Women in abusive marriages: How to spot the red flags and what to do next

Here are the signs of abuse that women should be aware of:

  • Verbal abuse. A sign of verbal abuse, said Naidu, could be when a partner makes disrespectful or demeaning remarks about their spouse, whether in private or in the company of others. For example, insulting a person’s intelligence, belittling them, or saying something insensitive and hurtful.
  • Emotional or psychological abuse. Early signs can come in the form of controlling behaviour, said Naidu, such as limiting your access to friends or family members, or needing to know your whereabouts at all times. It also includes dictating your schedule or finances. 

Sometimes, emotional abuse comes in the form of incessant texting, said Dr Tan. “This contributes to the breakdown of the woman’s mental wellbeing.” The women are usually withdrawn and miserable, and refuse to talk about their family life.

Other forms, such as gaslighting and manipulation, may be harder to spot, said Dr Tan. “They are often told and believe that it’s their fault and they caused the anger, or that they are fated to have ‘such a life’,” she added. 

  • Physical abuse. Outright aggression includes threatening or physically harming someone, such as slapping, shoving, hitting, or throwing objects or personal belongings at or around the victim, said Naidu. 

“It can also include shouting or yelling at someone, banging on tables or punching walls – anything that causes alarm or fear to someone in the room.”

The aggression can also be subtle, for example, scratching or pinching a person to display unhappiness, said Naidu. “Even if the aggression is not directed at you (it could be your children or another family member in the home), it creates an environment of discomfort and fear as you become afraid of what they might do when they get triggered.”

  • Financial abuse. This happens when the husband withholds financial support for the woman, or the woman and her children, who are dependent on him, said Lim. For example, a woman having to hold down two jobs to raise her children without any financial and emotional support from her spouse. 


The first step is to tell trusted family members and friends in person, said Naidu. Let them know you want to speak about something important, and share openly about the marriage – including what your spouse has done to you verbally or physically, and how those actions made you feel. 

This is so that they are aware of your situation, and can help out or step in if necessary. Your loved ones can also give you much needed emotional release and support, and most importantly, make you feel less alienated and alone, Naidu said.

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