The Marriage.com Editorial Team is a group of experienced relationship writers, experts, and mental health professionals. We provide practical and research-backed advice on relationships. Our content is thoroughly reviewed by experts to ensure that we offer high-quality and reliable relationship advice.
There are many forms of verbal and emotional abuse. It might start with small signals making it hard to recognize as abuse. The relationship may start wonderfully and the problems evolve slowly. The warning signs can be ambiguous and subtle, making the process of identifying verbal abuse harder. Most people, at first, look for faults in their behavior in communication with the partner.
Furthermore, verbal abuse can involve quite sophisticated and toxic game-playing. If you are wondering how to recognize verbally abusive relationship signs, take a look at our selection of tell-tale signs and learn how to differentiate it from “normal” conflict.
What is Verbal Abuse?
Verbal abuse is an attempt to seize control over someone by various means of psychological, not physical, manipulation. Trying to subdue someone can come through different forms of criticism, humiliation, threats, punishments, and silent treatments.
It might be surprising to hear that almost 50% of men and women have experienced at least one psychologically unsafe encounter with their partners. A study suggests that the probability of verbal abuse increases with alcohol abuse and decreases with the number of children and age.
If you are not sure if your partner is trying to be funny or simply belittling you, you might be experiencing one of the signs of verbal abuse. Although in physically abusive relationships, evidence of violence is tangible and overt, we should not underestimate the damaging effects of verbal abuse.
What is the difference between Verbal Abuse & Normal Conflict?
Acting punitively when you’re alone and avoiding it when others are around
Guilt-tripping you and victimizing themselves
Causing your self-confidence to drastically decrease
Although conflict is unavoidable, how much of it there is in the relationship, and how you go through it as a couple can point to how close you are to verbal abuse.
Verbally abusive spouse aims to control you through making you feel small and decreasing your self-confidence. Usually, in conflict both sides are trying to gain something for themselves. In verbal abuse, it is being done through emotional attacks towards the partner.
What are the signs of an Abusive Relationship?
1. Walking on eggshells
When in a verbally abusive relationship, you start to notice you are being extremely careful about what you say and do. Trying to avoid potential fights makes you feel like you are all the time walking on eggshells. To avoid disappointing your partner, you take notice of every little thing you do.
Most likely, walking on eggshells is your attempt to stop verbal abuse in the marriage. However, you have to understand that this is not your fault and anyone in your position would feel the same way. Stay firm regardless of your partner saying otherwise and trying to convince you that it is you who needs to change for them to stop being angry.
What causes verbal abuse in marriage is not your errors, rather the lack of impulse control and impossible expectations your partner has.
2. Name-calling and ridiculing
Does your partner call you names that hurt you and then say you misunderstood what they meant? In fights and everyday communication, your partner belittles you and makes you feel ridiculed? Whether they try to pass it off as “teasing” or “ Pet Names,” it is one of the signs of an abusive relationship.
3. Inappropriate and hurtful jokes
In a verbally abusive relationship, your partner makes jokes you find hurtful and when confronted, says you are too sensitive. Although you ask them not to do it, they persist with it. Over time you might find this is hurting the perception of yourself and decreasing your self- confidence.
4. Condescending conversational tone
We are not talking about the sarcastic tone of voice used to make a good joke, rather a constant tone when they interact with you. They might also include you in their sarcastic jokes and although they start funny, you feel belittled.
Furthermore, they might be using demeaning comments about your beliefs, religion, race, or, in general, important aspects of who you are. A partner that respects you doesn’t do this. In a verbally abusive relationship, your partner is not willing to understand how it is making you feel or stop.
5. Verbal criticism
At first, it might be that your communication was sweet and polite. However, over time you start to notice negative remarks and demands to improve different aspects of your behavior and personality.
Additionally, they are sharing the criticisms in a way that makes you feel awful. Over time, the frequency and requests to change increases until the point where you might end up thinking there is nothing you do well. This can have a significant impact on your self-esteem.
6. Humiliating comments
In a verbally abusive relationship, shaming and swearing occur more or less regularly. More so when you are alone with your partner, although not exclusively. Abusers use humiliation as a way to make you feel bad about yourself. They try to degrade the image you have of yourself until you feel deficient.
7. Threats and accusations
Have you felt unsafe at some point in the relationship? Perhaps your partner has thrown things, punched a wall when things heated up? It is not uncommon in emotionally abusive relationships for a partner to expect gratitude for being able to control their temper and not hurt you.
In such a relationship, you find you are being accused or threatened by your partner often. This can lead you to question your actions and feeling cornered.
8. Blaming you
Besides the accusations they throw towards you, abusive partners also try to blame you for all the arguments. They attempt to distribute all the guilt to you and portray themselves as the victim. They can be quite skilled in twisting the reality to fit this image of themselves as the sufferer.
9. Yelling and screaming
This is one of the clear cut signs of a verbally abusive relationship. As such, abusers might not use it in the very beginning. Furthermore, if they have a slip and they yell, they are usually sophisticated enough to portray it as a one-time thing or a result of some major stress they are going through.
