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I Am In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship, What Can I Do?

Even in 2023, many people believe that for abuse to exist in a relationship, there must be physical harm. Nothing could be further from the truth. Domestic violence can include physical, emotional and sexual abuse between couples or family members. In this article, we will help you to understand if you are being emotionally abused by your partner or another family member and what you can do.

29 June 2023
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If you are at immediate risk of harm from your partner or a family member, please call 999 immediately. Support is also available nationally from the National Domestic Abuse Helpline (a service run by the Charity Refuge) on freephone 0808 2000 (lines are always open).

What is the definition of emotional abuse?

What is emotional bullying? According to Relate, emotional abuse between partners can take many forms, including:

  • Intimidation – i.e. shouting, swearing, slamming doors, hitting objects

  • Threats – i.e. threats towards you, your child, your pets

  • Criticism – i.e. putting you down, calling you names, or making unpleasant comments

  • Undermining – i.e. dismissing your views or gaslighting

  • Being made to feel guilty – i.e. emotional blackmail 

  • Economic abuse - i.e. withholding access to money, or

  • Telling you what you can and can’t do – i.e. preventing you from meeting your friends or going out of the house

The common link between all of these forms of emotional abuse is ultimately the control of one person by another. 

Am I being emotionally abused?

Many people are unsure if what they are experiencing at the hands of their partner is ‘abuse’ or simply normal behaviour within a relationship. Clearly, with physical abuse, it is much more obvious that abuse is occurring, but emotional bullying can be much more subtle. If you suspect that you are being emotionally abused by your partner, but you are not sure, ask yourself how what they are doing to you makes you feel. If you are being made to feel belittled, fearful, controlled, or unable to express yourself, the chances are that you are being emotionally abused. You may also have experienced being stonewalled by the person.

Is emotional bullying illegal?

Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (SCA 2015) created the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship. This states that a person may be committing if:

  • A person repeatedly or continuously engages in behaviour towards another person that is controlling or coercive

  • At the time of the behaviour, both parties are personally connected

  • The behaviour has a serious effect on the victim, and

  • The person carrying out the controlling or coercive behaviour knows (or ought to know) it will have a serious effect on the victim.

Coercive behaviour is defined as “an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim”. This includes emotional abuse.

Depending on the harm caused to the victim, a person who is found guilty of systematic controlling or coercive behaviour towards their partner may face a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and a fine. 

My husband is a bully, what can I do?

If you suspect that your husband, wife or partner is a bully, your safety and that of your children is paramount. Where possible, it can be extremely useful to keep some records of what they are doing to you – this may include keeping notes of what was said (including when and where), WhatsApp or other messages, emails, photos, voicemails, or any other forms of evidence. This will help you to understand the extent of the emotional abuse you are subject to and provide evidence if you take the matter further.

There are many forms of help available to you, including:

  • Emergency services on 999 (if you are in immediate danger)

  • The National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247 

  • Men’s Advice Line on 0808 8010 327 or ManKind on 0182 3334 244

  • Galop (if you identify as LGBT+) on 0800 999 5428 

  • Your GP, health visitor or midwife

  • Karma Nirvana on 0800 5999 247, and

  • GOV.UK Forced Marriage Unit on 020 7008 0151 

In any event, it is important to have someone to speak to about what is happening to you, whether a close friend or family member who is not involved. By confiding in another person you can trust, they can support you through the next stage of your life and help you to reach a place of physical and emotional safety. 

If you are considering separation, divorce, or dissolution, consider speaking to a family law Solicitor in complete confidence. A family law Solicitor will be able to explain the options available to you and answer any questions you may have. They will help you understand if your partner has committed a crime by emotionally abusing you and what to do next. Your Solicitor can also handle your divorce application and seek an agreement on financial and child arrangements.

Guillaumes LLP Solicitors is a full-service law firm based in Weybridge, Surrey. We have a highly experienced family law team who can assist you with your divorce or dissolution. To make an appointment, please get in touch or call us on 01932 840 111.