Is this domestic emotional and verbal abuse?

I've read over the BPN archives and webpages on abusive marriages, and I'm beginning to get real clarity on what's happening in my marriage. But I still have this doubt in my mind. I have a therapist but I reason with her, with myself, with what I read saying, "But he's actually a really good person." We've been married for 10 years; our boys are 9 and 6yo. About 2-3 times each year my husband has erupted at me in an extreme rage. What I've always said is it's a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde situation. He literally flips a lid and becomes someone else. He becomes absolutely demonic, eyes flashing, spitting, and calling me an f-ing bitch over and over, throwing things. I am not afraid of him. I used to yell back at him, showing him he couldn't bully me around. But our marriage counselor advised me to stay calm and say, "We don't yell at or hit each other in this family." So that's what I do: I stand my ground, stare him down, and calmly say those words. But in these past 3 years (more financial and job stress in his life) he's been erupting much more frequently. In the past 12 months, for example, he has flown into a demonic rage 8 times, calling me a f-ing bitch, and much more. Also, he now screams at me in front of the children. And, he erupts in anger at the children at least a few times each week. He over-reacts with everything - twisting an arm behind the back, throwing a PVC pipe or a block at them, howling in rage. The kids and I have a protocol: they're not to ever let him touch them when he's angry. They're to run away and hide under the bed till he calms down. Last month I took them to a hotel b/c he was raging at us. The other day my 6yo said, "Mommy, who is this monster? He is not the daddy I used to know." I rarely leave them alone with him (which is hard b/c I'm a teacher and a theater director). At the same time ... when he's not mad, he's an attentive, playful, loving daddy. My boys adore him. They build projects in the backyard; play pirates; he tells them about the stars and amazing things happening in the universe. They wake up in the morning and play Legos together; at night they tell stories together. As for me: I don't like him anymore, we haven't had sex in years, but I try to stay neutral, co-parent with him, let them have their loving relationship, and I talk the kids through his rages (this is not right, we don't deserve to be treated this way). So my confusion is this: his verbal and emotional abuse doesn't follow what I read on domestic violence webpages. He isn't intentionally trying to control, belittle, shame, confine, or isolate us; I don't feel bad about myself; he does not intentionally manipulate our emotions. It's literally a flipped lid moment; it passes; he's back to being calm and loving with the children. It doesn't seem like textbook emotional, verbal abuse. It seems like a grey area. Or is it? My thought is we could get a divorce but buy a tiny house to put behind the garage for him to live in. He'd still have the tools and workspace in his garage, and the children could see him whenever he's chill. I won't have to see him daily. He would have the space to calm down. But I'm beginning to wonder if I'm deluded! What am I seeing or not seeing? I know this isn't right!

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Has he, or have the two of you together, sought help? Does he recognize that he has a problem?

I agree with you that this is not normal and not something that you or the kids should be subjected to.  If help is available for him to manage/control/eliminate these outbursts that seems like a good first step. 

Dear Waverly, What you describe is an abusive (and maybe-- I don't know-- but ) maybe a dangerous situation when he's in one of his, unpredictable, moods.  It seems that something is causing his turn-on-a - dime switch into someone scary for your kids to be around (you too).  That something can be such things as drugs, a tumor, brain chemistry suddenly gone awry, electrical misfirings (as in some forms of epilepsy) etc. etc.  But please be proactive, quickly, in protecting yourself and your kids. 

Isn't there a local shelter for women and children?  You've already gone to a hotel-- so you know about running for cover.  Maybe if you moved out, QUICKLY, that would get his attention.  And then perhaps immediately he'd be up for seeing a psychiatrist, even a neurologist, but at least someone who's trained to unravel what's going on. But by moving out, just leaving him a note, you are protecting your kids and yourself.  And I wouldn't risk having my kids around him again -- I wouldn't move back-- until you see long term improvement. That probably means you need to rent a house or apartment or share some place with someone...without telling him your address... You have good reason to not trust him.

I am so sorry this is happening.  I have some personal experience with a former husband in this regard.  I am very thankful I took my young kids and left.  It wasn't easy. 

