See this and more inside the November issue of Military Spouse Magazine.
Sometimes bruises heal faster.
The devastating visuals of physical abuse are shocking and disturbing. When horrific cases of physical abuse come to light within the media, righteous outrage for justice tends to be quick to follow. But what about the abuse that can impact every part of the body without leaving a mark?
Perpetrators use emotional abuse as their weapon of choice. They may never lay a hand on a person and still scar them from the inside out. To be clear, emotional abuse doesn’t refer to the occasional yelling that occurs between couples when they are upset. It is a systematic and diabolical form of control, impacting the mind and causing devastating outcomes.
Emotional abuse is a silent epidemic within the military spouse community. The perpetrator has a ripe environment to establish control, as the military spouse is typically isolated from support due to frequent moves. From 2006 to 2014, calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline by military spouses tripled.
So, what does it look like? It may start off with what you think is sweet behavior. They’ll want to spend all their time with you, but it’s only a ploy to cut you off from the world. Once they’ve gained your trust and love, their real work starts. Those things you poured your heart out to them about? They’ll use it against you, criticizing and belittling it all. Character assassination and demeaning things that the military spouse finds important typically follow.
The perpetrator will twist and manipulate your way of thinking in ways that you can’t even detect. This is called gaslighting, which can literally make a person question their own sanity. Then they will use you and all the things about you to remain in control. You’ll become inferior to them and often blamed for their faults or mistakes. Things frequently escalate to name calling, screaming, and shaming. After you’re brought to an incredible low in self-worth, they’ll bring you back up high with sudden and craved affection that you’ll wrap yourself in, thinking no one else could love you like they do.
Very often, this devastating emotional roller coaster of abuse leads to the military spouse being unrecognizable —even to themselves. Studies have proven that effects associated with emotional abuse are on par with physical abuse. Often victims go on to suffer from feelings of anxiety and even depression.
The military spouse may quietly blame undesirable behavior on stress that the weight of the uniform brings. Or things like a bad mood. But despite their commendable role in the Armed Forces and their very real challenges, breaking their spouse emotionally is still domestic abuse. It can also be punishable through the Uniform Code of Military Justice if violence is threatened.
The military spouse can’t fix their perpetrator, in fact—
it could get worse, escalating to physical abuse. Seek professional counseling and support groups. Mental health clinicians are trained in recognizing traits and behaviors, assisting the spouse in affirming that they aren’t “crazy” and are victims of abuse. Set firm personal boundaries and insist on joint marriage counseling if you want to repair or save the relationship. Don’t accept their unwillingness to seek mental health while serving, it will not impede or end their career.
A person experiencing or recovering from abuse should give themselves grace. Bringing someone out of the shell the impacts of emotional abuse can create is an arduous and often long process. If a person has been broken down to nothing, regaining self-worth is a marathon—not a sprint.
The first and most vital step to the military spouse who is taking back control after emotional abuse is to recognize this: It is not your fault. You are worthy.
Jessica Manfre is an author, freelance writer and licensed social worker. She earned her Master of Social Work degree from the University of Central Florida in 2020. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Northwestern State University.