Mutual abuse broke Johnny Depp-Amber Heard marriage, says therapist. What is it?

Akshata Kamath
Akshata KamathApr 18, 2022 | 13:27

Mutual abuse broke Johnny Depp-Amber Heard marriage, says therapist. What is it?

While Therapists say that Mutual Abuse exists, Google says that it does not. Now, who to trust? So we spoke to a few therapists who shared their 2 cents

Hollywood Star Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard have been in the news because of messy court cases. Depp had filed a $50 million defamation lawsuit accusing his ex-wife of writing an op-ed for Washington Post in 2018, in which she described herself as a victim of domestic abuse, and one that had damaged Depp's career. Amber's article led to some news reports calling Johhny a 'wife beater', and that is also why he lost the role of Grindelwald in the Fantastic Beasts series.


After Depp lost the court case in London, he then filed a case in Virgina, US, which is now being heard publicly. 

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. Photo : Getty Images
Johnny Depp and ex-wife Amber Heard. Photo: Getty Images

Now that the witnesses are testifying publicly about who did what kind of damage in the Depp-Heard marriage, it seems like both Johnny and his ex Amber have both been mutually abusing each other while trying to accuse each other of being an 'abuser'. 

This came to light when their mariage therapist, Dr Laurel Anderson, appeared as a witness and claimed that both Depp and Heard had been 'mutually abusive' towards each other during their married life. Laurel had multiple therapy sessions with Depp and Heard from October to December 2015, after which Heard filed for divorce in May 2016. 

So, what does 'mutual abuse' mean? When you look up the term on Google, weirdly, the top articles on the internet say that mutual abuse does not exist. Whatttt.

So, who will you trust now? Therapists or Google? (we're going with therapists) 


Photo: Getty Images

I first checked the host of dictionaries on the internet for the phrase “mutual abuse”. I got nothing. 

Now a common understanding of the term is when two partners are mutually abusive towards each other. This can involve physical, verbal, and/or psychological fights between married, intimate partners. In these situations, the responsibility of the abuse lies equally with both partners who are a part of the conflict.


This is because each party seeks to control the behaviour of the other by using some form of power over the other using the tools that they are aware of. This can be by:

  • wit,
  • muscles,
  • emotions,
  • verbal criticism,
  • physical threats or
  • psychological games. 

Thus both are perceived to be both the perpetrator and the victim.


Now, if you search on Google, get ready to find some hotline numbers and articles titled as: 'The Myth of Mutual Abuse' or something that says it does not exist, or is 'RARE' or is 'NOT REAL'.

One of the top posts on 'Mutual Abuse' on the Internet. Screenshot
Hotline.org calls this ''The Myth of Mutual Abuse''. Photo: Screenshot.

Another top post which says ''mutual abuse is rare''. Photo: Screenshot

Some say that abuse is a one-way street and happens when there is an imbalance of power. In an abusive relationship, one person usually has more power than the other. Victims in abusive relationships also experience the following situations:

  • SELF-DEFENCE: When the victim feels that their safety is at risk, they may act in self-defence to protect themselves. Acts of self-defence may often show up as yelling back or getting physical or walking out, which is often a 'reciprocatory reaction' in the heat of the moment. This may again provoke and lead the abuser to take more risky actions as a consequence of being offended. This cannot be called 'mutual abuse'.  
  • SHIFTING BLAME: Abusers never actively take responsibility for their actions and tend to 'shift the blame'. When the victim takes the initiative or the responsibility to make changes, the abuser feels even more in control. 
  • DIFFERENCE IN ATTITUDE: Abusers are usually not self-aware and do not admit to unhealthy or abusive behaviour. Neither do they commit to stop it in the first place, nor will they reach out for help or ask about the process of change.


During the cases that have lasted over a few years, the courts have witnessed evidence of both parties, Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, being mutually abusive. It should also be known that both have experienced physical domestic violence in their childhood and have repeated patterns in their adult life. 

Depp was accused of physically abusing his ex-wife multiple times by issuing threatening assaults, throwing a 'phone at her face' and attacking her. Heard has provided photos of bruises, scars, clumps of torn hair and pictures of smashed furniture.

The courts also have evidence of Heard confessing about her violent tantrums, hitting ex-husband Depp and pelting him with pots, pans and vases


Dr Sapna is a Psychiatrist from MPower, an initiative by the Aditya Birla Education Trust. Here is what she said: "Traditionally, we have always seen relationship abuse in a way where we always identify one person as an abuser and another as a victim. But now, we do see situations where the dynamics of relationships have changed. It is possible that two people, while being in the same relationship, can be both the victim and the abuser. There can be certain situations or certain time periods where one person can be a victim and after a period of time, the circumstances cause the victim to become the abuser."

"It is also generally seen that the abuser today, was once a victim as a child. For eg: Bullies at school are usually victims at home. So, they tend to bully others and show their power in school, since they do not have that power at home," said Dr Sapna. 

Dr Aleeka Kumar is a practising Psychodynamic Psychotherapist in Mumbai. She told DailyO, "Abuse, in my experience and understanding, is always mutual in a relationship. One party cannot be forming an abusive equation. Yes, the other person might not have the resources, emotional and/or material, and the understanding to call out the abuser. It can, for some time, just be confusing for the partner. Abuser and the abused are two sides of the same coin. But it is easier said than done in terms of identifying the real cause for the partner who is feeling abused, because it is a heady mix of love and dependence as well. It takes a lot of commitment to one’s own well-being to identify the wrong in such situations."

Last updated: April 19, 2022 | 11:09
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