Dear Dr. Lisa-

I am a young (married at 20) wife to my 26-year-old husband. I really love him and he’s a generally good guy. He has never hit me, but when he is angry or we’re arguing, he says THE MOST hurtful, insulting things.

I am self-employed and for the longest time he would constantly tell me “get a job,” “you have no job,” “lazy” things like that. He called me a c*nt in front of all of our friends when I dropped his pizza by accident, and during one recent and extremely heated argument, he told me that our marriage was a mistake because he “thought I would have made something of myself by now.”

Whenever he says things like this, he always apologizes and feels bad and even makes me pity him after for having such low self-control, but, you know what? I’M SICK OF IT. He has hurt me so much even his tiniest insults really, really, bothered me. Today was my day off and when I told him I wanted to sleep in, he called me a “bum” which really boiled my blood. Then as we were walking out the door to get coffee, I asked him to grab his keys and he said “God you’re such a princess.” I consider myself a smart girl, so I never considered he may be manipulating me, but recently my eyes have opened to all these small insults and now they drive me absolutely mad!

What can I do? I can’t make him stop insulting me. We have tried everything: counseling, separation talks, the works. I literally can’t stand the way he talks to me anymore, but I’m also sick of fighting about it. I have spent hours and hours explaining to him why his insults hurt me, BECAUSE HE LITERALLY DOESNT GET IT. Help. I’m really sad and want my marriage to work but I don’t want to be put down for the rest of my life.

-Name withheld-

Dear Brave Lady—

Good for you for reaching out! Your letter made me sad when I read it. Consider this an intervention.

We both know in our heart of hearts that your husband’s behavior is considered abusive. The fact that he doesn’t physically harm you may make your situation feel less than crystal clear that he’s abusing you, but what he says to you can certainly cause real and permanent damage, which can be harder to heal than a black eye.

I found this article on that has a pretty good guide to help you recognize that you are in a non-physical abusive relationship. You can read the whole story for yourself, but here are a few quotes that I find particularly applicable to your situation:

“Controlling behaviors, shaming, refusing to listen, talking over you, blaming, emotional abuse, yelling . . . intimidation and psychological manipulation are all examples of abuse.”

Check. You seem have plenty of that type of experience.

And here’s another quote from the same article:

“Those that had upside-down childhoods where they were forced to ‘parent’ a parent or had healthy boundaries ignored, are most at risk for this type of relationship.”

I have to say, I am very curious about your parents and upbringing. Also why did you get married at such a young age? I’ll bet if you look at your background a bit, you will likely find somewhere in childhood a setup for allowing this sort of behavior in your life. Recognizing difficulties in your past helps to let go of any shame you may feel, if it seems as if it’s “all your fault” for being in your situation.

I hear you when you say you “love your husband” and believe “he’s a good guy.” Also he apologizes and has gone to counseling, etc. to try to improve your relationship. I believe he wishes he could control himself. I also believe you don’t want to leave him—the relationship probably feels comforting and loving on some level.

But that’s not enough. Be honest as you can with yourself and get help!  It would be great if you could join a group with other women going through the same thing. There are lots of options. At the very least I don’t know if you have children or plan to, but this environment will be very toxic for them. Another thing you could do in the meantime, is suggest to your husband to get some help with managing his anger.

Yes, there are worse cases of abuse than yours, but you are still tolerating intolerable behavior. It will wear on you and keep you from realizing your potential. You are so young, if you can put a stop to this now, you can begin to see your own strength and have a much brighter future. Plus, another reason it’s important to get some therapy or help from a support group so if/when you get out of this relationship, you will not repeat this dynamic in your next relationship.

Stay in touch—let us know how you are doing!

Much Love,

Dr. Lisa

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