Can a Wife Be the Abusive One in a Marriage?

Much has been written in recent decades about husbands abusing their wives, as it should. In more cases than we care to admit, husbands from a variety of backgrounds are physically and emotionally battering their wives with their fists and their words. This is a serious problem no one should take lightly (SEE When Violence Comes Home.).

Abuse in marriage, whatever form it takes, is ultimately about a pattern of exerting power and control over one one’s own way. When a marriage is marked by a one-sided pattern of control, the abusive spouse is not always the husband. Sometimes the abusive spouse is the wife.

While most wives are not able to control their husbands through physical threats and violence, some dominate their husbands through their words, looks, and other threatening actions. Similar to an abusive husband, an abusive wife may boss her husband around, talk down to him, call him humiliating names, and treat him in a very emasculating way. Generally speaking, her style of communication doesn’t invite open and free conversation. It tends to be intimidating or manipulative and is intended to shut her husband down. Whether it’s through a dirty look or a lecture, the point is unmistakable: He’s not there to think or share an opinion. He’s there to do not only what she tells him to do, but also how and when she wants it done.

Just as abusive men demand sexual intimacy without regard for their wives’ needs, abusive women can withhold affection or intimacy as a way of controlling their husbands. An abusive wife may also exert control by imposing arbitrary or erratic expectations. For instance, she may badger her husband to do something, but then get upset with him for doing it because he not’s doing something else for her instead. Imposing and then randomly shifting her demands keeps him off-balance. It leaves him second-guessing himself and her feeling superior. Other abusive women constantly harass their husbands for their recreational interests and even their deeper aspirations for life. If what he enjoys and feels passionate about doesn’t fit into what she deems important, she may ridicule him or look for reasons for him not to do it. If that doesn’t work, she can always find some way to make him feel guilty.

The bottom line is this: most things in the marital relationship have to be her way. She demands that her husband revolve most, if not all, of what he does completely around what is important to her, even though her demands are often unreasonable, inconsiderate, and constantly shifting. And when it doesn’t go her way, she feels “free” to let her husband know it. Whether she relentlessly grumbles and criticizes, threatens to leave, or turns cold and withholds attention and affection, the clear message to her husband is “things had better go my way or else.” It’s a message meant to intimidate her husband and wear him down to the point where he feels it’s not worth doing anything that would risk upsetting her again.

Of course, every marriage experiences painful moments of unreasonableness and control from both partners. But when those moments become the norm rather than the exception, it becomes abusive and denies a spouse the freedom to be who he or she is both within and outside of the marital relationship. Not unlike an abused wife, an abused husband feels coerced into being who his wife thinks he should be. Perhaps this is why the Bible doesn’t pull any punches when it states that “a quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping on a rainy day” (Proverbs 27:15) and that it is “better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife” (Proverbs 21:19).

Any marital relationship that is characterized by such patterns of control is not really a relationship. It is more like a dictatorship, where one partner rules over the other. Unfortunately, because of their own insecurities, most husbands in this situation let themselves get walked on and are afraid to stand up to the patterns of control with courage and love. Others try to ignore the way they are mistreated, only to blow up and turn mean or abusive. Neither is a godly response and is nearly always a sign of a man who has lost his heart.

To read some general ideas about a better way that doesn’t take the abuse lightly yet still offers the opportunity for forgiveness, healing, and restoration both in the marriage and in each spouse’s heart, read When Words Hurt .

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20 thoughts on “Can a Wife Be the Abusive One in a Marriage?

  1. Thank you. This is one the best articles I’ve read on the subject. I can relate so much it makes me feel ill. So sad, but so true.

    I’ve been seriously contemplating leaving my spouse after ~ 10 years of marriage and 1 child together. I’m feeling hopeless and trapped. Anything I do to defend or protect myself is turned in to me being the “bad guy” in everyone else’s (family, church leaders, etc.) eyes while I’ve been the one suffering all along. I’m desperate, isolated and depressed.

    Thank you for these encouraging words. At least I know I’m not alone.

