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Personality Quirk or Domestic Abuse? Identifying Dangerous Behavior in Marriage

Most people today recognize that physically harming a spouse is abusive. However, it’s far from the only type of domestic abuse. Physical violence may even be the least common form of abuse because of how obvious and damaging it is. Many abusers refrain from blatant attacks because they know it would reflect poorly on them. 

However, many other forms of domestic abuse are less obvious but just as harmful in the long run. These types of abuse are often swept under the rug by the victim or the abuser’s family as “just how they are.” Even if that’s true, there’s no reason for you to remain in a marriage with someone who harms you, physically or emotionally. You can leave and build a better life, free from your abusive partner. Here’s what you need to know about how domestic abuse is defined and common but behaviors that may be abusive in your marriage. 

How Domestic Abuse Is Defined

Domestic abuse is not the same as domestic violence. Under Oregon law, domestic violence is defined as “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing bodily injury [or] placing another in fear of imminent bodily injury [or] causing another to engage in involuntary sexual relations by force or threat of force.” These behaviors are considered “domestic” violence if they occur between family or household members, including current and former spouses. This definition of domestic violence is used to determine if someone is eligible to receive a Family Abuse Prevention Act (FAPA) restraining order.

However, this doesn’t include other forms of abuse. Oregon is a no-fault divorce state, meaning couples don’t need a reason like abuse to end a marriage. As such, there is no legal definition of non-violent domestic abuse under state law.

Multiple national and international abuse advocacy organizations have produced definitions of this type of abuse, though. For example, the United Nations (UN) defines it as “a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.” They also specify that abuse can be emotional, economic, or psychological actions in addition to physical or sexual. 

Unexpected Behaviors That May Be Abuse

If you’re unsure whether your partner may be abusive, you’re not alone. If you’re unaware of the non-violent behaviors that often constitute abuse, it’s easy to believe you’re overreacting to genuinely harmful behavior. Below are some of the most common behaviors considered abusive by the UN that are often ignored or downplayed by cultures, communities, and victims. 


Your spouse is supposed to be your life partner. That means supporting you and building you up, not tearing you down. If your spouse regularly makes you feel humiliated, even if it’s supposedly a “joke,” they’re hurting you. Many abusers attempt to humiliate their partners in front of others to make themselves feel good and hurt their victims’ self-esteem. Humiliation may also make you desperate for your spouse’s approval, making it emotionally harder to leave. 

Examples of abusive humiliation include:

  • Making thinly-veiled jabs at you in front of friends, family, or colleagues
  • Telling embarrassing stories that you’ve requested they not tell
  • Making jokes that hinge on you being bad at something you care about


Denigration is closely tied to humiliation. While humiliation is intended to embarrass you and make you look bad in front of others, denigration is intended to make you feel bad about yourself out of the public eye. Your spouse may tell you that you’re ugly, incompetent, or worthless, harming your self-esteem and leaving you unable to see your true value or realize how much your relationship is hurting you. Other tactics include:

  • Insulting your efforts on things you’re proud of
  • Acting disappointed in anything you try to do for them
  • Comparing you negatively to other people
  • Talking about how they’re such a good person for “putting up with you”


The best way to gain control of someone is to cut them off from other people. Many abusers work to isolate their victims from their family and friends so they falsely feel like they have anyone else they can trust. You wind up feeling trapped in the relationship and unable to leave even if you’re unhappy. Isolation tactics include:

  • Starting arguments with your friends and family to have an excuse to stay away from them
  • Demanding all of your attention, so you struggle to find time to maintain other relationships
  • Claiming that your friends or family are “bad people” and that you shouldn’t spend time with them
  • Telling you other people think badly of you and that they’re the only person who understands you


Many abusers use the tactics above in combination with manipulation. Your spouse will use manipulative techniques to make you doubt yourself and your experiences and force you to rely on them instead. This may look like:

  • Starting arguments and claiming you’re upset for no reason
  • Hiding your belongings and making fun of you for being “forgetful”
  • Changing their mind about things and yelling at you for not reading their mind
  • Lying to you about previous events and claiming you’re crazy or making things up

Standing Up to Your Abusive Spouse

Regardless of whether your spouse’s behavior perfectly fits the definition of abuse, you don’t need to accept it. If you’re reading this article after searching for a definition of domestic abuse, you may already consider your partner’s behavior to be upsetting. That’s all the reason you need to end your relationship and move on. At Regele Law, LLC, we’re here for you. We’re prepared to help you get the divorce you need from your potentially abusive spouse, so you can move on with your life. Schedule your consultation today to discuss your situation and learn how we can support you as you end your marriage.