It Hurts: How Abuse by Wives and Girlfriends Affects Male Partners

It Hurts: How Abuse by Wives and Girlfriends Affects Male Partners


Are you a man dealing with an abusive wife or girlfriend? Are you someone who is trying to help a man whose girlfriend or wife is abusing him mentally, emotionally, physically, or in any of the other seven forms of partner abuse?

When we talk about partner abuse or domestic violence, the focus is usually on women as victims and men as perpetrators. In reality, partner abuse can happen in any gender configuration and direction.

What is it like for men who are abused by women? Do they just take it in stride with no physical, emotional, or psychological impact? Or, do the repercussions of their experience reverberate across their lives? How does abuse of men by women impact those abused husbands and boyfriends?

Male abuse targets find little support in the media or society. Men tend to be isolated by man-law: be strong, don’t talk about personal stuff, don’t feel, and don’t ask for help. Even if they do seek help, the deck is stacked against them finding someone who understands their situation.

Men's experiences of abuse share similarities with those of women. They also differ in critical ways. It's time to bring these issues to light and offer the support that abused men desperately need.


What's In This Post

7 Forms of Partner Abuse
The Impact of IPV on Men: Summary of The Research
Emotional and Psychological Impact on Abused Men
Being Abused by a Woman Goes Against Gender Expectations
Increased Anxiety in Abused Husbands and Boyfriends
Anger and Depression in Abused Men 
Addiction and Other Poor Choices
Social Impact of Abuse
Visible and Invisible Scars: The Physical Toll of Abuse
Trauma and Trust: Sexual Consequences of Abuse
Financial Fallout of Abusive Relationships
The Legal System as a Tool of Abuse
Book About Abuse OF Men BY Women



Abuse OF men BY women: It happens, it hurts, and it's time to get real about it

7 Forms of Partner Abuse

At its core, intimate partner abuse is driven by self-centered motivations to control, demean, or punish the target partner.

There are seven forms of partner abuse that can happen in any romantic relationship (dating, cohabitating, or marriage) with any gender configuration of abuse source and abuse target. 

Some of these categories of abuse fit a label of Domestic Violence (DV) or Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). Some of them are abusive but not violent. 

The 7 forms of partner abuse: 

  1. verbal abuse
  2. sexual abuse
  3. financial abuse
  4. physical abuse
  5. spiritual abuse
  6. legal or administrative abuse 
  7. emotional/psychological abuse

Each form of abuse has direct negative impacts in that same category. For example, there will be negative financial repercussions to financial abuse. 

Every form of abuse includes an emotional component. If you are financially, physically, sexually, verbally, or spiritually abused by your girlfriend, boyfriend, wife or husband, you will also feel emotionally and psychologically abused by that partner.



Research shows that men are on the receiving end of DV in about equal numbers to women.

For a detailed exploration of DV gender stats with research sources, check out this post: 




The Impact of IPV on Men: Summary of The Research

Research shows that abused men experience many of the same resultant psychological and physical symptoms that abused women experience, including increases in PTSD, depression, substance use, physical injuries and illness, sleep disturbance, weight issues, general stress, and suicide ideation.

Review of the Evidence on the Effects of Intimate Partner Violence on Men published in the Psychology of Men & Masculinity journal in 2011 provides a helpful list of research to that point.

A study by Ann Coker from the University of South Carolina and her colleagues published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2002 and again in 2021 demonstrated that psychological IPV had negative impacts on the mental and physical health of both abused women and men. 

That same study, Physical and mental health effects of intimate partner violence for men and women, found that both women and men experienced negative repercussions when physically abused by their partners. Both had increased risk of poor health, depression, substance use, chronic disease, mental illness, and physical injury.  

Physical and Mental Impact of DV on Women and Men


Researchers from Canada, the US, and Hong Kong presented findings from the International Dating Violence study exploring the relationships between suicidal ideation and dating violence. Nearly 16,000 university students from 21 countries were included in the study. They reported that both males and females who were physically assaulted by a dating partner had increases in depression and suicidal ideation. 

