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Recognizing Emotional Abuse During Divorce

Domestic abuse is a prevalent problem within intimate and familial relationships. According to surveys, roughly 25% of divorcees cite abuse as a contributing factor to their divorce. In 25% of physical violence cases against women and nearly 15% of those against men, this abuse will escalate to severe violence leading to critical harm or injury. In its worst forms, domestic abuse may end in death as it correlates with higher rates of suicide and homicide.

Behaviors such as hitting, choking or kicking are simple to classify as abusive. But there is a more surreptitious form of domestic abuse that is often overlooked: emotional abuse.

Often, the best-case resolution for domestic emotional abuse is divorce. If the emotional abuse continues through the divorce process, your attorney can help by filing for a temporary restraining order (TRO), which is renewable every 14 days until a temporary order can be put in place with a mutual injunction to prevent such behavior.

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Understanding Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse can be just as dangerous as physical abuse, and is often accompanied by or escalates to physical abuse as well. Emotional abuse includes methods that weaken and break down victims just as effectively as physical abuse, but without leaving an actual mark. Many abusers instead erode the will, esteem and support systems of their partners in order to control them.

Recognizing An Emotionally Abusive Spouse

If your spouse is emotionally abusive, you’re likely excruciatingly aware of the pain caused by that person. However, you might not be as clear on the specific methods employed by abusers to keep their victims down. Being able to identify the harmful ways by which emotional abusers break your will is helpful in keeping you strong when leaving them.

If you are seeking to divorce an emotional abuser, you will likely see a number of disturbing behaviors from your spouse kick into overdrive during the process:

Habitual Blaming

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Blame is a tactic commonly used by emotionally abusive partners. Victims of this type of abuse often find themselves at fault for everything wrong in the lives of their abusers. From minor impediments, such as a bad day at work, to overarching shortcomings like failing to achieve financial stability, emotional abusers have an uncanny knack for attributing every mishap in their lives to someone else. The victims of this type of abuse tend to be those in closest proximity to the abuser, often leaving their spouses and partners as the unfortunate recipients of blame, ire, and resentment.

For outsiders, it can be easy to question how or why anyone would ever get involved with an emotionally abusive partner who blames them for all of life’s setbacks. However, attorneys experienced in divorce law know emotional abusers can be very skilled at hiding their deep-seated personality flaws early in relationships. With blamers, their new partners are often exalted in comparison to their exes when first entering a new relationship. But with time, the abuser’s blame will shift to the new partner, and the cycle continues.

If you are always the target of blame in your marriage, understand that using divorce to resolve the emotional abuse is always an option.

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Superiority Complex

Another red flag of emotional abuse is when a spouse treats their partner as inferior. Often, this process is two-fold, with the abuser both boosting themselves while putting down their partner.

An abuser with a superiority complex makes a habit of belittling their victims in order to make himself appear and feel superior. They will draw attention to his partner’s smallest flaws to make them hyper-aware of their insecurities. They will rarely miss an opportunity to embarrass or debase the person they claim to love.

When life with your spouse feels like a competition that you are constantly losing, you are likely dealing with an emotional abuser.


The entitled emotional abuser expects to always receive special treatment, even though such treatment is not actually earned or deserved. This type of person usually does not feel as though they must play by the rules and may feel maligned when expected to abide by the ordinary code of conduct. The entitled abuser has the mindset that everyone is indebted to them, and expects even unreasonable whims to be catered to.

Society will generally not respond positively to this sort of entitled behavior. As such, entitled emotional abusers will likely only be able to exert influence over those closest to them.

This type of emotional abuse tends to show in divorce more often, as an entitled spouse is more likely to seek a greater portion of community property than they are due.


Lastly, control is the primary tool used to effectuate emotional abuse. Abusers seek to make their victims powerless. It is far easier for the abuser to coerce a victim who has no power to leave, get help or fight back. To take this power from the victim, the abuser seeks control over key aspects of the victim’s life.

One of the first means to achieve this power is by taking financial control. A person with no buying power is likely at the mercy of whoever is willing to feed, clothe and shelter them. Abusers are well aware of this fact, which is why they often make a point to control and monitor the spending within their households. This leaves their victims completely dependent.

Abusers are also known to isolate their victims from their support systems. When a person has family or friends who are willing to provide various forms of help, he or she still maintains the power to leave a bad situation. Cutting the victim off from that support system eliminates their opportunity to draw upon help. As such, emotionally abusive people seek to isolate their partners, either by alienating them from their loved ones or by moderating their communications with their network.

Controlling abusers are able to firmly plant themselves within their victims’ lives by chipping away at them mentally, day by day, controlling how their victim sees themselves. Emotional abusers erode their victims’ self-esteem, confidence, independence, and relationships with others until the abused partner begins to feel as though they have nothing in their lives except their abuser. Once getting to this point, abusers will often further exert control over the victim by threatening to withhold themselves. The abuser may even try threatening divorce as an emotional abuse tactic themselves. The victim may find themselves begging for their abuser to stay because they fear being left empty and abandoned.

Divorcing an Emotional Abuser

guy sadness

Domestic abuse is unlikely to improve over time. In most cases, it only gets worse. Victims married to hurtful partners are encouraged to divorce over the emotional abuse. At Ramos Law, there are knowledgeable family attorneys experienced in emotional abuse affects divorce law, and are to help. End the cycle of abuse while you can. Call Ramos Law Group today.

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Last Updated on May 23, 2023 by Mary E. Ramos

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Mary E. Ramos

Mary E. Ramos is Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. She is recognized and respected throughout the Houston legal community for dedication in effectively representing clients’ rights and interests. Mary understands the emotional side of divorce and brings a special compassion to each and every case.

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