11 Common Patterns of Verbal Abuse

4. Criticism

It’s OK to provide constructive criticism when requested on occasion; being honest with your partner is healthy. However, constant criticism and belittling of a significant other are NOT healthy, and over time can lead to a significant loss of self-esteem.

Example: “Why are you so disorganized? I can always count on you to ruin our nights out!”

5. Demeaning Comments

If a partner puts you down using demeaning comments that refer to your race/ethnic background, gender, religion, background in general, it is unhealthy. This doesn’t even need to be consistent, if it happens once, it is no doubt going to happen again, and should not be normalized. A partner who loves and respects you will not use something that is an inherent part of you to put you down.

Examples: “I’m not surprised, you are Asian, you all do that” or “You women, always crying stupid tears for nothing.”

6. Threats

While this may seem like an easy one to recognize, it isn’t always the case. Threats can be dressed up in a way that makes them appear as if they “aren’t so bad,” or in a way that makes you question if you really heard right. But a threat is a threat and a loving partner does not resort to them to get their way.

Examples:”I will hurt myself if you leave me tonight” or “If you don’t do that you might find that your cat spends the night outdoors!”

7. Blame

Blame is one of the most common forms of verbal abuse and involves constantly putting the blame for one’s actions onto their partner instead of taking responsibility for them. This can include blaming a partner for something they had nothing to do with, to blaming the partner for the abuser’s emotions.

Examples: “You are the reason why we are never on time for anything!” or “Look what you made me do now!”

8. Accusations

Often stemming from severe jealousy, repeated accusations are a form of verbal abuse. Being constantly accused of something often leads a partner to start questioning themselves on whether they are doing something wrong/dressing inappropriately/talking too much, etc.

Examples: “I bet you are cheating on me!” or “I saw you had fun flirting with your boss again, while I was stuck chatting to your boring coworkers.”

9. Withholding

Sometimes a partner may walk away from an argument, preferring to let the dust settle to engage in a more constructive conversation without flaring emotions. While this is definitely a sign of a healthy relationship, the silent treatment, often called withholding, is not. Withholding may include your partner refusing to answer your calls when they don’t get what they want or downright ignoring you over nothing.

Example: You are discussing restaurant options and don’t want to go with your partner’s preference. They leave the room and refuse to talk to you until you apologize for being “mean.”

10. Gaslighting

Gaslighting includes discounting a partner’s emotions and making them wonder if their feelings are meaningless and/or wrong. This is a very common form of emotional abuse, and often goes undetected, as it can be discreet and severely manipulative. Gaslighting can make one feel isolated and unable to express their feelings. People being gaslighted often find themselves apologizing for behavior that they never committed.

Examples: “Why are you always so sensitive to everything?” 

11. Circular Arguments

If your partner constantly disagrees with you, and starts an argument whenever they see an opportunity, or if conversations and arguments seem to go round in circles, leaving you tired and drained, then these are all signs of an unhealthy relationship. People on the receiving end of these types of disagreements tend to feel like they’re walking on eggshells in order to avoid going back to the same argument again and again. We do not need to always agree on everything in a relationship, but there should be a mutual acceptance of this, rather than an atmosphere of one-upping the other or engaging in arguments you can never win.

If you feel like you are constantly on edge and walking on eggshells around your partner, or if some of these patterns feel familiar to you, you may be in an unhealthy relationship. Also, if your trusted friends and/or family are telling you that something is wrong, hear them out. They may be seeing, or hearing, something that you cannot. Remember, by setting boundaries and being honest about how something makes you feel, you can learn to empower yourself in a relationship.

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