You’ve just been told you’re fat.
Not in so many words. But when you put on a new dress for your partner’s work dinner he looks you up and down and says: “that dress would be better on a slim woman.”
Deflated, you hurry back to the bedroom and change into a sexy number you know he likes. He says nothing.
At the dinner he flirts outrageously with a new colleague. When you later tell him you were hurt by his behaviour, he laughs. “You’ve lost your sense of humour,” he says. “You need to stop being so sensitive.”
You’re upset — and you’re getting increasingly resentful. But you can’t help wondering: does he have a point? Maybe the problem lies with you?
Emotional Abuse or Just-Not-Great?
Emotional abuse can be hard to recognise because it sneaks up on you. It gnaws at the edges of your psyche, then slowly eats its way into your mental health, confidence, even your identity.
Even those who are aware of the signs may play them down because, in the eyes of society, emotional abuse is “not as bad” as physical violence.
Hold on, though.
Just because emotional abuse won’t put you in hospital or threaten your safety/life doesn’t mean it’s not destructive. Linked with anxiety, depression, trauma, addictive behaviours and physical health problems, emotional abuse can also tear holes in your ability to parent, work and form healthy relationships.
It can also escalate to physical violence — another compelling reason for not sweeping it under the carpet.
So, if you’re unsure, do some homework. Here’s a place to start.
12 Signs You’re In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship
1. You tiptoe around your partner.
You’re never sure of his/her moods — and they can switch so suddenly from warm and fun to cold and distant. When they’re in a good mood you can relax — but never entirely, as you never know when the next storm might blow in. And the storm is scary — or exhausting.
2. You say “I’m sorry” excessively.
Sometimes you’re not sure what you did wrong but you apologise anyway — it’s easier to keep the peace. Take extra note if you do this more than you used to.
3. You’re reluctant to call out your partner.
Even when what you have to say is valid, you tend to clam up. Your partner is a master Gaslighter: he/she will cleverly twist the circumstances to put the blame on you — so then you doubt yourself. Was I wrong for raising this?
4. You’re frequently told you “over-react”.
When you’re not. Or you could be. It’s happened so often you struggle to tell the difference.
5. Your partner brushes off their own poor behaviour.
For example: It was just a bit of fun. Time got away on me. You know what I’m like when I’m with my work colleagues. You’re making too much of this. Haha! No big deal.
6. Your partner uses put-downs or ignores you.
You try to ignore the obvious degrading comments but even the subtle slights serve to undermine your confidence. Your partner doesn’t ignore you every time —sometimes they’re lovely — but that’s the point. You. Don’t. Know. When. It’s Coming.
7. You’ve lost confidence generally.
You often second-guess your own thoughts and actions. You don’t feel as confident in other areas of your life as you used to.
8. You find yourself excusing your partner’s poor behaviour.
You wonder if they are depressed or have a personality disorder or are the product of a difficult family background. These things may be true but that doesn’t give them a leave pass to treat you poorly — especially when it keeps happening over a long time. You still have to consider what it’s like for YOU to be in a relationship with them.
9. Your partner often changes plans on you (and others).
These changes come suddenly and will be spun to look like it’s fun/exciting for you — but in reality it’s anxiety-provoking. It’s also a means of controlling you, of keeping you standing on shifting sand.
10. Your partner is secretive.
Your partner is very protective of their phone. They’ll disappear without telling you where they’re going. And when they go out/away you’re never entirely sure of what they’re doing (and who with).
On the other hand, they want to know exactly what you’re up to, who with and what time you’ll be home.
11. You’re not sure what’s normal in a relationship.
You’re not happy and relaxed in your relationship; you have a feeling the erratic way your partner treats you isn’t right but you don’t know what goes on for other couples. You can’t exactly ask around. Maybe this is normal?
12. You keep telling yourself you love them.
And you probably do. But loving someone doesn’t mean it’s okay for them to treat you badly. And loving someone doesn’t mean you have to stay with them at all costs.
So Is It Okay?
Difficulties occur in all relationships, mostly without lasting damage. But if there are clusters of traits — if you find yourself nodding to a number of these signs— then it’s likely you’re in an unhealthy, possibly abusive, relationship.
If it’s been going on for a while, or if you are inexperienced in relationships, you may have started to accommodate your partner’s behaviours. That can make it hard to tell what’s within the normal and acceptable range of relationship behaviour.
If you’re concerned, write down some examples and get an outside view. And check in on your own mental health. Your relationship should never have the power to rob you of that.
Written by Karen Nimmo