A 2020 article, Male Victims of Female-Perpetrated Partner Violence: A Qualitative Analysis of Men's Experiences, the Impact of Violence, and Perceptions of Their Worth, included the following findings by professors Andreia Machado, Denise Hines, and Emily Douglas:

  • Negative repercussions to abused men "encompassed many domains, including social, financial, legal, and on personal and emotional levels"
  • Many felt "under-acknowledged, mistreated, and penalized for trying to seek help or address the patterns of abuse in their intimate relationships" and reported thoughts of suicide
  • The impact of IPV on men appeared exacerbated by gender stereotypes about men and gender-biased professionals they sought help from



Emotional and Psychological Impact on Abused Men

All forms and types of abuse have emotional and psychological components, so all forms and types of abuse have an emotional/psychological impact.

For men who are the targets of abuse, the abuse may:

  • Undermine his self-confidence
  • Consume him with trying to figure out how to be good enough, do enough, not upset her, fix the situation, or make the “right” decision to stay or go
  • Stimulate him to become hypervigilant and uber-alert, watching for changes in her mood
  • Burden him with desire to keep the abuse hidden from others

That's just a few of the ways abuse undermines mental health.

The following several sections provide more insight into specific emotional and psychological effects men may experience from partnering with abusive women.


Being Abused by a Woman Goes Against Gender Expectations

Men who are abused by their female partners often take a hit to their masculinity.

Being the target of abuse doesn’t fit cultural stereotypes of how men are supposed to be. The emasculation a man feels because he is being abused by a woman adds on an extra layer of abuse.

Jan Brown, founder of the Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women (a non-profit she valiantly kept going for many years but had to eventually give up on because of lack of funding sources) recounted receiving a letter from a woman who said her brother was being abused by his wife:

“His wife would scratch him, throw things at him, point a gun at him, break his eyeglasses, flush his medications down the toilet . . . The sister said in her letter that her brother stitched a cut on his arm himself, with a thread and needle, because his wife had cut him and he didn’t want to go to the hospital. Can you imagine being so embarrassed that your wife hits you that you do that?

Men are less likely than women to report abuse because they often worry: ‘What will people think if they know I let a woman beat up on me?’ and ‘I don't want to be laughed at; no one would believe me.’”


Increased Anxiety in Abused Husbands and Boyfriends

All emotions are information. The information in fear is “danger to myself or others.” Anxiety is a heightened state of fear. A man who is the target of abuse by his partner may get the emotional message: “Danger!” The fear may grow into anxiety. The anxiety may grow into panic.

The danger that stimulated anxiety may be physical, emotional, psychological, financial, sexual, legal, or spiritual. If an individual overrides the danger message by trying to ignore it, or if he cannot stop the dangerous situation, anxiety may permeate other parts of his life.

The anxiety created from being the target of partner abuse may show up in situations that are disconnected from his partner. The backlog of fear and anxiety may create overreactions to other situations that stimulate a relatively small amount of fear.

An abused man's experience: 

“I went through years of hell in my marriage. There was so much chaos circling around her. My mind was spinning with what can I try next to make her happy.

About seven years into it, I started getting panic attacks. I would get anxious and panicky in traffic and claustrophobic in crowds. I had never had these problems before.

After I separated from my wife, my anxiety suddenly got much better. By the time my divorce was done, my anxiety was gone. I realized I had felt trapped in my marriage. I couldn’t let myself recognize it at the time, so it showed up in other situations when I felt even a little trapped.

I felt like I needed my wife to help me manage my anxiety. It turned out she was the cause of it.”


Anger and Depression in Abused Men

Anger is a secondary emotion. Emotional pain that is not dealt with directly can get turned into anger.

Anger will often explode outward in anything from small explosions of biting sarcasm or irritated tone—to large explosions of rage.

Anger can also implode. That’s depression. Many people say that depression is anger turned inwards.

Any emotional pain that is being built up and not processed can turn into anger or depression.

Depression may lead to addictive behaviors, suicidal thoughts, attempts, or even completed suicide.

I am NOT saying that the source of a particular man’s anger or depression is always, or even usually, caused by the woman in his life. I am saying that a possible side effect of being the target of abuse is anger or depression.

Abuse may be mutual: each partner may be abusing the other. It may be difficult to discern whether a man’s anger or depression is a result of being abused by his partner, or is contributing to his partner’s abusive behavior and attitudes. It’s the “which came first, the chicken or the egg” dilemma.



Depression can look different in men.

Read this post to discover the signs & symptoms:

depression in men signs and symptoms post graphic



Addiction and Other Poor Choices

An abused man may be drawn to addictive behavior or other poor choices to deal with depression, numb out, escape pain, or boost his self-esteem. Rebelling against a feeling of being powerless in his life may create a draw to unhealthy behavior that offers a false sense of control.