    1. I am new to this and am so glad to know that am not alone in this demusculination of men in the home. I have been in an abusive relationship for about 11years.
      The first two years were the best then things changed or should i say the real
      person came out. My wife’s parents split
      when they were really young and so grew
      up with father figure so her view
      of men was very negative and may explain why i am treated the way I am. Its been so hard for me to the point i hated myself..felt so weak and embarrassed. We are still together with 2 lovely boys who are my pride and joy.Many times i have wanted to end it all but i reconsider through prayer and counsel if that would really solve the problem. Am just glad i am not alone.

    2. Nice to see that there is a another group of people here going through or already gone through the pain.
      I am in a 6 years of marriage and case is pretty similar to other experiences shared already. Her parents are driving her manipulative and now she wants to plan a kid when we are planning to separate. I think some mental issue she has as she can’t control her anger and have even threatened to kill me if I don’t agree to plan for a kid. She said that once kid is planned she won’t care even if I die or live separately.

      Let’s see how soon I can come out of this hell.

      Good luck and lots of strength and positive ness to all fighting for their new phase in life.


  2. I concur with the first guy’s comments. I have been married for about 4 years , now with a baby I want dearly to break a cycle of single parenting homes. But, I feel desperate, isolated, and depressed so much so I have been putting on the pounds with food as a way to cope. I have been suffering too long… Not, only from how I was raised but now from the one person I had hoped to grow old with.

  3. Wow, glenstewart, expressed those words so well. Nothing more paralysing or hopeless that the thought of no matter which way you express or explain yourself or the situation the hole just gets deeper and you get further verbally abused and told that you don’t listen, called an arse, and blamed for the smallest to the biggest things that I usually have no knowledge of. No point in arguing there is only one viewpoint. All that follows is emotional blame and name calling – just gets me down and feeling depressed and watching my two lovely children being bullied into action against a very loving caring dad makes me shed tears. It is so life-saving to hear that I am not the only one feeling such lack of hope despite wanting to offer so much as my family is so dear to me. Thanks guys. What will be next…….

    1. I’m on the same situation. I been with my wife for 15 years now and together we have two children. I can really relate to the depression, insecurities and low selfsteam that has built up as a result of her verbal abusive. I love her, but don’t know how much of the pridefulness I can take. She’s verbally abusive and has the “I don’t care attitulde”. She loves her friends, but hates me. She listen to her friends, but doesn’t listen to me. I feel so bad for my two daughters. My oldest one is becoming her exact copy and my wife thinks that’s great that she is as prideful as her. I don’t want to end my marriage or leave my children, but I am seriously at the verge of selling my home, taking a job at a different state and running away from this abusive marriage. I have lost total confidence on myself as a result of her abusive, pride and arrogance. I need help. She made her friends and family believe that I’m a horrible husband and father, so her friends are only friends with me because of her, so I really don’t have much support. I needs some advice, guys. What can I do here. She refuses to admit mistakes, she refuses counseling and think she’s doing nothing wrong. I love her, but am ready to jump ship. I don’t want to leave, but am afraid that if I continue here, I’ll just keep on getting abused by this women who thinks she can continue to verbally abuse everytime she feels like it.

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I thought I was alone trying to live with an abusive spouse. It’s getting harder and harder to live like this and I suppose if I can’t somehow express to my wife that we need to get some help, I’ll leave. It’s hard being a senior and have to pull up stakes and lose half of everything I care for, including my wife whom I do love but it’s becoming more intolerable by the day. I feel sorriest for my wife as if she is really a good women. I do know she had some dark times when she was a young girl and maybe that could be where all this comes from.

  5. I am so heartbroken over this whole thing. My wife and I have a 3 year old girl who means the whole world to me. I am lost and trapped…I don’t want to leave because I won’t be able to see my daughter every day….but I can not live like this anymore. My wife has her entire family believing that I am a monster and I have done so much to try to deal with her hateful words….her anger is out of control….when I suggest that we need to deal with it she becomes more hateful towards me. I don’t know where to turn…We were seeing a marriage counselor but are not now because my wife told her off….My family does not live in the area so I do not really have much support….I fell alone….the person I love so much is against me ….she hates me I know she does ….I am ranting I know but things are really bad……….

    1. I know your feeling and feel your pain. I also am in a situation where I just don’t know what to do. I love her, but she has destroyed my confidence and personality. I feel empty, tired and although I am here, I don’t know how much longer I can take. I really don’t want a separation, but everytime she calls me names, disrespects me and uses her controlling and abusive behavior as a response to everything she does not agree with, it just makes me wanna go. However, when I think about my two daughters and destruction of the family we’ve built, I get discourage and choose to continue dealing with her abusive behavior.

