The Silent Struggle: Emotionally Abused Men in Divorce

In a society in which men are frequently taught to hide their feelings, as shaped by social stigmas and a lack of support networks, acknowledging and confronting emotional abuse is a hidden battle men face in divorce. In a recent interview with Karen McMahon, a seasoned divorce coach and the founder of Journey Beyond Divorce, we discussed the often-overlooked issue of emotionally abused men in divorce.

A few disclaimers before we continue:

Emotional abuse in divorce
  • Neither Vacca Family Law Group’s attorneys nor Karen McMahon are mental health experts. Consult with a professional with a background in psychiatry or sociology to help with your unique high-conflict situation.
  • Our goal with this discussion is not to stereotype, but rather to share observations and trends we have seen in our lines of work. This discussion is not meant to apply to all emotionally abused men.
  • When referring to “men” throughout this blog, we are exclusively referring to cisgender men in heterosexual marriages.

Karen explained that men are traditionally discouraged from outwardly expressing their emotions. This discouragement makes it more difficult to recognize and acknowledge the signs of an emotionally abusive relationship and contributes to the profound isolation and shame emotionally abused men experience. Men simply don't have the same emotional support networks available to women.

It is important to see past the stigma and realize that men can be the abused partner in an abusive relationship. Women sometimes use their children as pawns in divorce proceedings and courts may unjustly assume, based on long-standing stereotypes, that the mother is the more fit parent to care for them. Karen pointed out that a judge may overlook the potential damage caused by emotionally and verbally abusive women on their husbands and children. Physical abuse of men, though less widely recognized, is a genuine and impactful issue.

LISTEN: Journey Beyond Divorce Podcast, Episode 318 | Behind Closed Doors: The Hidden Struggles of Abused Husbands

Abusers, regardless of their gender, often don’t recognize that their behavior is wrong. This is often the result of the abuser’s dysfunctional background where abuse may seem acceptable. Karen warned that it’s easy to try and pigeonhole every abuser as a narcissist or suffering from a personality disorder. However, many abusive behaviors stem from deep-rooted trauma from the abuser’s past.

While power imbalances may enable abuse, underlying predispositions play a significant role in how the abusive relationship develops. Abusive relationships often stem from unresolved family of origin issues on both sides of the relationship. The ‘spouse of’ is often traumatized or blind to the signs of abuse due to their upbringing. The abuser’s behavior is often a result of mental health issues, trauma and/or a dysfunctional family of origin. This dynamic creates an environment where abuse can thrive. This is especially true when both partners are emotionally unstable but for different reasons.

Karen advised that if abused men do not focus on personal growth, the abusive tendencies of the marriage will often carry over into the divorce process. Strategies such as turning a deaf ear, disengaging from the toxicity, and embarking on a journey of self-discovery are paramount to disengaging from the abusive relationship and being able to view the factual issues related to the divorce with more clarity. Simply divorcing the problem is not enough. True change requires personal growth to break the cycle.

The collaborative divorce process can work well in these situations because of the central role played by mental health professionals. If both parties can commit to mutual respect and shift their focus on the well-being of the children, they have a better chance of staying out of court. Mediation also offers a positive alternative to a litigated divorce. Both processes foster open communication and compromise, easing the emotional toll on both parties. Unfortunately, if the conflict is too high and one or both parties are unable to rise above it, resolution may not be possible, and litigation may be necessary.

Karen reminds us that when exploring the emotional landscape of divorce, it is important to understand the unique challenges faced by men who have been abused. By unveiling these challenges and exploring positive approaches to divorce, we hope to shed light on this issue and pave the way for healing and resilience. Every divorce case is unique, and it is recommended that you seek the advice of an experienced divorce coach or mental health professional to best understand and overcome your specific situation.

At Vacca Family Law Group, we understand the unique challenges of divorce and the challenges of abusive relationships. Our collaborative attorneys and mediators can offer tailored advice to help you make informed decisions. Call us at (646) 798-4603 or contact us online to schedule your free introductory call.

Vacca Family Law Group is located at One Grand Central Place, 60 E. 42nd St., Suite 764, New York, NY 10165.

About Karen McMahon

Karen McMahon is a seasoned divorce coach and the owner of Journey Beyond Divorce, a company dedicated to helping divorcing individuals move through their divorce, discover a new love for themselves, and create the life they want. For more information, visit