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Is Verbal Abuse Grounds for Divorce?

Almost nobody wants to get a divorce.  But almost nobody ever thinks they are going to be the victim of any kind of abuse in their marriage.  So, if you find yourself to be one on the downside of verbal abuse in your marriage, is verbal abuse grounds for divorce?

Verbal abuse, as well as any other type of abuse, is absolutely considered toxic and valid grounds for abuse.  One of the major components to any marriage is trust (another is safety, which is an absolute must), and when abuse occurs in marriage, the victim has every right, if not responsibility to themselves, to heal and move on to a better and safer life.

After experiencing a lifetime of verbal abuse, I finally learned how to recognize the symptoms, set and keep healthy boundaries, and move on to a better life.  Read on to find out how I did it and how you (or your friend or loved one) can to!

When Words Become Verbal Abuse

Everybody says things that are unkind, ignorant, or even downright mean.  But then, they usually realize what they said was wrong or inappropriate over time, either because the victim of their words spoke to them about it or they realized upon reflection of the conversation later.  But, when someone continues to say inappropriate, mean, manipulative, or intimidating words that scare, tear down, or psychologically destroy others, and they do it on a regular basis, those words have turned into verbal abuse.

Gaslighting in verbal communication is especially pernicious.  This occurs when an abuser intentionally uses words, sometimes even kind and caring words, to trick their victim into thinking something that is in direct opposition to reality.  Over time, even the most confident person who does not recognize the gaslighting for what it is can lose their sense of self and reality and allow the abuser to totally restructure their thinking in the worst ways.

Before we move on to the next point, I do want to reiterate that everyone says things like this from time to time, out of selfishness, lack of self-awareness, or whatever normal ailment is part of being human.  We need to be careful about calling someone a narcissist or accusing them of regular gaslighting just because you have one or a couple of bad gaslighting experiences with them.

We need to handle those incidents in healthy and wise ways.  On the flip side, we cannot overextend grace to those who do make a pattern of gaslighting you.  And we need to be careful not to give narcissists a free pass repeatedly because you either don’t like confrontation or you think that you don’t deserve better. (My constant excuse for allowing my ex’s behavior was that I wasn’t perfect, so why should I expect that from him?)

How to Heal from Verbal Abuse

Of course, the first step in healing from anything is to recognize your issue with it.  Charles Kettering, head of research at General Motors from 1920 to 1947, said it better when he said, “A problem well-stated is a problem half-solved.”

But wait, there’s more!  Elaine Welteroth, Editor-in-Chief of Condé Naste, went even further in saying, “You can’t be a part of the solution if you don’t recognize how you are a part of the problem.”

So, the good news is that if you are reading this article, it is highly likely you have recognized that you are being verbally abused and need to move on and heal from it.  But there is more work to do.  Here are your next steps:

  • Keep all communication in writing, text, or email.  Then, when they try to change the story, you will have the original one in writing to verify the truth.
  • If you have someone you trust near you, you can communicate with your narcissist knowing that someone else will know the truth as well as you.
  • Address disagreements in counseling sessions or other safe spaces.
  • Don’t argue with your narcissist.  You will never convince them of the truth.  One time after proving the truth, I asked my narcissist why he lied.  He said he told me what he wanted the truth to be.  It was a very bizarre but truthful moment for him.  It didn’t help him to tell the truth any more than he did before.
  • Set and keep boundaries so your narcissist can’t just do whatever they want to abuse you.  BUT:  make sure you are in a safe place to do this.  Setting new boundaries after your narcissist has gotten away without them for so long will 100% make him angry.  If you need to know more about setting boundaries, you absolutely need to get the book Boundaries:  When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  It was a total game changer for me, along with my counseling and support from church leaders.
  • Decide if you are in a difficult marriage with a person that has work to do to improve the marriage with you, or if you are in a destructive marriage.  I have the perfect book for that too!  It is amazing how Leslie Vernick shows you the difference between a difficult and destructive marriage that are easy for you to understand.  Then she give you all the tools you need to definitively assess your situation and decide whether you should stay in the relationship/marriage or leave.  The name of the book is The Emotionally Destructive Marriage:  How to Find Your Voice and Reclaim Your Hope.  If you still have any questions as to whether you are being verbally (or emotionally abused) before reading this book, you won’t have any questions once you have read the book.  Check it out!

Is Verbal Abuse as Bad as Physical Abuse?