I have to respond here - you are correct, this is not right! There is no doubt at all that this is ABUSE. Verbal, emotional, physical abuse. NO it is NOT a gray area! What you are describing is what many if not most abusive people do - very seriously, there is nothing unusual or special about your story, except for you somehow not recognizing that your children's father is abusive. Does he scream abuse at co-workers? friends? his family of origin?  If not, then I ask you to consider why he is doing it in a targeted way to YOU and YOUR CHILDREN? Yes, he is indeed aware of what he's doing and trying to manipulate and control you. He may present differently, but this is indeed what he is doing.  Much has been written about this online and in books. 

You are asking your kids to hide when he rages? You're coping with this repeatedly throughout the year? Those names and that rage in front of any human being is unacceptable. By allowing him to just cathartically scream at everyone, get calm and act like nothing happened ... and you act like nothing happened as well ... what do you think you're teaching your children? Who will they partner with as adults, if this is what you're telling them is okay and normal? 

And, why do you think this is okay? What in your own background is allowing this?

You are not having sex with him because your body knows this is wrong and you no longer trust him. Throwing things at you and your kids, calling you vicious names in front of them, is the definition of abuse. It's illegal to threaten a minor. Throwing is violent and threatening. This is not okay.

Please get a new therapist. Then consult an attorney. Start documenting his rages. Keep a journal online with dates and descriptions. Try to video him or get his voice on your cell. The next time he gets to the point of scary rage (even if you claim not to be scared), call the police. Explain to him that you will call the police every time he does this. Tell him in advance if you want. If it were me, I'd calmly explain that you can no longer live like this. Ask him to get into serious, year long counseling for anger management. On the one hand, you can be loving and ask him to change. But at the same time, you must seriously DOCUMENT what's happening, because once you start legal separation or divorce, you will not be there to protect your children. He is likely to be awarded 50% custody unless you can really prove that he is abusive and a danger to them.

Please really know that this IS "textbook abuse."

I think this falls more into the category of mental illness (which of course can be an element of domestic violence).  I also think that it is traumatic for you and your children to have to experience it.  A few times a week is a lot.  Does he have any insight afterwards?  I think he needs a psychiatric evaluation, and then whatever treatment the psychiatrist suggests.  If he refuses, then you can decide whether it's tolerable or not. Don't forget that if you divorce he will have some sort of custody, and then you won't see what happens because you won't be there.  

I'm really sorry you are going through this. You and your children deserve to be treated better. I say this gently - but you sound like you are in deep denial. This is definitely abuse. I'm so glad you reached out to ask this community because I suspect the resounding response will be yes, you and your children are being abused.  Look at the words you and your children are using to describe your husband: "demonic, rage, monster, howl, erupt, screaming, spitting, throwing, hitting," not to mention the terrible, belittling and dehumanizing names he has called you. This is textbook abuse. Please find a way out of this situation and a way to protect your children from the abuse. Perhaps start by having a private consultation (without your husband) with a divorce lawyer about your options. 

This is not your fault and you and your children deserve to be safe and treated with respect - 100% of the time. 

I know you'll get a lot of feedback from the community. My two cents as an adult survivor of a raging parent: He may not be a "classic" abuser but the behavior is still abuse, very clearly. That it's gotten to the point you had to teach the kids to get under the bed to protect themselves, but you're not sure it's abuse, also makes it clear you are in denial. It's a horrible situation that's hard to face, and totally understandable that your struggling to face it. I know what it's like to get really "good" at tolerating abuse, thinking you're standing up to it or "not afraid" and coming up with a dozen workarounds so that the impact is minimized. But someday, when all this crap is behind you, you'll remember how good it is to have a safe home again, to have only supportive people in your inner circle, and to have all your energy and attention available to live your life and parent your kids. Abuse quietly sucks the life out of you, makes all your relationships shallow, kills your dreams, and gives you kooky reasoning that tells you that you're "winning" this sad and repetitive cycle of misery. Now consider that this is also happening to your kids. In fact, they're learning how to tolerate abuse like champs. And so when you ask 'What am I missing" -- it's this. I know I won't be the only one to tell you: It's time to get serious legal and professional help, starting with an agency that specializes in supporting abused women, so you can get private answers about what's involved in a safe and successful exit.

