real life

'For years my husband criticised and intimidated me in front of others. No one said anything.'

This post deals with emotional abuse and might be triggering for some readers.

“…we just assumed you were fine with it.”

“…it didn’t really feel like our place to say anything.”

“…we assumed he was different at home.”

Immediately after my marriage ended, I heard this from too many people.

For the last few years of our marriage, we ran a hospitality business together. That meant our relationship was often on show for staff, customers and extended family to see.

I have no doubt that most of the people we worked with witnessed him criticise me, make demands, dismiss my feelings and intimidate me. But nobody said anything, because they assumed that I was fine with it.

Outwardly, I was a confident, capable and strong woman – surely if I had an issue, I would stand up to him? Ironically, their silence was playing a key role in preventing me from speaking up.

Watch: The signs of an abuser, told through his victim’s phone. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

After years of conditioning, I’d lost my sense of what was normal and what wasn’t, and now having people watching on daily, and saying nothing, only confused me even more. I figured that if they weren’t concerned by the behaviour, then I shouldn’t have been either. I gauged others reactions to determine my own.

In the aftermath of our relationship breakdown, people close to me suddenly started pointing out that they always thought he treated me badly.

They were trying to be understanding, acknowledging why I left and trying to make me feel better. In some ways, it did make me feel better (at least less crazy) – but in other ways it enraged me.

Why didn’t anyone say anything while I was in the situation? Why was there only awkward silence and side glances whenever he would cut me down or chastise me in front of others?

Instead of driving home after a dinner party and commenting to their partner how they’d NEVER put up with the way my husband treated me, why didn’t they ask me if I was ok with it?

“Because it didn’t feel like our place. You weren’t saying anything.”

I wasn’t saying anything because I thought I couldn’t. Because I thought I just needed to smooth everything over to make everyone else feel more comfortable. Because I was scared of making him angrier.

I did try to curb it at the start. I remember having a conversation in our kitchen asking him not to speak harshly to me in front of other people, because it made others feel awkward.


“Just wait until they’re gone,” I would say, for some reason not realising I had a right to ask him not to speak to me like that at all, regardless of company.

The problem with emotional abuse is that it’s really hard to recognise that you’re experiencing it, let alone assess how bad it is, until it’s over.

Lines get blurred and boundaries stretch as you just try to make things work. You lose perspective on what you can and can’t expect from a partner. So, you need objective witnesses to tell you what they see. 

Mia Freedman speaks to Moo Baulch about emotional and financial abuse on the No Filter podcast. Post continues after podcast. 

I acknowledge that every relationship is owed a degree of privacy and respect. All couples are different and we all, rightly, have different expectations of our partner. We shouldn’t be judging or intervening in relationships based on the fact that they are different to ours.

But, based on my experience, I’ve decided that if I ever see a friend being treated harshly or criticised by their partner, I’m going to say something. 

As awkward and as ‘intrusive’ as it might seem – in my opinion, it’s the right thing to do. 

It doesn’t have to be confrontational – just find a time to quietly let them know that in your view, the way their partner treated or spoke to them is not acceptable. Ask if they really are ok with being treated like that.

It may not make an instant difference – but you also might be the third, fourth, or tenth, person to say something – and your words could be adding to a chorus that will eventually cut through.

Your friend may start to realise that everyone around them doesn’t condone that treatment.

She may start to realise she can ask to be treated better, and if things don’t change, it’s ok for her to get out. 

Emotional abuse is insidious and often very hard to identify, but it can have devastating impacts on a person’s life. It severely limits personal ambitions, social opportunities and overall life satisfaction, as well as self-esteem and self-worth.

Most affected people have to reach breaking point before they realise that they can’t cope with it any longer. 

So I’m asking if we can put the awkwardness aside and look out for our friends, at a time when they might need us the most. 

With kindness and without judgement, let’s stop enabling emotional abuse, and start calling it out instead.

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. The feature image used is a stock photo.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

You can also call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit for further information.

Feature Image: Getty.

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