Are you with a bullying partner?

 Husbands and wives bully each other without even recognizing it, negatively impacting their children who model behavior after their parents. A marital dynamic based on bullying often creates unhealthy victimizer and victim role models for children to emulate.

Most couples come together out of love and they assume that decisions about family, finances and lifestyles will be made together. Over time communication can erode, and rather than operating as a team, couples can turn on each other with one spouse “winning” and the other “losing.” When the dominant spouse reverts to bullying behavior to control the relationship, one partner becomes a victimizer and the other the victim.

The passive-aggressive partner. The term passive–aggressive is frequently used to describe bullying spouses. Bullying spouses intentionally scare their partners and then accuse them of leaving them out of decisions and events. It’s the spouse who shows up late for a planned dinner only to pout when people have already eaten without them.

The controlling partner. This bullying type insists that you change in order to accommodate their needs. You must be neater, thinner, funnier, more organized and the list goes on. If you are feeling that you come up short by your spouse’s high standards, then your spouse may be too controlling for anyone’s comfort level.

The tit for tat partner. Many bullying spouses try to make a point of comparing how much they’ve done compared to the little contributions of their spouse. This results in a competitive, no-win situation. Do your conversations sound like, “Look how much I did today and how little you did”?

What are some signs that you may be a victim of a bullying partner?

Depression. Spouses who feel that they cannot live up to their partner’s expectations and that they are always failing in their partners eyes can develop a sense of learned helplessness. Learned helplessness occurs when a person gives up trying to be successful because they are certain they will fail. As a result of giving up, they become depressed with symptoms that include sadness, lack of interest, decreased energy and inability to feel pleasure.

Panic. Are you a spouse that is always worried when the other shoe will drop? Are you in pre-panic mode before your spouse comes home because you’re afraid of what you’ll hear when they walk in the door? If you live with a sense of impending doom, it may be because you’re in panic mode due to your fear of being bullied.

Anxiety. Are you constantly worrying about what will go wrong? Are you trying to anticipate every event that may occur before it does and control the outcome to please your partner? You may have generalized anxiety if that’s the case.

Social isolation. Do you feel that you have nothing to offer others and therefore isolate yourself or avoid social situations? Bullied partners often don’t want to take risks for fear that they will fail once again. They become withdrawn and fearful.

Changing spouse bullying behavior can be difficult, but not impossible. Bullies are people too, and they often act the way they do out of habit. They have been conditioned to put down others as a way to make themselves feel better and more in control, or even more secure. Often the first step to change is awareness. The desire to change comes when they recognize that treating loved ones badly is destructive and makes family dynamics fearful as opposed to loving.

Help is available through a combined approach of cognitive –behavioral therapy and couples/family counseling. Couples/family counseling offers feedback as to how the bully is behaving and impacting loved ones. Once they are motivated to change after receiving heartfelt feedback, the CBT offers practical strategies for change. I’ve seen many bullying spouses change with this approach. If we want to stop children from bullying, changing parents’ bullying behavior is essential.

Many victims of spousal bullying have a history of being victimized long before they get married, which can make them more vulnerable to marrying a bully. Victims of spousal bullying often feel the following:

— Fear of doing the “wrong” thing and speaking their mind

— Belittled

— Judged and criticized

— Fear of raising concerns with their partners for fear of put downs or judgments

When we think of bullying we automatically assume it’s outright aggression that defines bullying, and yet bullying in spousal relationships can be subtler than that. Here are some ways that bullying occurs in marriages:

The cold shoulder. Have you often feared bringing up a controversial topic because you don’t want to be shut out for days afterward? The frozen out feeling is sometimes worse than being yelled at. The silence manipulates you by making you ask what the problem is, and forces you to give in to keep the peace.

October is #StopBullying month. Please help end bullying.

Original Content can be found at:

Dr. Kate Roberts is a psychologist and parent coach on the North Shore. Questions can be directed,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *