Signs of Covert Abuse: Unspoken Expectations

My feelings of inadequacy began early in my marriage.  I had barely landed in a foreign country when the quiet “Get a Job” (GAJ) campaign began.

At the time, I was taking 12 hours of language class per week, caring for my son during after school hours, cleaning and maintaining our home, planning and cooking all meals from scratch, running all errands, and orienting myself to our new city without the aid of a car. 

The GAJ campaign started with subtle hints about jobs I might be qualified to do.  Mind you, I had never even hinted, much less asked, for help finding a job. First, I had just made a blind move to a foreign country; second, no other expat spouse at Hyde’s company worked; third, I did not have a work visa and obtaining one was an expensive bureaucratic process conducted in the local language; fourth, I was happy being a homemaker/stay-at-home mom; fifth, our net income was over $140k (a fact hidden from me until legal negotiations commenced).

It was like nothing I expressed about working mattered. 

Hyde:  “So-and-so said there was an opening for a web design teacher at the community college.” 

Me:  “I don’t feel remotely qualified for that.  I have only had one class in web design, I don’t have a work permit, and I can’t speak the language.”


Me:  “My language teacher said you have to have a mid-level language certificate to apply for a work visa.”

Hyde:  “Are you sure that’s what she said?  That’s not what people at work say.”


Hyde:  “You are depressed. You need friends.  If you got a job, you would make friends and feel accomplished.”

Me:  “Thanks for thinking of me, but I don’t get huge feelings of satisfaction from a paying job.  I love taking care of my family and the house because it allows you guys to relax when you come home.  Plus, my work friendships never seem to cross over into my personal life.  I need friends with whom I don’t need to censor myself.”

Then the triangulation started.

Friend of Hyde:  “You should find a job.  You are a smart woman, you have a degree.  I promise you will find a job quickly.” (I had said nothing about finding work)

Relative of Hyde:  “Say…Hyde says you do web design.  I want you to design this website for me.  When you guys come home for Christmas, I’ll take you out to dinner and we can talk about it.” (Never materialized because he never followed up to my responses.)

Though it may seem really obvious seeing all of this written down, it was hard to detect because these things were said over a period of three years.  Hyde never looked at me and said, “I want you to work.”

Three months after moving back to the U.S. in a new state and a week before he left me, Hyde wrote a demand letter to me.  In that letter he expressed how I was messed up and needed to seek help…and work.  This excerpt contains my notes in underlined text.

“…I also feel a lot of pressure knowing that I am the sole source of income for this family. (I am sure that you must be trembling in fear with us having over $100k in your bank account.)  This is one reason I take my job so seriously.  (Justifying his late hours and stress, which he consistently claimed to be the reason behind his diminishing affection.)  I know we are in a transitory state, but we should not allow that to stop you from finding something. (Patronizing. This is how a child gets addressed, not a wife.  “Now Tommy, we mustn’t eat paste–it’s not good for you.”)  …I believe you need to get back in the work force, even if it is just part-time.  (This is the first time he had ever been direct in the GAJ campaign.  The “just part-time” bit infuriates me–“just part-time” meant I would be committed to working outside the home AND expected to continue all the cleaning and cooking duties.)  I think it would be good for your motivation to have some regular routine (that makes money) and more interaction with other people (because I am preparing to desert you).  If transportation is a limitation, then we can look at getting a second car. (There is 3 feet of snow on the ground, subzero wind chill, I have foot problems, and there is no public transportation–of course I will need a car!  Thanks for the reassurance that we will look at that possibility–if I get a job.)  That will not solve all (your) problems, but I’m sure it will help improve things. (Who gives a flying turd what you think, Ida.  After all I am the one in charge here.)

The ability to look at this evil letter and decode his real meaning is a huge step for me.

Now the subject of this post is unspoken expectations.  At this point you may be thinking, well, it sure sounds like he made it known that he wanted you to work.  Actually, no, he never did. 

Countless times I asked him directly what he would like me to do to make life better at home.  Hyde never answered “get a job”.  Why?  Because that is what covert abusers do.  They create an environment of discomfort and uncertainty to keep you off-balance.  With covert abuse, the goal post is invisible and always moving. 

If Hyde had been honest and said, “I treat you so poorly because you aren’t meeting my expectation that you should work,” then I would have seen that his love was conditional and cried foul.  If Hyde had said, “I would feel better if you had a job,” and I got a job, but his poor treatment remained, then I would have seen that he was dishonest, and that would have revealed a crack in the mask. However, because Hyde never voiced his expectation, but only hinted at it, he created feelings of uncertainty and inadequacy in me.  The feeling that you are somehow not enough is a powerful tactic in abuse.

Unspoken expectations are a huge red flag in recognizing covert abuse.  When a spouse refuses to disclose a reason for hinting around at something, you can bet he/she is manipulating you and trying to diminish your power in the relationship.  Furthermore, unspoken expectations also protect the good person image the abuser is desperate to portray.  It would not reflect well on him/her if you told a friend or family member that you are expected to do x when the situation does not logically call for you to do x.

Have you recognized unspoken expectations in your relationship?  Share in the comments below.

Disclosure: When evaluating your relationship for abuse, it is important to look at the overall trends of the relationship. If there is no overt abusive behavior this is especially important.  A pervading sense of wrongness, cyclical arguments, stonewalling, and withholding information/access are all indications that the balance of power is tilted and abuse may be occurring.  I am not a professional in this field, I am sharing my experiences in the hope that it may provide a glimpse of the truth from within the fog.  Like me, you may not realize that abuse can be a covert phenomenon.  Abuse is not gender-defined–both men and women can be abusers.

If you suspect you are being abused, please contact your local domestic abuse shelter.  If someone you know is being abused, please do not make accusations in front of the abuser–it could cause the abuse to escalate.

This is a public forum.  Use caution when commenting.


13 thoughts on “Signs of Covert Abuse: Unspoken Expectations

  1. The unspoken expectations often seems to have a GAJ campaign, often right after you have given birth or caring for children because to some, this is a cake walk that requires no skills. Once again, it is part of a common pattern. Often the women find a job, does it make a difference to meet the demands and take the borden off of the abuser? No. Hang in there and keep up with the recovery, you can do it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow. This really helped to reduce the shame I have felt, betternotbroken. I didn’t even know I felt ashamed because of the GAJ campaign. You know, it was like he was he was saying I was not enough almost from day one. Wow Wow Wow.

      I feel so much relief knowing it is a common abuse tactic and not a defect in me!

      Thank you for your insight!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Speaking of a job…just got the call that I am interviewing for a chair caning apprenticeship next week!

    Pray for me. I worked behind a desk for years before I married and I was miserable. Earning a living by my hand is a daydream I have long held. For once, I am interviewing for a job that honors who I really am and not who I think I should be based on other’s standards. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This makes so much sense. The little comments about how disappointed he is with me because I didn’t do what he’d expected…….but either he never told me those expectations (hanging his shirts toward the right instead of the left) or he sabotaged my actual ability to do them (help on the farm), even if I wanted to. And the silence. I can’t ask for anything, share anything of importance, discuss anything of importance. I asked him once to bring something from the store since he was going there anyway, and he blew up, spoke to me like a stupid rebellious child, then acted as if he had no clue what it was I wanted. “What brand? What does it look like? Where in the store would I find it? What sort of package?” (cream cheese, really?) So I say nothing, do my own thing and he says what a good marriage we have because we don’t fight. We’ve been to counselling at least 6 rounds, he’ll read the books (hide behind them) but never do anything the counselor or books say. So If I go to the pastor, I don’t have much to go on because it’s so ‘nothing’. How do I explain? Argh!! I don’t even know if I’m making sense here.
    But, I’ve worked on my worth and feel so much stronger, which is a huge step in the right direction.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And the silence. I can’t ask for anything, share anything of importance, discuss anything of importance…So I say nothing, do my own thing and he says what a good marriage we have because we don’t fight.

      Oh Sunflower, you make perfect sense! This is exactly what I experienced and I think people have trouble grasping how soul destroying it is to be unacknowledged by your mate. We never fought either and not fighting (aka bringing our problems out into the open) made my son and I mentally ill. My son developed OCD and I would explode emotionally every so often, I appeared bipolar.

      I understand what you mean about there being “nothing” to point to showing how horrible he treats you. It is the illusion of peace and, sadly, that is what 90% of people will see and take at face value.

      You are making huge strides! I did not even know what I was dealing with until Hyde discarded me. You are realizing that reality with your husband wasn’t real at all. This is like coming out of a fog or waking up from an evil charmed sleep.

      A website that has been huge in my ongoing recovery is I hope you find it helpful too.


