse in your marriage? Is your husband making you feel put down, controlled, or manipulated with his words?

Let’s drill down to the signs your husband is verbally abusive.

1. He judges and criticizes you.

The verbal abuser constantly corrects you, tells you what you're doing wrong or how he could do it better, or subtly suggests you don't quite measure up in some way. Sometimes they disguise their critiques or judgment as “helpful” suggestions or sharing their “expert” knowledge when you don't ask for it.

If you call them out, they act hurt that you misunderstood their intentions. “I was only trying to help.”

But your intuition tells you they were putting you down.

The abuser might also communicate their disapproval or judgment through facial expressions, such as eye-rolling, pursed lips, or annoyed looks.

2. He holds back emotional intimacy.

Your husband may use words to keep you at arm's length or prevent closeness and intimacy to punish or control you. 

There may be times of closeness and connection, but if he doesn't get his way, he might withhold emotional intimacy, making you wonder why the mood has suddenly shifted.

When you ask, “What's wrong? Why are you closing me out?” he pretends he doesn't know what you're talking about – adding gaslighting to the mix of hurtful behaviors.

3. He makes jokes at your expense.

Have you ever had someone make a subtle but unkind joke at your expense? It stings and makes you feel disrespected or embarrassed. A verbal abuser regularly uses “humor” to disguise hurtful comments.

man and woman on sofa stone faced verbally abusive husband

Does your husband often make jokes in front of other people, getting a laugh (as well as a dig) at your expense? If you complain, you often hear, “Can't you take a joke? Don't be so sensitive — I was just kidding.”  

These so-called jokes occur regularly, but you rarely hear an apology if you express your hurt. In fact, you may have just alerted him that these jokes get under your skin, so he’ll use them more often.

4. He counters everything you say.

No matter what you say or what ideas you express, your husband contradicts or undermines you. You simply can't be right or have a unique point of view. 

He will argue with you and force the last word to protect his dominance over the conversation. He may even make things up or say something like, “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” to shut down the conversation.

He never respects or values your ideas, feelings, or thoughts – unless you reinforce his ideas, feelings, or opinions.

5. He trivializes you, your opinions, and your feelings.

Your husband may take countering a step further by letting you know what you think or say is unimportant or stupid. Not only does he disagree with you, but he wants you to know your ideas are so idiotic that you shouldn’t voice your thoughts.

He may interrupt you, neglect to respond, or talk down to you. He might try to disguise his disrespect by patronizing you and attempting to make you feel like a child. As a result, you begin to question yourself and your intelligence.

6. He discounts your accomplishments.

No matter what you've accomplished or how well you've done something, it’s not enough for your husband. He diminishes your achievements and acts like they are unimportant or much less important than anything he’s achieved in the past.

Your husband may also find ways to undercut the praise that others give you or point out a flaw to dilute the praise. He doesn’t want you to shine and overshadow him in any way. Your achievements threaten his self-worth. He can’t muster a kind word because it makes him feel bad about himself.

7. He undermines you.

When you express a goal or dream, does your husband try to get under your skin and make you feel incapable? He might suggest you're “in over your head” or maybe “you need more experience to tackle that.” He erodes your self-confidence as he helpfully suggests you don't have what it takes.

Your husband might remind you of your lack of education or a past failure, or he simply gives you a doubtful look and refuses to discuss your ideas. 

The abuser doesn't have to speak the words, “You're not good enough to succeed.” But you feel your confidence and self-esteem slipping away as you receive little reinforcement or support from the man who’s supposed to love you the most.

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8. He diverts the conversation.

Your man might manipulate you verbally by diverting a conversation to something he wants to talk about rather than responding to you.

If he feels uncomfortable about an issue you want to address, he simply steers the conversation in a different direction, or he refuses to talk altogether. He may stonewall you by saying it's the wrong time to talk, or he doesn't feel like discussing the matter. Of course, he never feels like discussing it.

You have been summarily shut down and given no opportunity to express yourself. Conversations of importance to you rarely occur, and if they do, it's always on the abuser's terms.

9. He accuses you of causing his verbal assaults.

Your husband suggests that his verbal abuse is a result of your behavior. You are to blame for any negative, hurtful comments he might hurl your way. “If you weren't so whiny, I might be able to listen to you.” “You need praise all the time. Someone's got to take you down a rung.”

These accusations are the cruelest part of his verbal abuse, as you feel at fault for what's happening. It becomes impossible to feel safe and loved in your marriage, much less close and emotionally intimate. 

10. He breaks promises and blames you.

There are recurring situations in which your husband conveniently “forgets” to do something you requested or to show up on time for something important to you. He always has a great reason for not following through or acts as though forgetting is “no big deal.”

He suggests that whatever he had going on is far more critical or urgent than his promise or your needs.

He’ll make you feel bad for even suggesting his chronic forgetfulness is a problem. You are too demanding, not understanding enough or over-blow situations. If you push against this, the verbal abuse may escalate to name-calling, put-downs, or yelling.

