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What Is Considered Spousal Abuse?

By Elise Davis ; Updated June 13, 2017

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 12.7 million people, both men and women, are abused by a spouse or domestic partner each year. However, abuse is often ignored or minimized, particularly if the abuse is emotional rather than physical. Admitting that there is a problem is the first step in getting safe and getting help.

Physical Abuse

When people hear the terms domestic violence or spousal abuse, physical abuse is typically what they envision. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, physical abuse is any violence that has the potential to lead to an injury. This includes actions such as hitting, punching, kicking, slapping and pushing. It can also include actions like choking, burning and throwing things. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have experienced physical abuse in a relationship.

Sexual Abuse

While sex and physical intimacy are expected parts of a marriage or committed relationship, they can also be used aggressively within these relationships as a form of abuse. The National Council on Child Abuse & Family Violence defines sexual abuse or marital rape as a type of violence that uses sex acts to hurt, humiliate or degrade the other person. This includes forcing another person to have sex or inflicting deliberate pain during sex.

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Emotional Abuse and Threats

Emotional abuse is any action that embarrasses, shames, ridicules or demeans another person. According to psychotherapist Jeanne Segal, writing for the Helpguide website, emotional abuse is used to make victims feel bad about themselves and to control them. This type of abuse can involve name-calling, intimidation and controlling behavior. It may also include threats of physical violence or abandonment. While victims often minimize this type of abuse, it can be equally damaging.

Getting Help

While many people who are abused by their spouses deny or minimize the abuse, it is important for their physical and mental health that they seek help. Many abusers make promises about not hurting their victim again, but the problem is seldom that easy to fix. It is essential that victims of abuse find a trusted person to go to for help. Many cities have shelters or local hotlines that can be found in the phone book or online by searching for domestic violence or women's shelter.

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