There's no denying relationships can be tough. They're difficult on the best of days, but can be even more strained if you're being emotionally abusive without realizing it. It's important to say "without realizing it" because not everyone wakes up with the goal of being horrible to their partner. And yet, it's possible you've picked up all sorts of habits that are now making your lives more difficult.
If things have been a bit rocky between you and your partner, go ahead and own this possibility and look for signs of abuse. "It is important to know whether you are being emotionally abusive if you'd like to have a healthy, positive relationship," Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW, a NYC-based therapist, tells Bustle. Catching it early on can save your relationship before things get truly bad, and before you hurt your partner even more.
If things have taken an ugly turn, you'll want to talk with your partner. After all, "communication, trust, and commitment are keys to a successful relationship," Hershenson says. But you might also want to consider seeing a therapist to address any underlying issues that may be contributing to the problem. Read on for some signs it may be time to have a chat.
1. Your Partner Has Turned Into A "People Pleaser"
If you often accuse your partner of being a people pleaser, it may be time to think about why they've been acting that way, and if there are any dynamics in your relationship that may be contributing to it.
"Some people are 'people pleasers' and these tend to be the partners of an emotionally abusive person," Lynn R. Zakeri, LCSW, a clinical therapist, tells Bustle. Since abused people have lowered self-esteem, their desire to please may be an attempt to feel more secure.
Of course, there's a chance your partner is a people please for other reasons, or is simply trying to be kind. But if they acquiesce to your every request, take note.
2. You're Often Accused Of Being "Selfish" In Bed
It's OK if things aren't always 50/50 in the bedroom. You may have some moments that are all about you, while others are all about your partner. As long as you both try to make each other happy, it'll all even out, and everyone will be content.
But you should both be trying to make it that way. As Hershenson says, not meeting your partner's needs sexually — either by guilting them into physical intimacy or ignoring their needs — is emotionally abusive. It's not something caring, supportive partners do, and may be worth thinking about.
3. You're All About The "Silent Treatment"
The silent treatment may not feel bad, because you aren't screaming at each other or saying hurtful things. But it can be just as damaging as a big loud fight.
"The silent treatment functions to keep the receiver in suspense of what will happen, and unsure of 'what they did wrong' and 'how bad it is,'" Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills-based family and relationship psychotherapist, tells Bustle. "It is a way of controlling the other person as a precursor to abuse."
And when you think about it, it makes so much sense. While it's always OK to step away and take a breather, then return to the conversation, shutting down puts you in control, and leaves your partner hanging. If done intentionally, it can really mess with their head.
4. You Have Trouble Accepting Your Role In Arguments
It can be tough to apologize and/or own your side of a big argument. But in secure, stable relationships, both partners will find a way to smooth things over, apologize where necessary, and look for ways to be better going forward.
If this is something you positively refuse to do, and you aren't interesting in owning your role in the argument, Walfish says it may be a sign you're an abusive partner. This might be a bad habit you picked up from past relationships, and you might not even realize you're doing it.
But the moment you do, make an effort to change. A therapist can help you learn new ways to respond, if you think that would be helpful. And once you do, you'll notice that your relationship feels much healthier.
5. You're More Than A Little Bit Blunt
While there's nothing wrong with speaking your mind, it may not be a good sign if you've made a habit of being blunt, or "telling your partner like it is." So the next time your partner says you're being mean, listen to them.
"Often people who pride themselves on being 'blunt' are actually being emotionally abusive," psychologist Dr. Nikki Martinez, tells Bustle. Being honest is one thing, but saying whatever the heck you want without worrying about consequences? Definitely not cool.
6. You Minimize Ongoing Issues
If things feel unhealthy in your relationship, be wary of any desire on your part to downplay what's going on. "Because it can be painful to see oneself clearly, there may be temptations to make excuses or minimize things," clinical psychologist Leslie Carr, tells Bustle.
Acting like everything is fine when it's not — especially if you're the one making things difficult — can be downright cold. And definitely a little abusive. So check in with yourself.
If you feel like you brush things off, or if you partner seems frustrated, those could all be clues that you aren't being fair, and may want to make a few adjustments in terms of how you interact with your SO.
7. You Really Go For It When Arguing
You definitely know things about your partner that, if said out loud, could really hurt them in a way that leaves you reeling, which is why you'll want to pay attention to any tendency to blurt them out, or bring them up as a way to win a fight.
Healthy couples avoid these no-go topics when arguing, as they know their partner trusted them with information, and it should never be used as ammunition. If you're falling into this trap, you may catch yourself saying things that are deliberately hurtful and/or condescending. And that's a sign something needs to change.
8. You've Tried To "Gaslight" Your Partner
When gaslighting someone, you might say and do things to make them feel like what they're experiencing isn't real. This is a mind trick that allows you to control someone, Carr says. If your partner asks where you were, you might lie and twist the truth, then get mad at them for calling you out on it. Or you might deliberately confuse them, as a way to be the one in control.
While we've all played games and tried to win arguments, truly messing with someone's sense of reality in this way is pretty darn abusive.
9. You Cut Them Down In Order To Feel Better
If things have become unhealthy in your relationship, Carr says you might "try to make someone feel or look bad in an effort to make yourself feel or look better by comparison." This is a sign of your own issues with self-esteem, and should obviously never be taken out on your partner.
It can take a lot of maturity to realize that you're actually upset about something else, and not at your partner. But with time, and by recognizing this pattern, it's definitely possible.
10. You Don't Build Up Their Self-Esteem
While it's not necessarily your job to build your partner's self-esteem, it certainly isn't OK to tear it down, either. As part of a healthy couple, Martinez says you should both be contributing to each other's well-being. This might mean supporting each other as you make moves in a career or pick up new projects, affirming your relationship by being loving and spending lots of time together, and simply being kind to your partner, listening to them, and acting in a loving way.
11. You've Been Called "Controlling" More Than Once
The one thing all of these emotionally abusive habits have in common, Martinez says, is a desire for control. The gaslighting, the minimizing, the rude remarks — it's all a subtle attempt to knock your partner down so you can feel better about yourself, and be the powerful one in the relationship. If any of it sounds familiar, take a good hard look at these patterns, and where they might be coming from.
A tendency towards emotional abuse may be a sign of an underlying issue within yourself, and it'll be amazing of you to not only see that, but to own it and work on it. It doesn't mean you're a bad person, or that you can't change, so don't fret.
Instead, talk with your partner, speak with a therapist, and work on your own self-esteem, and forgive yourself for whatever you said or did in the past. All of these things will lead to healthier interactions in the future, and a better connection with your partner.