Every couple goes through rough patches. Sometimes, your guy acts like an A-hole; sometimes, it’s you who lets your bitch flag fly. But if nearly every interaction with your partner brings you anxiety, dread, or fear, and you’re not sure why you feel that way because he has never laid a hand on you, you may be a victim of emotional abuse.
According to Psychology Today, emotionally abusive relationships involve “one party systematically controlling the other by undermining his or her confidence, worthiness, growth, trust, or emotional stability, or by provoking fear or shame to manipulate or exploit.”
Emotional abuse may not leave telltale marks the way physical abuse does, but its effects are just as harmful. It works insidiously, ultimately exhausting you from walking on eggshells around your partner all the time, making you feel trapped in conflicts for which there seems to be no end in sight, and eating away at your self-esteem until you no longer feel like the person you were before the cycle of abuse began.
If the signs below sound eerily familiar to you, you might want to reconsider your relationship—completely.
1. He constantly criticizes you.
His criticisms could range from disapproving your outfits to lecturing you on your life choices. His constant put-downs make you feel small and worthless, and make you crave his approval more—approval that’s always hard to come by.
2. He doesn’t show support for the things you care about.
Maybe you received a fantastic job offer or decided to take up a hobby you’re excited about. But when you share the news with your beau, he seems less than thrilled. He wants you to stay right where you are, so there’s little chance you’ll outgrow him or realize you deserve better.
3. He blames you for his problems.
If he weren’t able to finish his tasks for the day, it’s your fault for calling him in the middle of work. If he hasn’t achieved his life goals by now, it’s your fault for steering him off-track. Basically, he can always find a way to trace his disappointments in life back to you.
4. He makes mean jokes and uses scathing sarcasm on you.
Jokes are fun, but not when there’s a sinister edge to them, or if they're made to humiliate you in front of others—which are the kinds of jests an emotionally abusive partner dishes. You could complain about being offended, but he’ll just wave you off by saying you’re “too sensitive,” distorting your perception of events so that you think you’re the one who’s overreacting.
5. He doesn’t like your family and friends.
An emotionally abusive partner will express dislike for people close to you, or get irrationally jealous over other men you encounter, in order to cut you off from them. Once he succeeds in isolating you from everyone else, naturally, he’ll be the only one you can turn to—which is exactly what he wants.
6. He often gives you the silent treatment.
An emotionally abusive partner is prone to giving you the cold shoulder when you do something that displeases him. He does this to keep you in a state of torment until you come crawling to him, filled with guilt and remorse.
7. Heard of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? That’s him.
He’s super sweet when things are going great, but when he’s upset with you, he’s shockingly vicious. If he’s never this way with other people who disappoint him, yet turns on you like an attack dog when it’s you who lets him down, that’s a major red flag.
8. He dismisses your legit relationship concerns.
Stonewalling occurs in a relationship when a partner refuses to communicate, choosing instead to dismiss difficult conversations and avoid addressing conflicts. The effect? You suspect your concerns don’t matter and your feelings mean shit.
9. When you do attempt to end the relationship, he makes you feel sorry for him.
Once you get fed up and attempt to break up with him, he guilt-trips you by lamenting about what an unlovable person he is and how he always gets left behind—or worse, he threatens to hurt himself. He’s preying on your sympathy to manipulate you into staying—and keeping you trapped in this unhealthy cycle.
10. He makes you feel like YOU’RE the one with the problem, not him.
You make excuses for him because, over time, he has succeeded in convincing you that you deserve all the crap he gives you. Sooner or later, you start to believe that it’s you who’s asking for too much in your expectation of love and affection, and he’s just the poor, hapless guy trying to put up with you.