There are a lot of reasons someone would behave this way, whether it's intentional or because there is some kind of disorder. It matters, but not in the immediate present. Perhaps the reasons and the question of hope can be addressed in counseling later, after you and the kids are safe. The fact that there is physical violence now, and it's escalating, is the cold, hard fact that demands you open your eyes, and act on behalf of yourself and your kids right now. 

It was hard to read this description. It made me feel so sad and upset. I'm astounded that you have been in marriage counseling with this man and the counselor was apparently okay with you continuing to live this way, but I shouldn't be surprised - I myself went to counseling with my abuser and that therapist just sat there placidly nodding when I described what was happening. I'm sorry, I can't say more at the moment, I will try to calm down and come back, but I'm so angry at couples counselors and marriage counselors who allow themselves to be manipulated by abusers. It makes things worse. 

If his outbursts are truly uncontrollable, no wonder he's having trouble at work ... or do these occur only at home?  That might tell you how truly "uncontrollable" they are.

If indeed your husband can't help his outbursts, maybe it's a mental or physical illness.  Could be neurological damage, a brain tumor, steroids, drugs, a form of bi-polar illness, Intermittent Explosive Disorder, etc.  He needs a full physical and mental workup to find out what is wrong, and he'll probably need medication and therapy.  I've provided some links below.

And yes--what you describe is definitely ABUSE.  It doesn't matter what the "domestic abuse" websites say.  It doesn't matter whether he can control it or not.  Bottom line: he hurts your children and poisons your home atmosphere.  Even as you witness abuse and endure abuse, you're rationalizing it away, almost as if you're hypnotized.  It's like you're calmly saying,  "It's just a nuclear bomb, kids.  Duck and cover and you'll be fine."

I'm amazed your therapist hasn't called Child Protective Services, but sooner or later, someone will--maybe when you  explain at the hospital that your child's concussion happened when Dad threw a PVC pipe at them.  A tiny house is no solution; he needs a diagnosis and treatment, and you and the kids need safety; don't put off dealing with this.

Get support.  Domestic abuse groups can help you with an emergency plan.  Learn your legal options.  Talk to your doctor, his doctor, therapists, friends, family, advocacy groups.  If he's mentally ill, talk to NAMI.  Find a SAFE PLACE to have an intervention (maybe the therapist's? a coffee shop?) .  If he won't agree to diagnosis and treatment, force the issue; file domestic abuse charges if you need to.  Leave if you need to.  You've got to keep your kids safe.  In the long run, his life will improve if he's treated, and so will his relationship with his children.

Of course your husband is sweet and attentive sometimes.  If abusive partners were abusive all the time, no one would be with them in the first place.  That doesn't make the abusive episodes not abuse.  You are already worried about your kids' physical safety, and the situation is escalating.  Get yourselves out now, before it gets worse.

Waverly, thank you for your post.

I sent you a more detailed message in private, but in short, YES this is abusive (there is nothing grey about this; it's classic bipolar behavior) and YES, to be healthy, you need to remove him from yourself and your children as soon as possible.

Why hasn't your therapist recommended your husband get therapy? Your therapist should be helping you and your family find resources to keep you and your kids safe and emotionally healthy. This is not right, and I suspect your husband may have a mental illness that causes his mood swings and behavior. Please ask your therapist or your doctor or someone you trust for a referral to help you with this for your kids sake if not for yours.

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Remember, no one is abusive ALL the time. They wear whatever mask is socially acceptable, until they're established with you, and then they will behave in whatever way they feel they can get away with.

Dont worry about labels.  Read your post and think what your advice would be to a friend.  He is throwing things at your kids every once and a while and twisting arms.  You are leaving to stay in a hotel.  How are your children interpreting this? Do they feel safe? What does it mean that you don't feel safe leaving them in his presence at these moments?  What lessons do you want your children to learn about how to behave and what we tolerate and don't tolerate?  What do you want your children' to learn about what you are willing to tolerate both in terms of his behavior towards you and what you "allow" to happen with them?  I am not in your shoes and don't know the full story, but what you describe would have me out of there in a heartbeat.  And I say that with my full heart going out to your husband.  I am sure he is a good person but he clearly has some trauma or issues he needs to work through.  Love and appreciation for someone doesn't mean you have to accept everything that they do.  If you do decide this is not acceptable, talk to a lawyer about custody and how to keep your kids safe. Do you need to document this behavior so that you have a record?    I wish you and your husband and you the best!

