Reports of abusive husbands, who beat and even kill their wives, gather lots of publicity and create huge outcries, as they should. For example, there are two recent reports from Buffalo, New York and Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. I hope these guys and any others who do such heinous things to other people, including wives, get put away forever. But there’s an even more prevalent bullying strategy that husbands use to control wives, that tends to get overlooked because it’s not as violent.
These are husbands who abuse and control their wives by sneaky, covert, manipulative tactics that demean the women and keep them subservient. I call these controlling husbands, “stealth bullies.”
Even though overt, physical, domestic violence isn’t involved in these cases, women need name the emotional abuse and violence, harassment and domination as “bullying” in order to rally their spirits, strengthen their backbones and get the help they need to stop the abuse or to get away.
Of course, the sooner women recognize and label what’s going on (especially before they have children); the easier they’ll be able to get away.
Here are some of the warning signs of stealthy, controlling husbands.
- They control everything – what you do, where you go, who spends the money and what it’s spent on. They may say that they work hard and make the money, so they should have control of it.
- Their make the rules – your “no” isn’t accepted as “no.” They’re always right and you’re always wrong; their sense of humor is right and they’re not abusing you, you’re too sensitive. Your concerns generally don’t get dealt with – theirs are more important, so they can ignore your wishes.
- They control you with their disapproval, name-calling, putdowns, demeaning, blame and guilt – no matter what you do; you’re wrong or not good enough. You’re told that if you were perfect, you’d be treated better. They blow up over minor things or if you resist in any way. You’re to blame if they hurt you. Or they control you with their hyper-sensitive, hurt feelings, whining and threats to commit suicide.
- They argue endlessly and withhold approval and love if you don’t do exactly what they want. You feel emotionally blackmailed, intimidated and drained. You walk on eggshells; they threaten you, the children, the pets, your favorite things.
- You’re told you’re incompetent, helpless and would be alone without them. They stimulate your self-questioning and self-doubt.
- They isolate you – they won’t allow you to see your friends or your family, go to school or even work.
- You’re told that a woman’s place is to be treated like they treat you. You should accept whatever they dish out. They often get their friends and even your family of origin to agree with them. You have to tolerate their behavior until you can convince them to change.
Many women allow themselves to be bullied repeatedly because they don’t recognize and label the control and abuse as “bullying.” When you recognize and label these bullies’ tactics and tricks, you’ll be empowered to resist them. When you learn effective skills and techniques, you can resist them successfully.
Peaceful methods (understanding, tolerating, logic, reasoning, forgiveness, their sympathetic therapy) sometimes stop mild bullying. But you need firmer, stronger methods to stop relentless, determined husbands.
Of course it’s usually not easy to stop the behavior or to get away. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Tactics must be designed for each situation. Factors such as money, children, outside support, age, health, threatened increase in abuse to physical brutality and murder, and family of origin and cultural values can be extremely important in designing effective tactics.
But the first step is always for women to make an internal shift from acceptance or tolerance (even though you may hate them) to a commitment and determination to end the abuse and bullying, no matter what it takes. Without that inner commitment, women usually end up begging the husband to change and waiting forever. The inner commitment is necessary to give strength and power to the right tactics in your hands.
You’ll find many examples of stealth bullies in my books and CDs “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up,” “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids.” You’ll also learn practical, real-world tactics to stop these bullies or to get away safely.