  6. This article was very well done thank you. Its nice to know I wasn’t the only one suffering. I have recently divorced my ex wife and this described my “marriage” to a T. The bossing around..the controlling..i was to the point I felt like a robot just breathing and wasting space on this earth, I was always put down with her telling me I was worthless, that I could never do anything right, the days she would get super angry, I never fought back and I was always quiet, one night got so bad when she kept constantly getting drunk she kept kicking me and throwing punches, I just took them, but me and her son from another marriage to tie her to a chair until she was sober (she was beating on him as well). Even had a knife pulled on me..i won’t go into much detail, but she had force me.l to have sex with her unwillingly otherwise she would “make my life a living hell” as a man, it seems strange to be forced into doing things like this, and I know there’s no way I could ever charge her with anything, she’s so manipulative she could easily weasel her way out of anything. I’m out now, yeah I still have to pay her alimony even though I went through this hell, but let me tell you…it is the BEST feeling ever, I.have my life back, I can do the things I want to do with no questions asked, its hard at first because its something I wasn’t used to…making my own decisions for once, Even nights where I broke down crying because I had no idea what to do with my life. If anyone is. through what I went through, my situation is the other end of the tunnel is sooo…so much better. I could go on, this was.only a fraction of the things i went through as well, but my, the longer you hang on the harder the recovery is afterwards. I was married for 5 years

  7. This is a great article. As a women and one who suffered from seeing her father abuse her mother for over 14years. It was very difficult for me to enter my marriage with a fully trusting heart. This got to the point where I tested my husband to see how far he would or could go. I wanted to see if I would get what my mum did for voicing her opinion regardless. I regret not putting my 100% into the relationship straight from the beginning because I feel I have hurt my husband and not achieved anything that I didn’t know (that he would never intentionally hurt me ever). I never explicitly abused him but I definitely was not the person I knew I could be and to me that is a kind of abuse. Thanks again for opening my eyes. I hope I can keep my marriage honest by being me and letting him be himself.

  8. This is so true! ! ! I can relate to many of the comments listed here. When men feel threatened we go into fight or flight mode. Since it is nearly impossible to fight against an abusive wife, we withdraw to avoid the unwinnable conflict. The end result is that we get emasculated, depressed and lose the will to excel.

    The sad thing is that our culture and the church don’t even recognize that it is a problem. Relationship problems almost always get blamed on the husband. If we go to counseling, we go in being viewed as the problem. In my church, our Pastor frequently exhorts the men to be better husbands but rarely exhorts the women to be submissive, cooperative wives.

  9. I’m new here and I can’t believe all the men that go through this. I’ve been married for 31 years and have dealt with this abuse for that long. I’m ashamed for putting up with it but I hung in there for the kids who are now grown and on their own. Two of my daughters didn’t fare so well. My wife was abusive to them as well while I was working. You can’t imagine. I’ve suggested counseling to my wife but was greeted with laughter. She of course could not be wrong. I could not get any help from my pastor. It was like , why don’t you put your foot down with her? It just so happen that my body wore out from working on cars for 30 years that I became an over the road truck driver. I’m out for a couple weeks at a time and that has helped retain my sanity. Seven years ago she was diagnosed with PTSD, Bi-polar and depression. I was planning to leave before that but I couldn’t leave knowing that they found a mental illness with her. I thought things would improve with therapy and meds. They have not. She just uses the illness as a crutch and excuse to say and do whatever. This very week she got mad at a neighbor for backing into our driveway for a minute to shuffle cars around in his driveway. She got into my car(which she never drove) and proceeded to drive it into the wall of our house and through the fence into our back yard. She thought it was in reverse and couldn’t find the brake pedal. Of course that would not have happened if I had a job at home right? My fault!! Unless God intervenes in this I cannot imagine ever retiring and living with her morning till night every day until death. No fun, no friends, no family.. I’m glad I’m a Christian. Only the grace of God has gotten me through this. God Bless all of you.