11. He commands you to do things his way.

Everything has to be done the abuser's way, and he tells you exactly how and when you must do it. It’s not a request – it’s a command. 

man looking away from woman verbally abusive husband

He uses words and tone to communicate his expectations in no uncertain terms, and you know from experience that it won't be pleasant if you argue or disagree.

He’s the boss; you are a supporting player. It’s his way or the highway.

12. He denies and gaslights you.

You might try to express your pain and frustration about his verbally abusive behavior, but he pretends to have no idea what you're talking about (classic gaslighting). 

According to your husband, you must be crazy or overly sensitive because his behavior is perfectly normal. In fact, it’s perfect. You are the problem. If you'd just stop blaming him, everything would be fine.

This denial makes you feel crazy and question your judgment. If this person you care about has no idea what you're talking about, maybe you ARE the one who has the problem.

13. He threatens you.

Does your husband threaten to divorce you? Take your kids? Harm you or them? Does he use phrases like, “You better watch yourself if you don’t want to end up on the street”? 

He may threaten to cut you off financially, prevent you from leaving the house, or take away your means of transportation or communication with family and friends. 

If things have gotten to this stage with your verbally abusive husband, the next step could be physical abuse. If he’s shown any signs of aggression, such as punching the walls, throwing things, or harming your pet, you need to get yourself (and your kids) to a safe location and contact an abuse hotline. 

What Makes a Man Verbally Abusive?

There isn’t a straightforward reason why some men become verbal terrorists. Many possible scenarios might explain this toxic behavior, but experts agree that this emotional abuse is a learned behavior.

Along the way, an abuser discovers that manipulation and control work to his benefit, so he continues the behaviors. But other possible reasons include the following:

  • He experienced trauma or abuse in his own life growing up and hasn’t learned healthy ways to express his emotions. He lashes out at others to release his pent-up feelings, especially those closest to him,
  • He needs to control those around him, especially you, and he may use verbal abuse to maintain that control and keep you in line. He uses abusive language to isolate you from friends and family to strengthen his control.
  • Substance abuse can also be a contributing factor to verbal abuse. Alcohol and drugs lower inhibitions and impair judgment, leading to aggressive and hurtful words and behavior.
  • Feelings of inadequacy or insecurity may make your husband more prone to resorting to verbal abuse. He’ll insult you and put you down as a way to boost his sense of power and control and manage his low self-esteem.
  • He may be a narcissist or simply lack empathy for others. He doesn’t understand or care about the impact his words have on you and others. Some men even take pleasure in abusing their loved ones, giving them a sense of power and dominance.
  • Other mental illnesses or disorders, like borderline personality disorder, PTSD, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, can cause aggression and verbal abuse.

No matter the underlying causes, you should know that verbal abuse is never acceptable or justified. It can have severe and long-lasting effects on your mental health and well-being, sending your marriage spiraling.

What is the Best Way to Respond to Verbal Abuse?

So often with verbally abusive husbands, you know something feels off, but you just can't put your finger on it. In some ways, recognizing verbal abuse is more challenging than physical abuse, as you don't have bruises to show for it.

A verbal abuser does such an excellent job of masking his true intentions that it takes a long time to figure out what's happening. Once you do, your self-esteem is so low you don't have the energy to take action or leave the relationship

​​Dealing with verbal abuse from your husband can be incredibly difficult and emotionally draining. But you can’t let it go unaddressed. Here are some ideas for responding to your husband and coping with this harmful behavior.

  1. Set boundaries: Let your husband know that his behavior is unacceptable and that you will not tolerate being spoken to in a disrespectful or abusive way. Be clear about what behaviors are not okay and the consequences you’ll employ if the abuse continues.
  2. Seek support: Talk to friends or family members who can provide emotional support and encouragement. Also, meet with a therapist who can help you process your feelings, develop coping strategies, and make decisions about the future of your relationship.
  3. Practice self-care: Engage in activities that help you feel calm and centered, like yoga, meditation, or exercise. Do things you enjoy, whether reading a book or spending time with friends, so you aren’t constantly focused on verbal abuse.
  4. Get Help: If you feel threatened or in danger, seek help right away. Don’t wait for the verbal abuse to escalate. Contact a local domestic violence hotline or shelter for assistance. (The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 800-799-7233)
  5. Consider couples therapy: If you feel like your relationship is salvageable, couples therapy can help you work on communication and address underlying issues contributing to the abuse.

Remember, you do not deserve to be verbally abused, and seeking help and support is not a sign of weakness. If your husband refuses therapy or is unwilling to change his abusive behavior, you must leave the marriage for your mental health and safety.

Final Thoughts

Recovering from this kind of verbal abuse begins with recognizing it’s unacceptable behavior. You aren't crazy or overly sensitive if you feel verbally abused. Don't allow it to continue. 

If you want to save the relationship, seek professional help — but remember, an abuser must be willing to acknowledge their abusive behaviors if there's a chance of real change.