Signs of Emotional and Psychological Abuse in Marriages

signs of abuse in marriages

Understanding the nuances between different types of abuse is crucial for identifying and addressing harmful behaviours in relationships.

Although people often use the terms psychological abuse and emotional abuse interchangeably, we must recognise the distinctions between them to support victims better and raise awareness.

Ultimately, psychological abuse entails using verbal and social tactics to manipulate a victim’s way of thinking. By understanding these behaviours, individuals can better identify and address abusive situations.

In this blog, we will explore four significant behaviours that are often indicative of domestic abuse in a marital context: degradation, social isolation, erosion of self-esteem, and gaslighting.


Degradation involves tactics that aim to humiliate and demean the spouse. Abusers often resort to name-calling, belittling comments, and public embarrassment to make their partner feel worthless and inferior.

Abusers design this form of abuse to strip away the spouse’s dignity and self-respect, leaving them feeling ashamed and powerless.

Social Isolation

Abusers frequently try to sever their spouse’s connections with friends and family by manipulating or coercing them into distancing themselves from their support network.

The abuser might criticise the spouse’s loved ones, create conflicts, or impose restrictions on social interactions. By isolating the spouse, the abuser ensures that they become more dependent on them, making it harder for the spouse to seek help or escape the abusive relationship.

Erosion of Self-Esteem

Undermining the spouse’s confidence and sense of self-worth is a common tactic used by abusers. They may constantly criticise, undermine accomplishments, or dismiss the spouse’s opinions and feelings.

This behaviour aims to erode the spouse’s self-esteem, making them feel incapable and undeserving of better treatment. Over time, the spouse may start to internalise these negative beliefs, which can be incredibly damaging to their mental health and well-being.

Read more: How to Deal with a Narcissist Spouse


Gaslighting is a particularly insidious form of psychological abuse where the abuser manipulates the spouse into doubting their reality and sanity.

The abuser uses lies, contradictions, and misinformation to make the spouse doubt their memory, perceptions, and mental stability. This can result in confusion, anxiety, and a deep sense of helplessness, making it even harder for the spouse to trust their instincts and seek help.

Read more: Narcissistic Abuse in Marriages: A Singaporean Perspective

Emotional & Psychological Abuse as Unreasonable Behavior

In Singapore, unreasonable behaviour is a key ground for establishing fault. Unreasonable behaviour refers to conduct by one spouse that makes it intolerable for the other to continue living with them.

Emotional and psychological abuse are prime examples of such behaviour, as they profoundly impact the mental and emotional well-being of the victim.

As matrimonial lawyers, we often see emotional and psychological abuse as the main reason for the breakdown of marriages. Many clients come to us after enduring years of subtle and overt abusive behaviours that have left them feeling trapped and hopeless.

These forms of abuse erode the very foundation of a marriage, making it impossible for the relationship to continue in a healthy and supportive manner.

Read more:
Divorcing an Abusive Spouse
When You Reach a Breaking Point in Your Marriage

How We Help

As divorce lawyers, we help individuals regain control of their lives. We provide legal advice and support to those experiencing emotional and psychological abuse, guiding them through the process of seeking a fault-based divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour.

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