  10. Very soul hitting article as my name says 20 yr marriage on the rocks. abuse the cause misunderstanding major mistakes by both of us, love just aint enough to get thru it thats the bottom line no matter what you do, so recognising that one thing that is the reason everything else gets clearer but it hurts like hell not to have the woman you fell in love with there as you were and able to forgive .The good things can run out its human, nobody is perfect and really neither of you are to blame if you want to survive, as many say abusive relationship walk away when you know.

  11. It sucks when you are supposed to reward the one that constantly had the habit of assaulting you and lying about, and the end result has them kidnapping your child because they can’t face the truth.

    I have at daughter that is over 2 and pretty much a stranger to me, as a result of the abusive behavior of my ex. When you have had every time that you have asked to talk, turned into a fight where you get assaulted and punished, You get tired of paying for them.
    You don’t want to support someone that can answer the question, “Who assaulted who?”. with the response of, “What’s your point, your trying to make me look like the bad guy/bad person?”, as they raise your child to their evil standards. You expect any rights to your child, with someone that is willing to go to extremes to manipulate and control a situation, unless you have absolute custody. You have a system that forces you to agree with everything in the women’s favor, even thought it isn’t best for you and your child.

    Nothing like being forced to reward the one that has constantly used force, to get their way, when they refused to pitch in to do things the right way. You end up feeling like returning the assaults with compounding interest. The physical damage from an assault can be pointless, but the emotional damage is binding.

  12. Very interesting comments on here. I feel bad that there are other men going through this. I honestly thought I would not find such great sites like this regarding women abusing men. I guess for me, it is embarrassing that as a man, I allowed this woman to ruin my life, to control my life, to feel like she is choking me no matter where in the world I am. In my particular situation, my marriage is always about money; she is from a poor country and she expects me to send money every month to her family. Lately, since our daughter is now over 2 years old, I told her I can’t send excessive amounts anymore due to the budget I set aside for my girl’s preschool. Well, for whatever reason, that was enough for her — she demanded a divorce at midnight. I said fine but we can’t get a divorce at midnight! Had to call the cops on her to report her verbal abuse (and slight physical abuse – she grabbed and scratched me). Cops advised me best to stay in a hotel while things settle down. She took off the next day to a women’s shelter with my kid while claiming I abused her! Unbelievable how women like this can convince others of such lies without evidence. 3 long brutal years where I lost everything and more…and all for my beautiful innocent baby girl. I don’t know how much longer I could’ve endured this environment but now I need to worry if the court will give me custody of my baby. Joint custody with this psychotic soon to be ex wife is just not an option. I do not want to feel like I am being choked anymore. I want to be happy and have a “normal” life but want my baby girl in my life.

  13. I have been married for almost 12 years now. The first few years were great then when we had kids it was like someone flip a switch. After our 2nd child, it was all downhill. She will put me down and no matter how much i do to help she will focus on one thing I didn’t do and go off. Doesn’t matter who is around either. She won’t speak to my parents and hasn’t in years forbid my kids from seeing them for 2.5 years. Tells me I can but then I face a ton of questions from my family that leave me depressed and embarrassed. I try to focus on the good times we have but when the bad times happen so much it becomes hard to focus. My wife is jealous of the time I spend with the kids at times. Which leads to more arguments. It’s hard to focus on work and make excuse to see friends because she either will start a fight or just goes off on how much of a jerk I am and I don’t love her. So then I spend hours trying to console her and fight she is always bringing up the past and every time I messed up or anything negative I ever said. Half of it from 6 or 7 years ago. When I try to get her to focus on the present she just gets more pissed. I can’t focus at work I dreed being home because of her. When we fight I have points where I just want my own life to end so I don’t have to listen to her anymore. It breaks my heart when she yells at the kids for small lil things and I step in and she directs it at me say “oh you’re the perfect parent” “look how great you are” she has gotten physical abusive towards me a few time once I know the kids even saw. The kids have told me we wake them up when we fight some times and even been asked why mom is always mad at me. I never bad mouth her to my kids though. I just feel very stuck I don’t want to lose a second with my kids but I hate my life sometimes. I know all I have she would get in the divorce and my time would be limited to weekends with my kids. I just don’t know what to do or where to go. She is seeing a counselor but doesn’t seem to help. The kids and I know that when she goes it’s going to be a bad night.

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