Will Counseling Help My Emotionally Abusive Husband?

Unhappy couple at therapy session with man talking to therapist
A couple having marriage counseling. (Image: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images)

When you are married to an emotionally abusive man, you are in a rough position. You most likely have invested time and emotion in the marriage, and you may even have children. Although you can divorce an emotional abuser, you may want to try to solve the problem first. Some emotionally abusive husbands learn how to stop their destructive behaviors so you can build a healthy marriage. Counseling can help an emotional abuser if he really wants to change.

Definition

According to Dr. Steven Stosny's 2013 article "Emotional Abuse," emotional abuse is a form of domestic violence that is centered around one partner using control and fear to manipulate and undermine the other. Its effects can be just as damaging as physical abuse. When a husband is emotionally abusive, he will insult and belittle his wife and continually make her feel unworthy and worthless. Over time, this will destroy her self-esteem as she begins to believe what he says. She will eventually take responsibility for all the problems in the marriage.

Causes

According to the University of Illinois Counseling Center, abusive men were usually raised in an emotionally abusive family. They didn't learn healthy coping mechanisms or how to have good relationships. Instead, they feel angry, hurt, fearful and powerless. When they get married, they take out their pain and need for control on their wives. They don't acknowledge or work through their own problems. Instead, they blame and punish their spouses.

Solution

Counseling can help an emotionally abusive husband learn how to interact with his wife in healthy ways. However, the husband must be willing to get help in order for the counseling to work, or else counseling outcomes may be poor according to Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus in his article "How to Get a Resistant Partner Into Couples Therapy." He must acknowledge his behavior and its destructive effects, and he must believe that the counseling is for his own benefit as well as to help his wife and relationship. If he agrees to counseling only to appease his wife, it won't be successful.

Motivation

Motivation is a key factor in whether or not counseling can help your husband. Most emotionally abusive husbands enjoy the results of their behavior. It boosts his self-esteem at the expense of his wife's, and it also allows him to be in control and get his way. Because of this, emotional abusers may avoid therapy to maintain control in their relationships.

Warning

Emotional abuse follows the same cycle as physical abuse. The husband will break down his wife's self-esteem, battering her verbally and making her feel worthless. When she is close to the breaking point, he will apologize and promise to stop his cruel behavior. This will lead to a "honeymoon" period when everything goes well, but eventually the emotional abuse will start again. Some men use the honeymoon period as an excuse to avoid counseling. This is not an acceptable excuse because if a man doesn't get professional help, he is almost certain to get back into the cycle.

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