A person can be addicted to just about anything that creates an inner chemical change, such as a burst of feel-good feelings, numbing out of emotions, or an adrenaline rush. Addictive “substances” may be an attractive distraction from an individual’s emotional pain.

Reasons for behavior don’t excuse behavior. I’m NOT excusing a man reacting to being abused by his partner by acting out in unhealthy ways. I’m pointing out that there may be a connection between her behavior and his. It would be his job to recognize why he’s making poor choices and figure out how to deal with his situation in healthier ways.


substance use in male and female victims of DV quote



Social Impact of Abuse

Social isolation can occur as a direct result of a man’s partner purposefully destroying or interfering with his relationships with family, friends, co-workers, and others.

Disconnection from people may also be a result of other forms of partner abuse.


Visible and Invisible Scars: Physical Toll of Abuse

The physical repercussions of being the target of abuse may be directly related to physical abuse, or they may be connected to the emotional and psychological drain of physical or other abuses creating negative physical consequences.

Physical abuse may result in cuts, bruises, burns, black eyes, broken teeth and bones, damaged organs, concussions, stab and bullet wounds, and death. 

Abuse of any type may have physical side effects:

  • insomnia
  • sleepiness
  • increased or decreased weight
  • reduced energy
  • memory challenges
  • mental distraction
  • inability to concentrate
  • stress-related illness
  • headaches; neck, shoulder, or back pain

Learn about Tom's 20-year struggle with physical abuse from his wife:

Love Shouldn't Hurt. A Battered Husband's Story


graphic of a battered husband



Trauma and Trust: Sexual Consequences of Abuse

Sexual repercussions of abuse may be a result of sexual abuse or a repercussion of the strain of being the target of other forms of abuse.

A man who was abused by a woman (sexually or otherwise) may find it difficult to trust women enough to engage in sexual relationships in the future.

Alternatively, if a man was sexually abused in a previous relationship and he doesn’t work through understanding and processing what happened to him, he may be drawn into other sexually unhealthy relationships. Unhealthy sexual behaviors may become normalized to him. He may erroneously conclude that’s just what relationships are like.

Men who experience sexual abuse by a woman often feel particularly demeaned, emasculated, and isolated.

Being in, or having been in, a relationship with an abusive woman may contribute to:

  • reduced libido,
  • sexual frustration,
  • feeling sexually inadequate or unattractive,
  • apprehension about sex,
  • looking outside the relationship to find sexual fulfillment,
  • erectile dysfunction, or
  • losing control of his reproductive rights.

I am NOT saying that any of these is always traced back to being the partner’s fault, just that in cases of abuse, they may be rooted in the abuse.


Trampled Reproductive Rights

Women who manipulate men into becoming fathers when they don’t want to, lie to them about birth control, or deny them access to sterilization are divesting those men of their reproductive rights.


Financial Fallout of Abusive Relationships




Financial fallout from being with an abusive woman may be a direct result of financial abuse or a side effect of other types of abuse. Even a short-term relationship can have long-term financial repercussions.

Financial abuses can leave a man’s bank account drained, or his earning ability debilitated, or have him spinning trying to keep up with unreasonable financial obligations.

Other forms of partner abuse may wreak financial havoc. A man may lose years of productivity to the struggles of an unhappy relationship and then be further overwhelmed, distracted, and financially drained by the aftermath of ending that relationship.


The Legal System as a Tool of Abuse

When your partner is willing to lie and cheat her way through the legal process, it’s like the pot of poison at the end of the abuse rainbow. A man who goes into divorce with the idea that they will be able to amicably work through custody and settlement issues may be blindsided by his ex’s propensity to fight dirty.

Additionally, the current anti-male climate often results in treatment and rulings that are skewed against men. When a partner or ex-partner abuses you through the legal system and you are abused by the legal system—abuse is heaped upon abuse.

Many men have had negative experiences when they called the police for protection from their violent female partner. They are often not believed, or, even worse, they are accused of being batterers and are arrested. Many have lost trust in the police and justice systems.


Book About Abuse OF Men BY Women

For more about the struggles of abused men in relationships with abusive women and those who are dealing with the aftermath of these partnerships, check out my book, Abuse OF Men BY Women: It Happens, It Hurts, and It's Time to Get Real About It

Abuse of men by women book
Abuse of men by women book
Abuse of men by women book

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