Are you married to an emotional bully?

Relationships|Wellness & Self Help|March 15th 2019

Emotional bullies are not happy people. Motivated by fear, their insecurities plague them creating a need to command and dominate others to make up for how vulnerable they feel. Controlling others inflates the bully’s ego, masking their self-confidence issues.

Emotional bullies, instead of fists, bully with words (sometimes loudly). They steal the trust, kindness and respect from a relationship through coercion, manipulation and intimidation. Too often, I see clients who are married to a bully and struggling to break free.

Tell-tale signs you are married to an emotional bully

Bullying comes in many forms, here are the four key behaviours to look out for:

Aggression (verbal & physical)

Name calling, critical comments, slamming doors, blaming, accusations, undermining your decisions, arguments from nowhere… the bully has many verbal and physical options to control and dominate. Once they have established the pattern of using anger as a first response, the bully can rule on the fear of anger alone.


A bully will use control to limit your freedom. Isolating you slowly from friends and family, they will manage your time and decide how you spend it and who with; then make you feel guilty when you leave them to spend time with them. They will also text, stalk social media and call continuously to check where you are and what you are up to.

Passive aggressive

The silent treatment, coming home late, not helping in the house, withholding sex, controlling finances, undermining your decisions in small, all subtle ways that a bully will use to keep in control of you and the relationship.


When a bully gets scared of losing you, out comes the threat card. Divorce, moving out, cheating or even harming themselves are just some of the tactics a bully will roll out when desperate.

Living with a bully

Sadly you can spot bullies everywhere: the playground, the classroom, at work and in the home. But what is it like to live with one?

In a functional relationship, both people are equals. In a bullying relationship, there is an imbalance and an uneven distribution of power.

Typically people in a bullying relationship tend to have lowered self-esteem, suffer from depression and/or anxiety, are fearful and feel powerless and trapped. These emotional feelings often manifest physically in addiction, insomnia, changes to appetite and illness.

Leaving a bully

Being married to a bully can be emotionally distressing and the road to separation very stressful but one of the hardest parts is recognising that you are. Long relationships have behaviour patterns within them that are difficult to break.

Start by keeping a written record of your partners bullying for a month. Note down dates, times, situations and how they made you feel. Sometimes when you are living in a situation it is hard to see the bigger picture. Writing it down will show you the extent of your partner’s behaviour.

If you decide to divorce a bully, you will need a strong support team in place. Seek out professional and emotional support from lawyers, counsellors, consultants as well as friends and family on the side.

Sources of support

If you or someone you know is suffering in a abusive relationship, please do get support. The organisations below have advice and details of who to contact. If you feel scared for your safety, please do contact the police, 


Women’s Aid


Men’s Advice Line 

Broken Rainbow (for LGBT people affected by relationship violence)

Julian is Stowe Family Law’s Senior Partner and is based in our Leeds office.

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  1. spinner says:

    “withholding sex”, “Start by keeping a written record”. This just sounds creepy, so if your partner puts on some weight or for some reason you just don’t fancy them anymore but you stay together for the children’s sake or whatever reason but you really don’t want to have sex with them, you are now bullying them by withholding sex and you would tell your clients to start making a written record of each time they were refused sex?

    Will the family court be providing guidance on how many times we should be having sex every month so as we can better judge for ourselves if we are being bullied by our partners?

    • H says:

      I don’t think you are understanding the collective picture. I believe, the suggestion is, collectively, if these things are happening, record them. It is true narcissistic individuals will exact control through sex or withholding it, grey-stoning, gas-lighting, the silent-treatment, et cetra, which are passive forms of aggression and are, in fact, abusive. By logging them with date and time, it gives the victim a clear picture of a pattern and it helps to build your case in the event you must separate or divorce.

  2. naomi says:

    This is where I am, I have been trying to separate for over a year, he continues to bully and control. I have a very strong support group but I also have a child and am financially restrained by him. It is incredibly hard to escape but I am increasingly desperate to

    • H says:

      I feel for you. In the US, there is a tactic called “starving out” which a partner may use to force the spouse to stay in the toxic marriage. Basically, the abusive spouse makes it impossible for you to have any financial freedom, thereby, forcing you to stay or bend to their demands. You may google “starving out” tactic. It’s a form of abuse. I’m sorry.

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