Yes, it certainly can. Often, verbal or other types of non-physical abuse are not considered abuse. However, consider this brief definition: Domestic or intimate partner violence/abuse is a pattern of assaultive and coercive behaviors by an adult — male or female — including physical, sexual, and psychological attacks, as well as economic coercion used against current or former intimate partners.
Domestic abuse can take many forms and they all should be taken seriously. Here are some examples of abuse that are not necessarily physical:
Verbal abuse involves belittling, demeaning, or threatening speech that is meant to manipulate or coerce one’s partner or spouse. Verbal abuse often carries the threat of physical violence, but not always.
Sexual abuse includes coerced sex through threats or intimidation or through physical force, forcing unwanted sexual acts, forcing sex in front of others, and forcing sex with others. But it can also be accomplished by withholding sex and intimacy as a means of control.
Psychological abuse can involve isolation from others (including family and friends), excessive jealousy, control of activities, verbal aggression, intimidation through destruction of property, harassment or stalking, threats of violence, constant belittling and humiliation, threats of physical violence or harm, creating a situation of total economic dependency, and financial enslavement.
The reasons women stay in abusive relationships are varied and complicated. If we are going help those who suffer in domestic abuse situations, we must first recognize that these women need someone who will listen to their story, not re-victimize them with questions and innuendos. Sometimes we do more harm than good when we say things like:
- Why doesn’t she just leave?
- Why would anybody in their right mind stay with him?
- She must like the abuse; she keeps going back!
A woman who is being abused may leave several times in her mind and actually attempt to move out more than five times before she is finally successful. Often it is dangerous for a woman to leave an abusive relationship, but there are also many other reasons that she doesn’t just walk or run away.
Sometimes women stay because they are afraid. They fear:
- Greater physical danger to herself and her children if she tries to leave.
- Being hunted down and suffering a worse beating than before.
- Negative responses or lack of understanding from family, friends, police, ministers, counselors, courts, etc.
Sometimes women stay because they do not have the resources to leave. They do not have:
- Employment or a source of income.
- Knowledge of shelters, advocacy groups, or support.
- Spiritual strength, wisdom, discernment, or a loving community.
Sometimes women stay because they believe things will get better if they just try harder. They think:
- “I need to keep the family together no matter what. Kids need a father.”
- “I swore to stay married till death do us part. I promised to stay with him in sickness and in health, for better or worse. I can’t just leave him because he has a problem.”
- “I can help him get better if we stay. No one understands him like I do.”
- “It’s really not that bad. Other people have it worse.”
- “I am the cause of the violence and it’s all my fault.” She may feel as though she deserves the abuse.
And sometimes she stays, as strange as it sounds, because she loves her abuser.
- Often the abuser is quite loving and lovable when he is not being abusive.
- He really does make her feel good and he knows what she likes.
- She remembers what he used to be like, especially during the makeup phase.
(Adapted from Dr. Sabrina Black’s book, Live Right Now).
Discovery House Publishers, When Love Hurts (DVD)