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The Difference Between Domestic Abuse and Normal Marital Conflict

When the definition of domestic abuse becomes skewed.


Mature couple fighting in kitchen
B2M Productions/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

My ex-husband left me accusing me of domestic abuse. I remember standing rooted to the grounded when he told me he was leaving because I had “abused” him. It was dark out, he had moved out three weeks before with no explanation and when he finally gave one, it wasn’t what I was expecting.

When I asked for an example, of a specific instance of domestic abuse he said, “Do you remember that night you were having a nightmare and sat up in bed flailing your arms around? You hit me in the head Cathy, you abused me that night.”

There is no way to respond to such an accusation. You take it in, try to make sense out of it but it is nonsense, irrational and you feel like the crazy one when you hear such words from someone you love.

When he told me that wasn’t the only time I had abused him I was all ears. I was finding it hard to process what he was saying but was doing my best to at least hear him. He said, “You used to say to me, I’m getting laid tonight, you are welcome to be there if you would like. That was verbal abuse.”

Not only had I physically abused my husband I had also verbally abused him. I didn’t defend myself against his accusations. I knew that anyone who thought those were examples of domestic abuse was beyond listening to reason. I walked away from that conversation knowing that my husband wanted out of our marriage and was grasping at straws for an excuse to leave.

I hear stories like this often in my work as a divorce coach/consultant. Most come from women who are looking for a way out and have a skewed view of what domestic violence is. If they are annoyed or feeling harassed in anyway, then “he is being abusive.”

My own history with false allegations of domestic abuse means that I take seriously such allegations and listen closely when dealing with anyone who is making such allegations. I’ve learned over the years that we’ve become a society that throws the term around loosely and at the expense of innocent husbands and children.

For some reason women are finding it easier to say, “I was abused,” instead of “I no longer love you” when attempting to get out of a marriage.

According the Center For Disease Control, “domestic violence is abuse or violent action that occurs between two individuals in a close relationship. Physical abuse includes acts of violence in which one partner physically hurts the other by kicking, hitting or using other methods of physical force. Sexual abuse occurs when a partner is forced to have sexual contact without his or her consent. Emotional abuse includes acts such as controlling finances or outside relationships with friends and family, making verbal threats, or routinely making comments that damage a partner's sense of autonomy and self-worth.”

The Difference Between Domestic Abuse and Healthy Marital Conflict:

Healthy Marital Conflict:

Marriage is both a challenge and an opportunity. There will be times during any marriage when forming and maintaining an intimate bond is challenging. Couples who are able to meet the challenges and overcome them become better partners, lovers and companions. What are some of the challenges that a marriage may face?

If a couple can handle the above issues as they come up without hitting, screaming, blaming and belittling each other then you are experiencing healthy marital conflict. You HAVE to be willing to work through conflict as it arises though. To ignore problems as they come up and avoiding conflict is one of the most abusive things you can do to the relationship with your spouse.

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