10. Silent treatments
When nothing else works, abusers might try to ignore you. When their attempts to control you have failed, they withhold communication, affections, sex, money, etc. to try and make you do as they wish.
Although it is a quiet one, make no mistake. The silent treatment is a sign of verbally abusive relationships. Refusing to communicate, establish eye contact, or spend time in the same room could be one of the ways they make you try harder and push you into the choice they want.
11. Discounting your emotions and opinions
In a healthy relationship, you feel understood and heard. Support is one of the elements you don’t have in a verbally abusive relationship. When you try to share your partner is, in different ways, denying you the right to your feelings or thoughts.
They might criticize you, call you sensitive, childish, or convince you that what you are going through is no big deal. The abuser is denying you your inner reality and trying to persuade you that what you think or feel is wrong.
Sometimes it can be easy to spot a controlling person. However, the more experience they have, the more wrapped up their attempts become. This makes it hard to recognize manipulation.
Manipulation is an attempt to get you to do something without requesting it directly or ordering it. Do you feel pushed and like you have no control over your own decisions? Abusers are skilled at making you feel like what they intended was your idea and/or is for the best.
13. Repetitive arguments
Perhaps you find yourself surprised by how easy it is to provoke an argument and wondering what you did this time around? Whenever an opportunity appears, your partner uses it to disagree with you or start a fight.
In a healthy relationship, partners disagree on many topics. However, that doesn’t always escalate into fights. In a verbally abusive relationship, there is no acceptance of difference of opinions. It leads to circular fights leaving you tired and drained.
14. You are apologizing all the time
Offering an apology when we have hurt someone is an appropriate reaction. However, due to the frequency of being blamed for everything, you might find yourself apologizing all the time. Perhaps you are not always sure what exactly you did that was wrong. They portray the victim so well you feel it is best to say you are sorry.
15. Emphasizing your weakness and flaws
This is one of the signs of a verbally abusive relationship that has a major impact on your dignity and confidence. Your partner’s opinion matters to you. So, when they are constantly stressing your flaws you also begin to see yourself differently.
This change in your perception of yourself is meant to keep you with them. The more you begin to trust their opinion the more grateful you become they are staying with you despite your flaws. This is one of the reasons why it is hard to leave a verbally abusive relationship.
Tips To Deal With A Verbally Abusive Relationship
Being in such a relationship can leave psychological scars on the victim. What does verbal abuse do to a woman or a man? It can lead to anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and impaired self-confidence. Therefore, if you think you are experiencing abuse try to react as soon as possible.
If you are wondering “how to deal with an abusive wife” or “ how to deal with a verbally abusive husband” there is no single answer. There are many tips on how to deal with verbal abuse. Check out our selection of top advice that can help you learn how to respond to verbal abuse:
Decide what boundaries you want to set and be firm about them. This is going to be challenging and you might want to rely on social support to help you in this process.
Try to understand if the abuser is willing to work on their behavior. You can’t change them, only support their decision to change.
Ask yourself what are the circumstances under which you would be willing to stay in the relationship. If you are not yet ready to cut ties, ask yourself what should happen for you to say you are leaving. Be mindful of your boundaries and what should the relationship be like for you to be happy.
If you decide to stay, set a limit to the amount of time you want to give the abuser to show they are changing. If you are roommates too, think of whether you want to stay in the same living space with them while working on this issue.
If they are willing to work on themselves, consider going to couples therapy or marriage course. Handling verbal abuse requires a change in the style of communication. Improving communication is one of the key elements of such courses and therapy.
If you can’t stop verbal abuse in marriage, consider the safest way to leave and steps you need to take. To make the process less painful for yourself, prepare in advance.
Trust your instincts
Since the abusive relationship is not abusive from the start, trust your gut. If you think something is wrong, be cautious and notice the subtle red flags. Knowing the signs of verbal abuse can help you identify it and react on time before it has damaging effects on your psychological health.
Keep in mind what a healthy relationship should be like. If you recognize they are trying to manipulate you, humiliate you, blame you or make you feel guilty, you should observe if other signs are present too.
If both of you are willing to work on improving the situation, surround yourself with support and consider therapists.
Remember to thoroughly be sure if they are open to change or their agreement is just a way to manipulate you. If you decide to end it, invest in the process of preparation,, and examine tips to get out of a verbally abusive relationship.
In the video, Mel Robbins discusses why and how someone loses their power.
“It’s because somewhere in your past someone made you feel like you didn’t deserve it. But you don’t have to stay there forever”
What you think and how you feel matters, despite what your abusive partner might be saying. You have the right to be happy and you deserve it.
The Marriage.com Editorial Team is a group of experienced relationship writers, experts, and mental health professionals. We provide practical and research-backed advice on relationships. Our content is thoroughly reviewed by experts Read more to ensure that we offer high-quality and reliable relationship advice. Read less
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