When someone hears the phrase “emotional abuse,” they may feel like it would be easy to spot. You’d think that you could tell when someone is being mistreated, whether it be by their demeanor around their partner or how they describe their relationship.
The truth is, emotional abuse can be much more subtle.
You may look at a couple and see two people that are crazy about each other in public, but in private they’re intentionally making each other crazy. Emotional abuse comes in many forms, and there’s not a typical predator or prey in the matter. Anyone and everyone can fall victim to the injustice of emotional abuse. Take a look at some common themes of emotional abuse to keep an eye out for.
Related Reading: How to Heal from Emotional Abuse
Quick to insult, slow to compliment
When someone is being emotionally abused, their partner is likely very quick to verbally put them in their place. If they forget to do the laundry, their partner will make them feel bad for their mistake. If they mess up Tuesday night’s dinner, they’ll hear about it until Friday night. It will seem like they can’t do anything right.
And then, just when they’ve given up hope that their spouse will ever show them the kindness, their spouse will surprise them with a compliment out of the blue. The abused partner was ready to give up hope on their relationship, but the compliment that comes around only when it’s necessary, have them thinking that the marriage could actually work.
This cycle could continue for years without anyone seeing it’s destructive path. The compliment that was slow to come will be the ray of hope that shines through the darkness of all the other insults and put-downs. Those compliments will come sparingly, but each time make it harder to walk away from an emotionally destructive partnership.
Boxing you in vs. Letting you blossom
In a loving and respectful relationship, each partner supports the other’s goals and dreams without judgment. It doesn’t matter how lofty a goal is, if someone signs up for marriage with a clear and dedicated conscience, they’ll have their spouse’s back. As long as the pursuit of that goal doesn’t rattle the foundation of the marriage itself.
In an emotionally abusive relationship, however, the partner who’s doing the abusing will do whatever they can to box their spouse into their current reality. Rather than supporting their ambitious husband or wife, an abusive partner will make it their mission to make them feel small and insignificant. This tactic is all about control. By teasing or demeaning the aspirations of their spouse, the abusive partner can keep them on a leash of sorts. They fear that if their partner grows their interests or desires outside of the relationship, they will be left behind. So, they keep them in check with words and actions that will keep their partner inside the box they’d like them to stay in.
There aren’t many things more abusive than lack of empathy
Within a committed relationship, empathy and compassion are two elements that are necessary to make things last. If one or both parties don’t care much at all about the other’s emotional state, the marriage has no chance of surviving in a healthy way.
Feeling like your partner is indifferent to your emotional needs is torture for the rejected party. They don’t have to care as deeply as you do, but they need to show some compassion for what’s got you down. If your dog dies, they need to be a shoulder to cry on no matter if they liked your dog or not. If you lose your job, they need to be there to let you vent and talk through, no matter how much they hated the hours you were putting in.
At some point in a marriage, hard times are going to rock either one or both parties of the relationship. If someone is indifferent to the other struggles, it’s like watching someone drown in their own tears. Empathy and compassion are a must. Their absence can be called abusive behavior.
Related Reading: How to Build Empathy in Relationships
The winners of the blame game
If an adult chooses to blame everyone else for their troubles–especially their partner–this could easily land in the category of emotional abuse. They make everything out to be their partner’s fault, leading them to feel guilty and shameful and less than their blame-happy partner.
These people that can’t take responsibility for their actions will seek out the company of someone who will happily be their martyr. Over time, they will lay so much guilt on their partner that the word “abuse” would be putting it lightly.
Emotional abuse comes in many forms, the ones listed above are just a few. What’s important to note is that anyone could be a victim. If you know someone–or if you feel like you are being victimized by emotional abuse–don’t be afraid to step up. Be a willing ear to listen. Be a friend when they can’t find anyone to talk to. The more support a victim of emotional abuse receives, the easier it will be for them to see how necessary it is to break away from the poison of their partner.
Related Reading: 8 Ways to Stop Emotional Abuse in Marriage