Wow! This is NOT okay!  I am glad he is loving in between, and you are protecting your boys as much as you can, but this is NOT, NOT normal. How about you insist he go to treatment, and discuss this in his calm moments? Say you will have to call the police next time he does this? I don't know, but, no! This is NOT good, not healthy, and it is escalating.... So sorry!

Whatever the root cause of your husband's mood swings and however much of a good guy he is much of the time there are no grey areas here, this is outright abuse - physical , emotional and verbal. I'm sorry to say this but need to document everything and take steps to get him out of the house ASAP. This is not a safe environment for the children to be in and the responsibility should not be on them to "not let him touch them when he's angry". Its your role as a mother to protect them from that and that means him not physically being in the home until he has addressed his anger issue and changed his behavior. I am so mad (as a therapist and survivor of emotional abuse) to hear that neither your therapist or marriage counselor seem to have addressed this properly, but this is so so common. Please consult a lawyer who specializes in domestic violence (twisting arms, throwing blocks and pipes, name calling, intimidation, raging all = domestic violence) and I would also recommend you make an anonymous call to the police to get guidance at this stage. Having been there myself and having seen friends go through similar situations (all too common and too few of us feel safe talking about this because to the outside world our partners look "normal") many abusers, when feeling pushed or threatened, often get worse and behavior can escalate fast. Please have a safety plan for yourself and the children, have people you can call on and places you can go in an emergency, confide in a friend you can trust about what's going on. And document, document, document. If you need a restraining order, file for it. You and your children deserve better than this and physical and emotional safety comes first.

What you describe is definitely abuse. Just because you don't react to it in in the typical manner doesn't make it any less abusive on his part. And, unfortunately, it sounds like it is escalating.

I was in a similar situation a few years ago. Prior to our divorce, we tried couples counseling (which didn't help at all), and eventually individual counseling that had him focusing on anger management and me focused on trying to decide whether to stay. Anger management helped him immensely, but didn't save our marriage as there was too much water under the bridge for me to stay. It sounds like you might still be in a place to salvage the marriage IF he can acknowledge that he has a problem, get help for anger management, and follow through on it. But if he can't do that, you need to get out.

As to the cottage in the back yard, my ex and I live upstairs and downstairs in the 2-unit building we owned when we were married, for 7 years now. So it isn't impossible. I often say that he makes a way better neighbor than a husband. It made all the difference to be able to say, I don't have to take this crap, talk to the hand, I'm going back to my own house (on both our parts). And my daughter has the benefit of having us both nearby, all the time.

Be aware though, that if you divorce, California strongly favors 50-50 joint physical and legal custody. If you have concerns about the kids' safety and imagine that you can get primary custody, you need to think twice.

He may be a really good person, and still fly into an unacceptable rage at you. You don't have to completely condemn him in order to take the stand that you and your children shouldn't be treated this way. It sounds like you should let go of that, since the idea is preventing you from getting the family into better circumstances. 

As far as saying "we don't yell at or hit each other in this family" goes ... did that actually work with your husband? Sounds like bad advice from your marriage counselor since you're still in this situation.

You can only expect your kids to believe that for so long, if their material circumstances show otherwise. Actions speak louder than words. You can say "we don't do that" or "I won't put up with it" but if you are, they know. 