I remember for months the battle that raged between my counselor and my pastor.  The counseling agency I was with believed that the couple, counseling agency, and church leadership should all work together so there was no funny business going on behind the scenes.  If a narcissist tried to pull something, they would quickly be found out because everybody was on the same page.

So, when my counselor (and my then-husband’s counselor) started talking to our pastor about abuse, at first he refused to play.  He said that if it were physical abuse he could exercise church discipline.  But without “definitive proof of abuse” he and the church leadership could do nothing to help me.

My counselor told me in a session one day that she was about to beat her head against the wall trying to convince him of the severity of emotional and verbal abuse.  She explained to him that it was worse than physical abuse because of the lack of marks.  Without proof, the narcissist will abuse even more behind closed doors as they convince themselves of how well they are getting away with it.

Finally, as the pastor started pushing a bit into my then husband to treat me better as a wife, he began to get angry.  And then, suddenly, the church leadership became a new target of his narcissistic abuse–gaslighting, lying, and all sorts of verbal and emotional abuse.  And with that, my pastor now understood the damage that verbal abuse and all the other forms of non-physical abuse can cause.

The truth is, while there are no scars formed from verbal abuse, there are emotional scars and mental illness that can emerge because of it.  Complex PTSD, anxiety, panic disorders, and many other things can occur.  Psychologists and doctors are now beginning to understand the severity of the damage that is done in these types of abuse.   And finally, churches, lawyers, judges, and many other important leaders of our communities are beginning to understand verbal and other non-physical forms of abuse for the dangers they present.

So then, is Verbal Abuse Grounds for Divorce?

Now that we have established the severity of verbal abuse on victims when the abuser forms a pattern of verbal abuse that greatly increases over time with no signs of healing or trying to improve the relationship, we can ask the question, is verbal abuse grounds for divorce?  And the answer is a resounding yes!

Let me clarify before we go on that verbal abuse appears on a spectrum, just the same as narcissism and many other illnesses.  Some occasional bouts of verbal abuse may not be considered abusive in the legal sense.  That doesn’t mean that it should be addressed and taken care of.  What it does mean is that the higher a person ranks on the scale of verbal abuse, the more grounds for divorce the victim will have.

Also know that there is no actual scale that measures levels of  verbal abuse.  It is all done in a therapist/counseling capacity.  It is important for you to find a counselor who is experienced in all forms of abuse and/or narcissistic issues.

While verbal abuse is grounds for divorce, it may or may not be advantageous to act on it in court.  In America, and depending on specific state laws, there are no-fault divorces and fault divorces.  In a no-fault divorce, no grounds for divorce are filed and the couple agrees to divorce based on mutually agreeing to part.  This is difficult for the victim of any kind of abuse or crime to decide.  But often it is the means of divorce because it avoids a long and costly legal battle that may or may not get you the ruling and result you need from your divorce.  You could be spending tons of money, time, resources, and energy, all just to lose your case in court because the judge doesn’t see things the way you needed him/her to.

Because of this, although you have grounds for divorce based on the abuse you have lived with, you may still file no-fault divorce for the sake of your sanity and need to move on to a healthier life sooner.   Although my ex was removed from our home for abuse of our whole family, we initially filed a fault divorce based on cruelty and desertion.  But it ended up a no-fault divorce because the lawyers at the time (my ex let his lawyer go because he couldn’t afford him anymore) preferred to meet in the middle rather than fight in court.  And my lawyer said that it is better to agree in settlement than to risk getting a judge that doesn’t see my side and then I lose everything. 

The whole thing sucks.  But it is what it is.  I will cover more on that in the next section.  But what I want you to see is that knowing verbal abuse is grounds for divorce is more for your own mindset and emotional health as you move forward than it is for legal means.  

What Verbal Abuse as Grounds for Divorce Looks Like in the Courtroom

Unfortunately, the state of the court system in America is not great (apparently it is just as bad if not worse in many other countries according to the emails I get on a regular basis from people all over the world).  The court system isn’t looking for justice for victims as much as it is looking to rule straight down the middle of cases.  There is rarely any real justice in the court system, and for that reason, many divorces end up settling before they ever reach the courtroom for fear of which way the judge will view the evidence and rule.  Justice rarely prevails.