  4. We always fight. I’m always told I’m not doing enough or I do things half ass. That his way is the right way and I need to do it like him. I get frustrated because my husband does not work he doesn’t do anything. I am a full time college student, raising two small children, cooking, cleaning, running errands. But it’s not up to his expectations. Which I know that no matter what I did it would still never be good enough. It’s part of the abuse. However I don’t keep quiet I argue back. Never win though. Usually ends up worse and more abuse comes. But I just can’t let him steal my sense of self worth. I think maybe he’s jealous sometimes. I can’t wait to be free from him. I wish he would abandon us. He won’t. He likes making me miserable. He still somehow thinks everything is my fault in our marriage. Hopefully the lawyers won’t see it that way when I file for divorce. He uses my children and a weapon that I won’t get full custody. I know it’s a lie. But as you know the abuse gets into your head.

    Liked by 1 person

    • One thing that may help you in court, when the time comes, is to document his abusive actions, when/where occured and any witnesses. There are many great resources for preparing to divorce a disordered person, which many abusers are. is a good starting point; she fought for full custody with supervised visitation and finally got it. Her ex is a narcissist.

      I understand your frustration that your husband won’t leave and wish he would, but you have an opportunity I did not have…time to plan for your departure. Because I was abandoned, I have the burden of being thrown into financial and emotional chaos. There was no warning that he would be so cruel as to strand me in a strange place. Take advantage of your position of knowing he is an abuser and seek out the knowledge and resources that can aid you in leaving him. Contact your local domestic violence shelter to inquire about what services they offer for someone in your position.

      Best of luck and stay strong!


      • Thank you! I guess sometimes I think that nothing can be worse than the situation I am in now. That’s how low he makes me feel at times. Thinking about divorce is so easy. Yup its what I want can’t wait. But to start the process I get stuck. I can’t manage to pick up the phone and call a lawyer. I keep waiting for the push I need. I’m hoping to get the courage soon. I feel like right now is a perfect time. I just know the hassle its gonna be. He won’t go without a fight. Sorry if I upset you saying I wish he would abandon me. I guess for me that’s what I so deeply want I couldn’t see the hurt and trouble it must have caused you.


      • Please don’t apologize. I perhaps came off sounding harsh…I did not mean to. I am sorry.

        The most important thing is that you take advantage of your current position of being the one calling the shots.

        You need to make a safety plan. Women are at a 50% greater risk of being murdered by their husband in the months following their departure. Your local domestic violence shelter can help you with this. They understand the dynamics of abusive relationships and can give you aid and advice.

        You also need to set money aside. It is almost certain he will drain accounts and block access to joint assets. One thing that is suggested is getting cash back at the register when you get groceries. Having no money is sooooo hard. His financial abuse increased after he left me. Expect his abuse to worsen when you leave. They cannot bear the loss of control.

        Please contact you local domestic violence shelter. For me, it is the place where I feel really understood. The public is woefully under-educated about domestic abuse. At the center you will have access to really valuable resources.

        Girltroubled87, I wish you weren’t facing this…I wish none of us had to. You are a person worthy of respect, love, trust, caring and so much more. Remember that.


      • Thanks again. Emotional abuse is more his thing than physical. He has been physical and I got him arrested. I was going to divorce him then but didn’t have any money. Then he wooed me back with false promises. I thought that it wouldn’t be the same story as everyone else. That my husband would really change. He was going to counseling and everything. He was sweet bought us this beautiful home and I thought it would be better for the kids. Well now that he has me back again it started again, all the emotional abuse. So now I know for sure that it’s never going to change and I want a divorce.


      • That is awful what he has done to you!

        I think emotional/psychological abuse is so much worse because it’s very hard to document. If Hyde would have hit me, I would have maybe recognized his abuse, so instead he attacked my very soul driving me to suicidal ideation….and I still believed I was the source of the problem.
        You are not alone. There are so so so many women with similar stories. Abusers are scarily similar in their patterns and behaviors.

        You deserve to be loved, respected and cherished by your mate. It shrivels the soul to experience withholding or degradation.

        Stay in touch. May you be blessed as you find your escape from this abusive marriage.


      • Oh yes…i forgot to say that domestic vilolence shelters are for victims of emotional abuse too. They understand it’s a problem deeper than a visible injury. Many women I’ve met there have never been hit, but they are suffering the same devastating effects of abuse.


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