How to Cope with Spouses Who Blame, Attack and Verbally Abuse

Blaming and verbal abuse are harmful for your relationship. But, failing to deal with these behaviors in your spouse is destructive, too. It’s time to start doing your part.

blaming, complaining, and verbal abuse in relationships
Blaming, complaining, and verbal abuse are always destructive. But, so too is not doing anything about it.

Where do you draw the line with what your spouse says to you? Do you have a three step plan to make sure that these patterns don’t continue or worsen? Do you want to understand what motivates your spouse to say these things and what you can do to take away that motivation once and for all?

What is the Difference Between Blaming and Complaining?

Blaming is directly attributing fault.  Complaining is saying what we don’t like, but there is no direct attribution of fault.  Let’s look at two examples:


“Because of you, we never have any fun.”

“It’s your fault we don’t have any money in the bank.”

“If you didn’t hang out with your friend all the time, we would get along better.”


“I hate it that we don’t have any fun in this relationship.”

“I don’t like the way all of our money goes to buying unnecessary things.”

“I don’t like you hanging around with your friend all the time.”

For some people, these will sound like exactly the same thing.  That is because they mentally add the blame part onto what their spouse is saying.  That is, although their spouse didn’t say it, they mentally add on to their spouse’s statement “because of me.”  Then they react to their partner’s statement as if they were blamed, when actually they weren’t.  It is important to understand that a blaming spouse is saying something about you, while a complaining spouse is saying something about their self.

Mind reading gives power to the complaint

If you mentally add on to what your partner is saying, it allows your partner to be more effective at saying less while also being able to deny saying it.  So, in regard to the complaining example above, if you say, “So, it’s my fault that we don’t’ have any fun?” your spouse can easily reply, “I didn’t say that,” and your spouse would be right.

Not mind-reading promotes openness and talking by your spouse

If you don’t mentally add the blame piece, your spouse has to actually say the attribution in order to blame you.  And, if no blame was intended, then you would also be taking the message correctly.  I react to people as if they mean what they say and say what they mean.  I do not mind read.  People quickly learn that about me and so start to say things more clearly. It makes them communicate better.  If you have a passive partner, it’s particularly important to only take what he or she actually says. By not guessing that he or she means more than that, you remain unprovoked and your spouse will either say more or will say less of the bad stuff.  Either way, it will be an improvement.

Distinguishing Blame from Verbal Abuse

I think it’s important to be able to distinguish clearly between blame and verbal abuse.  From my perspective as a marriage and relationship coach, it is important to make this distinction because the method for dealing with each of these behaviors is different.  When someone is being verbally abused, I recommend the immediate use of a boundary such as walking away with no further communication—what I call a “zero tolerance policy,” for abuse.  With blame, however, it is more helpful to work on changing the communication.  Walking away would be counterproductive.  Rather than taking power away from the blamer, it would give more power to him or her.

An illustration of different ways to respond to verbal abuse, blaming, and complaining

Verbal Abuse: “You are stupid.” (walk away immediately and refuse to be drawn back into the conversation)

Blaming: “It’s your fault we can’t go on vacation.” (sincere agreement with no apologies or promises in order to limit the amount of power your spouse feels). “Yes, my time off doesn’t coincide with yours.”

Complaining: I hate it that we can’t go on vacation. (empathize).  Me too.

Many more examples for dealing with blame can be found in my book, Connecting Through “Yes!”, including how to deal with blame when your spouse wants to separate or divorce.

You need to decide where you will draw the line, because that is the action point

Verbal abuse can come in different forms and is somewhat subjective.  Some of my clients draw the line differently than I do.  Instead of getting them to change where they draw the line, we focus on what to do when the line is crossed.  For me, verbal abuse happens when someone calls us a bad name (as opposed to a good name), compares us to something else which is bad, or otherwise disparages our character.  It denigrates or degrades us. Here are examples of each:

A bad name:

“You are a slut,”

“You are a selfish bastard,”

“You are stupid,” etc.

A bad comparison:

“You are like a vampire, sucking out my life and happiness”

“You are like a monster,”

“You are like a mentally retarded person”

Character Assassination

“You are unlovable,”

“You are nothing but a “f**ing” liar”

“You don’t care about anyone but yourself”

Wherever you draw your line between abuse and blaming, be sure that you live according to your standard on both the receiving and the giving end

You will lose a lot of respect if you either allow your partner to abuse you or if you abuse your partner.  Losing respect is one of the fastest routes to losing your relationship.  There is no “half-way,” with abuse.  Either it is, or it isn’t.  Also, there is no “sometimes acceptable,” with abuse.  Either it is always acceptable, or it is always unacceptable.  Saying “He (or she) only abused me a little,” is a ridiculous as saying, “He only got me pregnant a little.”

If you are the victim of verbal abuse, there is a lot you can do to stop the abuse and save your relationship (in that order)

First, you will need to decide for yourself exactly where you draw the line on verbal abuse.  Secondly, you will need to inform your partner not only of that line, but also of your boundary actions whenever that line is crossed.  Thirdly, you need to consistently implement your new boundaries whenever your spouse’s target behavior occurs.  For women who desire more example of boundaries with men, I recommend my book, , What to Do When He Won’t Change.

Your spouse will not like your changes–at first

When you change the way you respond to your spouse, this will change the dynamic in your relationship. At first, your spouse will absolutely hate it.  After all, he or she will be losing a lot of power to hurt you. After your spouse readjusts, however, your relationship will be better than before.  Many people give up prematurely when they see their spouse behaving worse, not understanding this is a predictable and natural reaction. It shows you are being effective. If you can be consistent for a couple of weeks, things should be much better. It is also essential that you be helping your spouse to enjoy talking to you when you are not using boundaries. I have put together a free download that will help you do just that.  If you are a wife, get these free relationship lessons for women.  If you are a husband, get this free ebook for helping your wife to enjoy talking to you.


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