Even though I had a very black and white case, I did fight for sole custody of my children.  I did not fight for the money my kids and I should have received, and as a result, I ended up with only about 60% of what the state of Virginia says I should  have based on their support guidelines.  My narcissist used whatever legal means he could to avoid paying his family what was right.  Since then, he has shorted us thousands more because he didn’t file when his employment changed and adjust his support accordingly.

I am in the process of trying to receive some of that money, but the courts won’t pay back money that he hasn’t paid, even though I established that he owed it.  The system is totally set up for men to not bother to do the right thing and further victimize their families.  All at the expense of the family who is trying to get on their feet after living through the abusive marriage/family life.

Eventually, I will be on my feet and his money won’t matter anymore.  Then he can skulk away and continue his narcissistic abuse on his current world of people.  Until they all realize what he really is.

And with that, let’s talk about some ways you can protect yourself from the verbal abuse that you have, and likely are, still experiencing.

How to Protect Yourself From Verbal Abuse

Regardless of whether you are still living with your verbal abuser, separated while trying to figure out future plans with him or her, or divorcing, you still need to protect yourself from verbal abuse.  If you have any contact at all with your spouse even after the divorce, the verbal abuse will never stop.  Unless they finally come to the point they acknowledge it and make it stop of their own accord.  You will never be able to get them to stop. 

I am still in contact with my ex because we “co-parent.”  And he was verbally abusing me yesterday.  He told me about 5 lies in the space of 2 minutes.  I didn’t even bother to address it because it really doesn’t matter in my day-to-day life.  He will never tell me the truth.  And I know it. 

What we all need to realize and act on is that our abusers aren’t just going to stop because we ask them to or even demand it.  But that is okay.  Healing is our own responsibility.  Every good therapist informs us that we can only control our own thoughts, behavior and healing.  Realizing, internalizing, and living out that concept turns out to be so freeing!  Here are some of the ways we can do this:

  • Refer back to all  of the healing steps above.
  • Don’t spend any more time with your abuser than is absolutely necessary.
  • Don’t ever be alone with your abuser.  They WILL take advantage of the opportunity to abuse without limits.
  • Consider a phone app for required contact due to shared custody.  This will allow you to be in contact with your separated or ex spouse with some accountability.  It is also admissible in court in the chance that they end up even using that means to continue to abuse.  One of the best ones is Our Family Wizard
  • Be careful not to react out of the frustration of the verbal abuse.  Often, your abuser will say things quietly or under wraps, knowing they are provoking you and that everyone will see your reaction but not what caused it.  Then they will use it to prove that you are the one that is unhinged, not them and their abuse.

For more on how to fight successfully against your abuser’s attacks, check out these articles:


Once you recognize verbal abuse, there are a lot of things you can do to prevent a narcissist from abusing you verbally.  You absolutely have grounds to divorce your narcissist based on verbal abuse.  You will likely have several more forms of abuse to bolster those grounds.  Most people who verbally abuse don’t stop there.  Physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, religious, financial and other types of abuse typically accompany verbal abuse.

You must realize that even with grounds for divorce, you will never fully get the justice you deserve on Earth.  You have to trust to God (or the higher power you believe in) to get you the justice that belongs to you.  Your narcissist will still “get away” with a lot while in your realm of influence.  But if you prove to be the bigger person, they will eventually realize you are too healthy for them and move on to easier narcissistic/abuse supply.

I know that if you are reading this article, you have been through a lot with your abuser.  Or you know someone who has that you are reading about this to learn more how to support them.  I pray that you get the support and growth you need to get to the healthy place you should be in every time I write another article.

How are things going for you now?  Have you been able to implement techniques to help stave off the verbal abuse?  Are you now free of your abuser?  Still in the process?  Just beginning?  I would love to hear your story, pray for you and your loved ones, and encourage you.  Many others reading this would love to hear how things are going for others who have experienced what they have.

Have you been reading online and you still aren’t sure what your next steps will look like?  Do you need some help putting the pieces of healing together so you can start or continue your journey to healing?  Click here for more info on a consultation that can help you think through how get back on your feet and headed in the right direction.

You’ve got this!  There are so many that have crossed the finish line ahead of you…and now they are ready to help bring you across as well!  The road may seem to long and hard at the moment, but rest assured, you CAN make it!

Hugs and love,

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Hi! I am the founder of Navigating Religious Narcissism after being raised under a narcissistic mother and married to a narcissistic man for 31 years. It is my prayer that I can be as valuable on your journey to healing and peace as were so many who crossed my path of healing.

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