Types of Abuse Inflicted on Spouses Outline

MFT: Psychology of Violence

Types of Abuse Inflicted on Spouses

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There are various forms of spousal abuse, but the legal definition of the term is, reckless or deliberate infliction of emotional or physical injury on one’s spouse. Spousal abuse penalties and charges are dependent upon whether serious physical damage was inflicted on the spouse, whether the abuse events have been occurring continually, and abuse history of the offender. While domestic violence and spousal abuse are similar, the former incorporates other kinds of relationships as well, including same-sex unions or civil partnership. Spousal abuse can lead to devastating emotional damage as it typically entails spousal domination by means of violence, verbal abuse, intimidation, or threats of bodily maltreatment, causing intense terror, hopelessness, and powerlessness in the other spouse (Attorney, 2015).


An individual is said to be physically abused if he/she suffers deliberate bodily hurt at the hands of another; physical abuse is normally witnessed in domestic violence cases. It involves a wide range of injurious behavior, including burning, slapping, kicking, and biting. The victim may come from any age group and class. While a number of physical abuse victims survive the injuries inflicted upon them, in some instances, the injuries have fatal results. As per the latest CSEW (Crime Survey for England and Wales) statistics, over 720,000 males and 1.1 million females suffered from some or other form of domestic violence in 2013. Further, it is held that more individuals succumb to injuries inflicted by domestic physical maltreatment than to wars, cancer, or road accidents. Seeking professional aid is crucial to facilitate physical abuse victims’ overcoming of psychological trauma, resulting from such experiences. Physical abuse tends to have a number of repercussions, including anxiety, depression, anger, poor self-esteem, sexual problems, and trust issues, in several cases (Counselling Directory, 205).

Often, the abuser intends to elicit fear in the victim through intimidation or humiliation — mostly for asserting dominance. The offender may mete out physical injury in numerous ways, some of which include: Striking, Spanking, Spitting, Burning, Kicking, Pulling hair, Knifing, Throttling, Shoving/pushing, Biting or scratching, Forcibly carrying, Using weapons like a bat, knife, or gun, Grabbing clothes, Coerced sex, and Throwing objects like a book, shoe, phone, or plate.


Sexual abuse occurs when an individual is forced into sexual activity. It may include unwanted touching, photographing and even rape. There appears to be a subtle distinction between two willing grownups who experiment with sexuality and one individual forced into a sexual act he/she finds alarming or debasing. For instance, one adult may enjoy pornography, while another may find it humiliating. Sexual assault, incest, sexual acts with kids aged below 16, and rape, whether by a spouse or stranger, are all to be considered as crimes, worth notifying the police. Sexual acts committed without gaining the other’s agreement, owing to unconsciousness, drugs, or alcohol, are classified under abusive behavior. A number of children and women get sexually abused by a known offender, who may be a relative, close friend, or ex-partner. Males are usually more vulnerable to sexual assault by a relative, stranger, or authority figure (e.g. somebody at school). Information with regard to cases of sexual maltreatment is mostly unknown. Abuse victims normally resort to self-blame, failing to report the incident. A number of victims are coached to trust the aggressor or fear retribution if they report the incident. In some instances, childhood sexual abuse goes unaddressed until the person starts facing sexual issues after growing up (Counselling Directory, 2015). Sexual abuse include: excessive jealousy; sexually offensive name-calling; aggressive sexual acts; sexual criticism; coercing a partner to engage in a particular sexual act the partner is not willing to engage in; forceful stripping; withholding affection/sex; denying or minimizing partner’s sexual preferences or feelings pertaining to sex; forced sex following physical abuse; making sex dependent on partner’s behavior or acquiescence to sexual practices they are uncomfortable with, e.g. use of sex toys or porn; use of coercion for forcing partner’s participation in sex; forced prostitution; forced sex when partner is tired or unwell; and clicking unwanted sexual pictures and sharing them on the internet or with others without partner’s consent (Hidden Hurt., 2015).