Hello, I'm a therapist who has worked with many people experiencing violence in their relationships.  Great to hear you have your own therapist too who can support you through this process of deciding what you might want to do next.  From what you write, it sounds like your husband is both verbally and physically abusive ("twisting an arm behind the back, throwing a pvc pipe or block at them") and that his abusive episodes are becoming much more frequent, which sounds unsafe for everybody.  It is not uncommon for people to have conflicted feelings about an abusive partner, since most are not abusive 24/7.  It also sounds like you are trying to be a protective parent by developing safety plans to use during his rages, and fantasizing about how to keep him separate enough (the tiny house behind the garage) for you and the kids to truly be safe.  Since you're trying to teach the kids that they don't deserve to be treated like that (or to see you treated like that), I wonder if there's a part of you that can imagine divorcing him and having him truly be separate from your daily life experience?  Or if the tiny house idea is because you are afraid to have your kids spend time with him without you being able to monitor his behavior/their safety?  Even if it is not his conscious intent to manipulate or control you, it sounds like his violence is doing exactly that.  It would take a lot of work on your husband's part (in his own treatment, not couples counseling) for him to own and change his behavior, and learn better ways of managing his emotions.  If he is not motivated to take ownership of his violence and do that work, then you and the kids will remain at risk.

Hi Waverly, The behavior you describe is verbal and physical abuse (the throwing objects) towards you AND your children. Please show this post to your therapist to get some help regarding a referral for anger management courses for your husband and possibly for other actions. Your children are absorbing this behavior and it is going to very negatively impact their own relationships when they are older so it would be best to get some help as soon as possible, for each of you. Good luck, I hope you find a way to improve your situation--you and your children deserve better than this.

Well you already know it is not right - the question is how to respond. I strongly suggest that you find a local therapist that the two of you can see weekly. Your husband is obviously angry and needs help figuring out why - are you willing to g t therapy with him? If he won't agree to therapy I think you need to tell him that his behavior is unacceptable- the kids are scared of him- and that this is no way to live. If he does not agree to therapy  I suggest you ask him to find another place to live. Your children and you deserve better. Good luck

Hello, so sorry to hear that you are living with this.  So sorry that your children are growing up with all of you having to normalize this violence.  You can find free help at the Family Violence Law Center at 470 27th Street in Oakland.  Please make your move very soon & carefully.  You can get advice on how to get help moving out to a safe shelter.  Please do not let your kids have to live through another incident.  You can get intensive free & expert help so that your boys will not grow up to emulate the violence.  Please do not worry about how this is going to play out with Dad, where he is going to live, etc.  Right now you desperately need to get away from this horror.  There are systems set up to help you get away and rebuild your lives in a healthy way.  You will still be able to keep your job and parent your precious children.  Once you are able to get help, you will probably see how horribly this has impacted your life.  

I am also very surprised that the therapist has not reported the abuse, since by law, she is required to do so.

Best of luck in a terrible situation.

"A few times a week." This is child abuse. You need to take your children to a therapist to document it. Calling the police when he's having an episode would also be a good idea to document. You don't want to set up a shared custody situation where he's spending unsupervised time with the children. This kind of situation was in my mandated reporter training.

My heart goes out to you & your children.  Please try to get out with your children soon & without letting your abuser or kids know you are planning to leave.  Don't threaten that you might leave if A, B, C occurs.  Just plan it privately with free help from professionals who know how to do this and understand the urgency.  With this type of explosive abuse, you are at high risk for domestic homicide/suicide if you let your abuser know that you are leaving.  (If I can't have them, no one can.)  

Here are some Alameda County resources:

AASRA (Asian Indian survivors)

A Safe Place

Crisis Line 510-536-7233 (510-536-SAFE)

Building Futures with Women and Children (BFWC)

24 hour Crisis Line 1-866-A WAY OUT (1-866-292-9688)

Emergency Shelter Program (ESP)

24 hour Crisis Line (888) 339-SAFE

Safe Alternatives to Violent Environments (SAVE)

24 hour Crisis Line 1-510-794-6055

Tri-Valley Haven

Crisis Line 1-925-449-5842 or 1-800-884-8119

Oakland Elizabeth House

Mobile Response Team (MRT)
24 hour crisis line for victims of domestic violence 510-757-5123

Yes it's abuse but you don't need to assign that label to justify taking action here. You already told your kids they "don't deserve to be treated this way" and yet you are allowing this situation to continue. You tell him "We don't yell or hit each other in this family." But this has no meaning to him. What you're missing here is "We don't yell or hit in this family... and if you do... you are no longer a part of this family."

