How do we define emotional abuse? Cruelty? Certainly. Constantly putting the other person down? Absolutely! Making them feel worthless or meaningless? Yep! Making them feel they or what they want is unimportant? Definitely. Constant nagging, putting them on edge? Most likely. Emotionally breaking them? Yes, yes and yes.
We can all agree that emotional abuse exists and we can all agree that it makes an unhealthy relationship. We can all agree that it is wrong and that the person suffering it should leave the relationship and be given help if necessary. Unlike physical abuse, the scars are invisible but can last a lifetime.
However, I am concerned how the UK government intends to monitor or police emotional abuse according to the plans unveiled by current Home Secretary Theresa May because it is so subjective and therefore difficult to prove. Any claim of emotional abuse can easily be disputed by the person who can then claim they were blowing a comment out of proportion and public attitudes towards emotional abuse will be flexible depending on the gender of the victim. It will also be a law very open to abuse. How long will it be before “he called me fat” leads to a criminal prosecution?
I am also concerned that this law will be used entirely an exclusively against men even though men are more likely to suffer emotional abuse. A woman who persistently puts her partner down, nags him, emotionally blackmails him, makes him feel that what he wants is not important, makes him feel small in front of his friends and in front of her friends, persistently picks at his faults, criticises his sexual performance, destroys his ego in order to bolster her own, cuts him off from his family and friends, threatens that he’ll never see his children again if he doesn’t comply with her demands, makes him feel guilty about wanting to spend time with his friends, withholding sex as punishment for insignificant things, makes false accusations of domestic abuse in order to derail any criminal or civil proceedings against her… that woman is an abuser yet I cannot see such a case ever being brought to trial for several reasons.
- Practicality – one person’s word against another’s, the courts would be full up with such cases.
- Because she is a woman and the social attitude that men cannot be victims – he simply needs to “be a man”.
- Because “henpecking” is still largely seen as something amusing and not as the abuse that it really is.
May has said that emotionally abusive partners could face jail for “controlling behaviour”. Shit, that’ll be both my ex-wife and her mother locked up then! From one perspective, I was the victim of emotional abuse as I was persistently made to feel that what I wanted was not important and when I had an opinion that disagreed with either of them, that’s when the tantrums started – the cold shoulder, the shunning and in extreme cases, the screaming fits. I married into a family that thinks having tantrums to get their own way is a reasonable way for adults to act. By May’s plans, they would all have a criminal record for this behaviour.
Does this sound reasonable to you? Would I have wanted them jailed? No, because that would have been stupid and counter-productive. Besides, my ex-wife learnt about her damaging behaviour when she was in the psych unit and everything I threw at her in the couples counselling about her behaviour and about how much control she permitted her mother to have in our relationship.
There are far more effective ways of handling this. When coupled with physical abuse, it will certainly enhance a case; yet on its own emotional abuse is subjective and therefore difficult to prove and it will serve no real purpose to prosecute people for every little insult.