Emotional abuse denotes all non-physical attitudes or behaviors, which dominate, threaten, subdue, humiliate, isolate or punish another individual through the use of fear, degradation, or humiliation. It represents another form of maltreatment an individual can face in an intimate relationship. While emotional abuse leaves no physical imprint, its impact on the victim’s self-image and confidence is enormous. Emotional abuse can assume a few different forms, and may not be apparent initially. Nevertheless, a victim of emotional abuse can attempt to seek support and overcome the issue (ReachOut.com, 2015).

The outward indications of marital emotional maltreatment, though many, aren’t immediately evident. Unlike physical maltreatment, which may manifest itself through invisible bruises and scars, emotional abuse isn’t so easy to identify. Numerous married people reside in an unseen mental prison, in states of extreme desolation and hopelessness. Emotional abuse victims are characteristically reticent, timid, reserved and unconfident. Telling signs of emotional maltreatment can include a highly restricted or isolated lifestyle with loss of contact with family and friends. Other indicators of spousal abuse include a rumpled appearance, disorientation, or extreme gain or loss of weight. The reason behind these indicators is often a dictating partner who wishes to manipulate, intimidate, and dominate by attacking the other’s self-esteem and mind. Using a twisted misconception of matrimony, the abuser exploits marriage as a sort of weapon for constantly relinquishing emotional blows to the victimized partner. The aggressor plays cat and mouse with the victim, relentlessly watching him/her for signs of contentment or peace in the relationship. As soon as the victim attempts to derive some degree of emotional stability and sense of self-confidence, the aggressor instantaneously doles out a harsh response or word or demeaning remark for dousing any little glimpse of joy experienced by the victim (christianet, 2015). A few forms of emotional maltreatment are as follows:

Verbal — slighting, yelling, or cursing one’s spouse

Rejection — pretending to not notice a partner’s presence, value or conversation

Put downs — public embarrassment, name-calling, calling a partner stupid, laying the blame on them for all problems, even trivial ones

Being afraid — eliciting feelings of fear, making the spouse feel threatened or intimidated

Isolation — restricting freedom, preventing a spouse from communicating with others (such as family and friends)

Money — restricting spouse’s spending, withholding money from spouse, stealing/taking money, preventing him/her from working

Bullying –deliberate and repeated hurtful remarks or actions directed at spouse

Thoughts About Restraining Orders

Protective or restraining orders refer to court orders capable of protecting an individual from sexual or physical harm, threats, harassment, or stalking. An individual who gets the protective order is known as a “protected person,” while the one against whom the order is against is labeled “restrained person.” The reach of restraining orders can sometimes extend to include other individuals, such as the protected individual’s family members. A domestic abuse protective order is employed when the abused individual has/had an intimate relationship with the aggressor (married/registered partner, estranged, divorced, currently dating or were dating previously, have a baby together, currently cohabiting or cohabited previously), or is a close relative (child, parent, sibling, grandparent, or in-law). The success rate of temporary restraining orders in keeping the abused safe is 85%; another study, however, reports a rather disheartening success rate of 15%. Therefore, it may be safe to presume that protective orders are successful only in around half the cases (Albrecht, 2012).

When are they Effective and when are they not?

Protective orders are particularly effective for people who generally abide by rules, and, in particular, for people who are afraid of the penalties associated with disobeying the order. Unfortunately, a majority of suspected domestic abusers already establish that they aren’t sticklers for following rules, and don’t necessarily fear law enforcers, detainment, prison, jail, or even (in some cases) death as a consequence of their actions. Restraining orders are rendered ineffective when abused individuals fail to consistently report all incidents of breach of the order (as they are instructed to do), thus conveying mixed messages to the police and the aggressor. Restraining order violation include: boundary-probing e-mails, phone calls, texts, office or home drive-bys, and direct encounters with the aggressor (Albrecht, 2012). The main aim of restraining orders is reducing harm to vulnerable individuals. While their effectiveness is controversial, existing research backs the inference that protective orders are linked to decreased risk of abuse directed at victims (Benitez, McNiel, & Binder, 2010).