I have been in a situation like you. For me, I was able to get my husband to acknowledge his behavior and see an Anger Management Specialist and that greatly helped. But in order to do that, I had to be ready to leave him. I had to dig deep to find my inner mama lion and protect myself and my kids and tell him this behavior was no longer going to happen in our home. PERIOD. 

You seem like you're looking for someone to tell you YES it's bad, you need to do something. So YES, it's bad honey. Come up with a plan, commit to it, and DO it! We are behind you!! Remember, YOU are the only one right now who can make a change. YOU are the only one that can protect your children right now. 


This is emotional abuse and can be as damaging and dangerous as physical abuse. Please do everything you can to protect yourself and your children from your husband. My sister was married to an emotionally abusive man. She was at risk for ovarian cancer – we have the genetic predisposition to it and others in our family had survived it – and, as a doctor, she knew what steps to take to avoid it (ovaries removed). She didn’t have the surgery. Why? Because she was convinced by her husband, after years of abuse, that she was a horrible mother and a worthless human being who didn't deserve to live. She died of cancer at age 57, leaving two teenagers behind. But she was convinced by this monster that, no matter how badly he treats her, he’s still a good father. That turned out not to be true as well. With her gone, he is now vicious to his kids, who have already lost one parent and now avoid the other. This tragic story may not sound relevant to your situation. But I urge you to think about what kind of damage his behavior is doing to you and your children, and whether you should put up with it. No one deserves to be abused, either physically or emotionally, and the longer it goes on the more damage it will cause. 

I am sorry you are going though this with your family. You are describing abuse. Sometimes it is hard to see the forest when in the trees by living day to day & comparing one day/week/month to another, things can seem "not so bad". It sounds like his abuse is escalating & he will come to a point where someone is seriously hurt. The emotional hurt is already happening & will have a greater negative impact on you & your kids as long as you are subject to his abuse. At this time, you probably do not realize you are walking on egg shells every waking moment (and the kids too).Throwing objects at people and twisting someone's arm behind their back is assault. If these things are done to someone outside of your home, he would be arrested for assault. Try replacing the word abuse for assault. Do you and/or your kids feel assaulted by his word and actions? If yes,may I suggest to either get very frank with your current therapist (about all his abuse & tell him/her how it really makes you feel/without rationalizing his actions) or get a new therapist. In addition, record all abuse either in writing (dates/times/circumstances), voice/video or all three. It takes time to get this information recorded, so working on it now & keeping it in the event you need to end the marriage. In the meantime, when your husband is not in one of these moods, have a calm, concerned talk with him about seeking a medical evaluation to rule out a physical or psychological ailment. There are many things that can help him overcome this, but he has to want to seek help and act on medical recommendations. Abuse is a cycle. See if you can recognize it in your relationship. There is the Blow up, the Honeymoon and the Buildup which leads to the Blow up again. This cycle can be months apart, but becomes shorter & shorter overtime.  As the cycle becomes more frequent, the abuse may escalate.  The abused is used to a certain type of abuse so when the relationship is going through the cycle the abused is on familiar ground & can rationalize their way through the cycle. When a new abuse is introduced (i.e. - he only yells turns into yells/throws things; turns into yells/throws things/twists an arm; turns into yells/throws things/twists arms/punches wall/ etc.), then the abused may be thrown off from this newly introduced abuse, but rationalizes it during the Honeymoon phase (he is remorseful/cries/super nice/ loving/ tells the abused everything they want to hear) this makes the abused "forget" how bad the abuse was in the first place. As the abuse increases, the abuser can become extremely dangerous both psychologically & physically. Abusive relationships are all unique. Your husband will not fit into a neat box of "abuser". If you are having to take any time whatsoever to manage yours and your children's relationship with husband/father, then there is abuse going on.  In a relationship without abuse, there is not a "referee" ensuring everyone is ok. Your writing to this group is a great first step in understanding how to move forward to make a home for you and your kids that is healthy. It may or may not include your husband, but by trying to resolve this thru change, you are taking the first step to a healthier life for everyone.