During the course of a divorce, more often than not, additional conflict other than the source of the divorce can arise. Emotional abuse, a common occurrence in divorce conflict, is constituted as “acts or omissions that have caused, or could cause, serious behavioral, cognitive and emotional disorders.” It is important to understand both the effects, mental and physical, and the signs that emotional abuse is occurring, for the sake of both individuals and especially for the child, if one has resulted from the marriage.
The types of emotional abuse vary, depending on both the extremity of the divorce and the personalities of the parties involved. Typical signs of emotional abuse during divorce include:
- Lying to authoritative figures in ways that degrade the spouse as a method of self-defense, often specifying the exact faults that the abuser is guilty of
- Appearing agreeable outside of court in order to gain advantage in court. Abusive spouse will propose agreements and not hold their side of the bargain. Coincidentally, if the abused spouse does so, the abusive spouse will cite is as an example of disagreement between the two
- Resorting to bullying (verbal abuse, blaming other spouse for failure of marriage, threats to cut-off spouse from money/children/personal possessions, physical violence)[i]
In divorce cases involving the custody of a child, the signs of emotional abuse may include:
- Using the child as a personal pawn (conveying messages to other parent, explaining “the truth” in an attempt to have them side with the abusive parent)
- Over-indulging or avoiding discipline of the child in order to become the preferred parent
- Neglecting the child’s emotional & physical needs; refusing to take them to their activities in order to disappoint the other parent
- Interrogating the child about the other parent[ii]
It is important to recognize the signs of emotional abuse in divorce as soon as possible, regardless of whether there is a child included in the conflict or not. Emotional abuse can cause an extreme lack of self-confidence for the abused spouse, a constant and unrealistic feeling of guilt (that it is the abused spouse’s fault) and can even cause physical harm to your body. The amount of stress and frustration can lead to addictions, eating disorders, migraines, depression, anxiety, digestive disorders, skin rashes, chronic fatigue and many other chronic health conditions.[iii] Children impacted by abuse in divorce are often attributed with:
- Poor self esteem
- Increased anxiety
- Increased anger (turned outward as aggression; turned inward causing depression/withdrawal)
- Future relationship difficulties
- Drug and alcohol abuse, early sexual acting out[iv]
With all of that said, it is not only important to recognize the early signs of emotional abuse during divorce, but to act upon them. The abused spouse should seek therapy and a support network in order to learn to distance themselves from the abusive spouse emotionally and to learn how to better cope with the situation. In cases involving a child, both parents should try their hardest to separate their personal feelings from their child’s feelings. They should avoid any negativity regarding the divorce when around the child, refuse to use the child as a personal pawn, and instead help the child act positively towards the other parent. In extreme cases where such reconciliation is not possible, it is important for both parents to recognize the need for a parent coordinator to assist the family.
[i] Mayo Clinic Staff, . N.p.. Web. 14 Jun 2013. <http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/narcissistic-personality-disorder/DS00652/DSECTION=symptoms>.
[ii] Dadasovic, Branka. N.p.. Web. 14 Jun 2013. <http://www.sit.itgo.com/BEMOC.htm>.
[iii] Kay, Nancy. N.p., n. d. 14 Jun 2013. <http://movingforwardthroughdivorce.com/2013/01/5-signs-to-help-you-recognize-emotional-abuse/>.
[iv] Moyan, Susan, ed. N.p.. Web. 14 Jun 2013. <http://parentingcoordinationatlanta.com/uploads/What_isDivorce_Abuse_article__PDF.pdf>.