What Similar and Different Patterns of Violence might be seen in Gay or Lesbian Relationships and Heterosexual Relationships?

Lenore Walker, a psychologist, discovered, in the year 1979, that a common cycle or pattern governs most violent relationships. This complete cycle can transpire within a day or even several weeks or months. The pattern differs for different relationships. Also, all relationships don’t follow the pattern; several abused spouses/partners report an incessant situation of siege with hardly any respite. There are three parts to the cycle:

Tension Building Phase — Tension accumulates in the perpetrator over normal domestic matters, such as jobs, finance, or kids. This gives rise to verbal abuse. The abused partner attempts to contain the problem by appeasing the aggressor, yielding, or evading abuse, none of which work. Ultimately, the tension boils over, and physical maltreatment commences.

Acute Battering Episode — The abuser is unable to control his/her tension, sparking physical abuse. Often, it isn’t any action on the victim’s part that triggers the abuse, but an external occurrence or the aggressor’s state of mind. This suggests that the battering phase’s beginning can neither be predicted nor controlled by the victim. Some experts, however, are of the opinion that victims, in some instances, might unconsciously prompt abuse, in order to release the aggressor’s pent-up tension, and progress to the subsequent, honeymoon stage.

The Honeymoon Phase — firstly, the aggressor feels ashamed and expresses repentance, attempting to minimalize the violence; he/she may even hold the abused responsible for his/her behavior. The perpetrator may subsequently display kindness and affection, followed by cooperation, apologies, and generosity. he/she will sincerely try to persuade the abused that such behavior will not be repeated. This repentant, loving behavior will strengthen their relationship, convincing the victim, possibly for the umpteenth time, that it isn’t necessary to break the relationship.

The above cycle recurs incessantly, and might explain why spouses inflicted with abuse choose to remain with their abusive partner. While the abuse might be awful, the generosity and promises they know will occur in the honeymoon stage offers false hopes to numerous victims that their life may, someday, take a turn for the better (Goldsmith, 2006).


The abuse pattern is similar for straight and homosexual domestic violence victims, though some significant distinctions do exist. The commonalities between homosexual and straight domestic abuse are:

Abuse pattern entails a vicious circle of physical, psychological, and emotional maltreatment, making the victim feel scared, guilty and isolated.

Usually, abusers suffer from severe mental ailments and are typically victims of child abuse.

Psychological mistreatment denotes the most widespread type of abuse; physical abusers generally blackmail spouses into silence.

Usually, there is co-occurrence of sexual and physical abuse.

Spousal abuse may take place among people of all ethnicities, races and socio-economic classes.


Homosexual abusers will blackmail their partners about disclosing their sexual orientation to family, friends, and coworkers. Among homosexuals, this threat seems to be aggravated due to extreme isolation, as some of them are still isolated from kith and kin, and don’t have many civil rights and legal system access.

Homosexual victims will be more disinclined to notifying authorities of abuse. This may be because of the fear that their gender identity will be revealed.

Another reason for homosexual victims’ unwillingness to seek aid is fear of displaying lack of unity among the homosexual community. Likewise, many homosexuals conceal the fact that they are suffering abuse owing to an elevated fear that people will view homosexual relationships as integrally dysfunctional.

Homosexual victims will more likely defend themselves against abuse than heterosexual females. Consequently, law enforcement may conclude that abuse was mutual, and fail to see the wider context of spousal abuse and the relationship’s control and power history.

Abusers may threaten to separate the victim from his/her children. The adoption rules of some states disallow homosexual partners’ adopting of one another’s children. Therefore, if the relationship breaks, a victim may not have any legal rights over children. Children may be conveniently used as a weapon by the abuser for preventing the abused from reporting abuse or breaking up. Even if a victim has legal rights over a child, the abuser can threaten to expose the victim’s sexual orientation to those social workers who oppose homosexuality, leading to potential loss of child custody. In worst-case scenarios, the abused partner’s children may even go into the abuser’s custody (Center for American Progress, 2011).

