The behavior of emotionally abusive partners is extremely painful to endure. This is how you might feel in your marriage or relationship. People who are emotionally abused often feel belittled, worthless, vulnerable and trapped. However, in spite of the commonplace nature of emotional abuse, many of its manifestations are so subtle and insidious that you may not even trust your own judgment when you first begin to suspect that you are being victimized. Read on to learn about the top ten warning signs that you are being emotionally abused by your partner, and discover what you can do about it.
1) Your partner acts like their hurtful remarks are funny:
It is extremely common for abusive partners to hide the true nature of their behavior by pretending that the things they say are intended to be humorous. For example, they might mock you for how you look and then innocently claim that you 'can't take a joke' if you object to the apparent cruelty. You may end up feeling awkward and uncertain as a result, wondering if you are bad at comprehending humor or if you can't lighten up enough to laugh at your own flaws. However, abusers are often the ones who cannot accept or acknowledge their own flaws, and you are likely to start a war if you make any attempts to direct your own form of 'humorous criticism' at your partner.
2) You partner treats you like a child:
Being infantilized by another adult is a particularly troubling form of emotional abuse. If your partner is guilty of this sort of behavior, you may feel as though you have little to no power over your own life. Your commitments and freedoms may be limited by your partner's tight control of your money, or your partner may try to decide when you can attend social events. If you try to object, your partner may rationalize these restrictions by saying that they are doing you a favor because you do not have the common sense or experience to make such decisions for yourself.
3) Your sex life is controlled by your partner:
An emotionally abusive partner may use threats and emotional blackmail in order to make sure that they get their own way when it comes to your sex life. For example, you may feel pressured to be physically intimate even when you are feeling unwell or have explained that you are not in the mood for sex, or you may feel forced to perform uncomfortable or unappealing sex acts for fear that your partner will leave you if you do not conform to their every desire. If you try to object to a significant extent, your partner might tell you that you are being selfish or dull.
4) You have to monitor your every move to avoid receiving negative comments:
If you are with an emotional abuser, daily interactions can feel like walking on eggshells and it can seem as though your partner is impossible to please. You may find yourself constantly watching for signs that your partner is going to start criticizing or lecturing you, and you will start to feel that nothing you do is quite good enough. One day, your partner might make derisive remarks about one of your achievements at work or college, while another day the focus of criticism could be one of your hobbies or interests. Eventually, this behavior can lead victims of abuse to feel so insecure that they are simply grateful that anyone is willing to 'put up with them'. In addition, you may feel as though you have to repress doubts or worries because certain things are just not up for discussion. In contrast, healthy partnerships are ones in which no conversation topics are 'forbidden' and both parties feel free to express their concerns so that the relationship can be improved.
5) Your partner often threatens to leave:
It is extremely common for emotionally abusive partners to threaten to end the relationship if you try to resist their attempts to constantly get their own way. The subject of divorce is brought up by your partner as an option. If you question their controlling patterns of behavior, this will often spark an overreaction and your partner may try to force you to do what they want by saying that they are sick of the way you are acting and are on the verge of leaving you. Since emotionally abused people tend to have low self-esteem after months or years or poor treatment, such threats can lead to feelings of panic and desperation. When you are backed into a corner in this way, you may find yourself offering an undeserved apology and a promise to let the emotional abuser get their own way after all.
6) You have been isolated from your friends or family:
Some emotionally abusive people deliberately try to isolate their partners, while others subconsciously implement tactics that achieve the same result. When you are less in touch with your friends and family, it is a lot easier for your partner to continue abusing you without being held accountable. Further, if you feel as though your partner is your main source of companionship, it will be harder for you to make the decision to leave the relationship. If this situation sounds familiar, you should at least consider the possibility that your partner is the one who has created it.
7) Your partner blames you for everything that goes wrong:
Emotionally abusive people are typically unable or unwilling to take responsibility for their own flaws and mistakes, so they often place the blame elsewhere. If you are with someone like this, you may have been accused of 'making' your partner fly into a rage or you may have been told that you are what stands in the way of your partner having the wonderful life they would otherwise be living.
8) You are accused of being unfaithful when there is no evidence:
Since emotional abusers have a strong desire to control their partners, they can start to panic and make baseless, insulting accusations of infidelity whenever they fear that they are losing their grip. For example, your partner might yell at you after a night in the pub with friends, claiming that you are seeing someone else even though there is no reason to believe this is true.
9) Your partner will never admit to being wrong:
In a healthy relationship, partners can usually meet in the middle after an argument. In most cases, both parties will have done something that warrants an apology. In contrast, emotionally abusive partners will always find a way to describe arguments or disagreements in a way that makes it sound as though you are entirely to blame. In the end, this can make you doubt your very sanity as you repeatedly wonder if you might be the one who has the skewed perspective.
10) You feel like your partner has more than one personality:
Finally, it is important to note that emotionally abusive partners are not always horrible to be around. Indeed, in many cases one of the reasons why people who are being abused choose to stay in the relationship is that things are not unbearable all the time. However, your partner may have unpredictable mood swings that make your daily life tense and unnerving. For example, smiles may give way to a sullen mood that has no obvious origin, and a relaxing lunch might quickly transform into your being on the receiving end of a deluge of vicious complaints.
If some or most of these signs of emotional abuse paint a picture that sounds painfully familiar, you are in an unhealthy relationship and are in need of help. In some cases, it turns out that abusive partners do not know just how damaging their words and actions can be, and if you intervene in a decisive way then you may find that your partner is shocked by the truth of the situation. In those circumstances, relationship counseling may help to heal your relationship and help your partner change and grow into a more mature and caring person. However, the sad fact of the matter is that many emotional abusers will never be able to admit that their behavior is both cruel and unfair. If your partner refuses to discuss your concerns about emotional abuse, it is vital that you end the cycle of abuse by leaving the relationship behind. If you are struggling with this final decision, seeing a counselor on your own may help you to find the courage that you need.
If you need assistance with marriage or relationship issues, the counselors at Pathways Counseling Services in Scottsdale are here to work with you and your partner. Our therapists are trained to help couples to be healthier and happier. We encourage you to schedule an appointment online, contact us, or call our office at 480-680-0315. We offer a free 15-minute phone consultation.