Scenario of Elder Abuse in both a Prosperous and Impoverished Family

Elder Abuse in a Prosperous Family

75-year-old Irene and her husband, Norman, reside in a little city. They have been married for 45 years and have two adult children, Brian and Paul. Irene is well aware of spousal abuse dynamics, having been a victim of physical and verbal abuse by Norman all through their marriage. Initially, Irene didn’t realize that her husband was being abusive; she also never thought it would dominate their lives. Irene believed, for several years, that she was capable of changing him — by showering so much affection on him that he would cease his anger, and by making him realize the impact of his behavior on the boys. While the physical violence was normally directed at Irene, the kids, who were usually at home, knew of these episodes. Until the age of 72 years, Irene was relatively healthy; at 72, she began suffering from diabetes. Irene can’t see very well now, and thus, cannot drive. Another reason for her increasing reluctance to go out of home is her incontinence issue. At her husband’s suggestion, Irene asks her son, Brian to assist her with bills, groceries, etc. every Saturday, at least till they are able to acquire home health services. Though Brian has no problem with helping his parents out, the example set for him by Norman leads him to frequently yell at his mother, treating her poorly, like a servant (National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women, 2015).

Elder Abuse in a Poor Family

An elderly, poor woman claims that she has to raise her daughter’s three children, primarily because her daughter has alcohol abuse issues and is unable to handle them. While she adores her grandchildren and has no problem with caring for them, her daughter is the recipient of parental monetary benefit. The elderly woman cannot support them all with her pension, but she has to remain silent on the issue, as she fears her daughter may face problems with Centre link, or that the children may be taken from her custody. At times, the daughter stops by to get her hands on more money from her mother, to spend at the pub with her partner. Of late, her eldest grandson has begun doing the same. She is worried about who will care for the kids should anything happen to her (Binsiar, Fewquandie, & Barnett, 2012).

Special Population (Elders)

Dynamics of Domestic Violence Seen in Families of this Population

The most perplexing aspect about domestic abuse is the abused person’s decision to remain with the abusive individual. Most people question this decision. However, a more apt question to voice would be why people inflict harm on those they claim to love. Abusers generally have entitlement patterns of thinking; they feel they are superior in standing, with exclusive privileges and rights, which aren’t applicable to other people (Bancroft, 2002). Abusers employ numerous tactics for acquiring and retaining control over victims, usually by establishing living arrangement rules (e.g., when dinner must be served, what programs can be viewed on TV, movement restrictions for older adult members, who they can speak to, etc.) (Bancroft, 2002). Thought patterns of abusers make them believe their desires and requirements are more significant than those of others, and thus, they may employ any means necessary — for instance, stealing money from grandparents when they need it or coercing a partner for sex when they wish to humiliate or dominate them, or desire sex. Older females believe the key reason for abuse was control and power over them. They were faced with abuse in the form of threats, isolation, bullying, etc. They observed, in particular, an appreciable amount of psychological and emotional abuse perpetrated by abusers in addition to other types of maltreatment (Spangler & Brandl, 2007).

Difficulties Encountered in Identifying or Preventing Domestic Violence in this Population

Elder abuse identification hinges on several factors — some of which lie within direct governmental control, while others (e.g. under-reporting by different potential reporters), which pose more challenges with regard to public policy. Another factor, which may impact elder abuse identification, is potential reporters’ difficulty or ease in trying to report an abuse incident or file a complaint. It is clear that the greatest challenge posed to state agencies is dearth of appropriate resources. Over 99.5% of government agency staff, when interviewed, stated that resource constraints proved to be their biggest challenge, as well as one among the three key obstacles to improvements in the process of complaint investigation. This scarcity of proper resources could be clearly perceived in multiple areas of the elder neglect/abuse prevention, identification, investigation, and resolution process. A number of reasons underlie this resource shortage. Firstly, unlike nursing home regulations, there is no federal support to states for regulation of assisted living centers or residential care (other than a little Medicaid waiver funding). Secondly, state agencies do not have the capacity to keep pace with the industry’s progress. Thirdly, state lawmakers have failed to allocate necessary resources for meeting the dual challenge of a population faced with increasing abuse risks and impairment, and a growing industry. Lastly, a majority of players in the residential care and assisted living industry has opposed efforts towards enhancing regulations and state agencies’ capacity for assuring quality, leading to rather severe challenges (Hawes & Kimbell, 2009).

One of residential care’s realities is that the major role in elder abuse prevention, identification, investigation, and resolution process is played by state licensing bodies. The AHFSA (Association of Health Facility Survey Agencies) is a federal body whose staff is in charge of regulating most states’ assisted living/residential care facilities. Administrators in states where social service/community care organizations conduct licensing are typically from NARA (National Association for Regulatory Administration). AHFSA and NARA held a joint yearly meeting in Albuquerque in 2005, in which it was evident from the residential care discussions that the numerous issues identified by administrators troubled them; these included: residents’ growing acuity, need for more robust regulatory systems, and concerns regarding whether current licensing standards matched the type and level of care required by residents or not (Hawes & Kimbell, 2009).


Albrecht, S. (2012, July 27). Do Domestic Violence Restraining Orders Ever Really Work? Retrieved from psychologytoday: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-act-violence/201207/do-domestic-violence-restraining-orders-ever-really-work

Attorney. (2015). Spousal Abuse Charges and Penalties. Retrieved from Attorney: http://www.attorneys.com/domestic-violence/spousal-abuse-charges-and-penalties/

Bancroft, L. (2002). Why does he do that? New York: Berkley.

Benitez, C. T., McNiel, D. E., & Binder, R. L. (2010). Do Protection Orders Protect? J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, 38(3), 376-385. Retrieved Novemeber 8, 2015, from http://www.jaapl.org/content/38/3/376.full

Binsiar, J., Fewquandie, S., & Barnett, L. (2012). Strong Women. Hard Yarns. Queensland: Queensland Centre for Domestic and Family Violence Research.

Center for American Progress. (2011, June 14). Domestic Violence in the LGBT Community. Retrieved from Center for American Progress: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/lgbt/news/2011/06/14/9850/domestic-violence-in-the-lgbt-community/

Christianet. (2015, Novemeber 8). Signs Of Emotional Abuse In Marriage. Retrieved from christianet: http://www.christianet.com/christianmarriage/signsofemotionalabuseinmarriage.htm

Counselling Directory. (2015, Novemeber 8). Sexual abuse. Retrieved from Counselling Directory: http://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/sexual.html

Counselling Directory. (205, Novemeber 8). Physical abuse. Retrieved from Counselling Directory: http://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/physical.html

Goldsmith, D. T. (2006, October 19). The Common Pattern of Domestic Violence. Retrieved from psychcentral: http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-common-pattern-of-domestic-violence/

Hawes, C., & Kimbell, A.-M. (2009). Detecting, Addressing and Preventing Elder Abuse In Residential Care Facilities. College Station, Texas: Health Science Center.

Hidden Hurt. (2015). Sexual Abuse, Domestic Violence and Marital Rape. Retrieved from Hidden Hurt.: http://www.hiddenhurt.co.uk/sexual_abuse.html

National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women. (2015, November 9). Irene’s Journey: Examining the Issues of Domestic Violence in Later Life. Retrieved from National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women: http://www.globalvp.umn.edu/cgi-bin/client.pl

ReachOut.com. (2015, November 8). What is emotional abuse? Retrieved from ReachOut.com: http://au.reachout.com/what-is-emotional-abuse

Spangler, D., & Brandl, B. (2007). Abuse in Later Life: Power and Control Dynamics and a Victim-Centered Response. Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, 12(6), 322-331.

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