13 Signs You Might Be In A Verbally Abusive Relationship & Not Know It


While you might think it'd be obvious if you were in a verbally abusive relationship, that's not always the case. Unfortunately, abusive partners tend to get really good at covering up their toxicity, or making it seem like it's no big deal. And as a result, it can lead to some pretty confusing feelings and situations.

Verbal abuse can also be easier to ignore or explain away, unlike other forms of abuse. But that doesn't mean it's OK. "A verbally abusive relationship is also sometimes referred to as an emotionally abusive relationship," licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Jo Eckler, tells Bustle. "The [...] control isn't physical, but it still cuts deep and can leave wounds that take a very long time to heal."

That's why it's often healthiest to leave a verbally abusive relationship, especially if it seems to be escalating "If your partner repeatedly becomes very defensive when you share that they hurt your feelings, even blaming you for being hurt or turning it around so that you're ending up comforting them for having hurt you, it's not a good sign and you might consider leaving if you can do so safely," Dr. Eckler says.

It can be difficult. But if you make the decision to move on to a better situation, the best thing it do is reach out to friends, family, or a therapist for support. Here are a few signs you may be in a verbally abusive relationship without realizing it, according to experts.

1. You Think Twice Before You Speak

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While it's always good to take your partner's feelings into consideration, you may be encountering verbal abuse if you're constantly walking on eggshells around them, or if you're always extra careful with how you phrase things.

"People who are in emotionally abusive relationships often learn to edit their conversations in order to avoid a heated argument that may de-evolve into their partner becoming verbally abusive," Dr. Helen Odessky, licensed clinical psychologist and author of Stop Anxiety From Stopping You, tells Bustle.

It's a defense mechanism as a way of dealing with toxicity, and one you definitely shouldn't ignore.

2. You Feel Super Guilty After Arguments

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It's common to feel a bit low after an argument. But you shouldn't feel immensely guilty, or like you did something wrong by speaking your mind.

As Dr. Odessky says, "People who are in verbally abusive relationships often feel guilty after verbal attacks from their partner — even in the absence of any rational reason for the guilt. This is due to the verbal abuse having a shaming effect."

3. They Blame You For Their Bad Moods

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Speaking of shame, abusive partners can be really good at making it seem like you caused an argument, or that you "made" them get upset.

"When your partner starts blaming you for their bad behavior, take note of this," Rachel Ann Dine, LPC, owner of Humanitas Counseling and Consulting, tells Bustle. "As adults we have to take responsibility for our behaviors and if your partner is saying that you caused [them] to do something, this just goes into the verbal abuse cycle that can be present."

4. They Call You Names

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Many people have slipped up, and accidentally said something rude or slightly mean when they're upset. But it definitely shouldn't be an ongoing issue in your relationship.

"It's one thing to call someone an idiot in the heat of an argument. It's another to use hurtful names on a regular basis, especially ones that are very personal," relationship counselor Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, director of the Baltimore Therapy Center, tells Bustle.

Name-calling, or pointing out your insecurities with the intent of hurting your feelings, is not OK. "This is verbal abuse, and if this is happening in your relationship, you need to take note," Bilek says.

5. They Belittle Your Intelligence

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Belittling your intelligence, or claiming that you never know what you're talking about — even when done in a "joking" way — is another sign to watch out for.

"Taking cheap shots at your intelligence so they can feel better about themselves is based on degradation," Mike Domitrz, founder of The DATE SAFE Project, tells Bustle. "You deserve to be in a relationship that makes you feel great about yourself (not 'less than')."

6. They Make Fun Of You

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"If your partner talks badly about you in front of your family, your friends, or their friends while you are present or without you being present, this is a sign of verbal abuse," Dine says.

It shouldn't happen in private, either. But if they're willing to say rude things in public, it takes on a whole new level of disrespect.

7. They Only Pretend To Be Concerned

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This one can be difficult to detect, but you need to trust your gut if it always feels like your partner is masking an insult with fake concern, Dine says. They might pretend to be worried about your health, for example, while pointing out physical flaws in the same breath.

"These covert verbally abusive statements are said to you to plant seeds of doubt about who you are and how you act," Dine says. Again, it's all about making you feel shaky or insecure, so they can be in control.

8. It Feels Like They're Messing With Your Head

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Another sign that can be tricky to detect is gaslighting, which is a sneaky way — and totally toxic way — of messing with your head.

"This is a form of manipulation that leads the abuser to feel they are losing a grip on reality," therapist Sharea Farmer, LCSW, owner of RS Counseling & Wellness Center, tells Bustle."For example, an abuser may claim that you are being 'too sensitive' or that negative behavior was not 'what they intended.'"

They may also deny things you know to be true. "Let’s say that you know your partner is cheating on you but instead they tell you that you are crazy and turn it around on you as being emotionally unstable," Dine says. "This is gaslighting and absolutely a psychological form of verbal abuse."

9. They Devalue Your Experience

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It's fine to have disagreements in a relationship. And it's OK if you don't always see eye-to-eye. But consider your partner's motives if it seems like everything you say is met with an instant negative response.

"This is an act of constantly opposing or devaluing your thoughts, perceptive, or experience," Farmer says. "One example may be they can't find a common ground with you and spend a lot of time, saying things like 'that's not correct' or 'you don't know what you are talking about,' and/or 'that's not how things go.'"

It stifles a conversation and becomes about them being right or putting you down, instead of chatting equally — or even disagreeing in a healthier way.

10. They Claim You're Lucky To Be With Them

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Claiming that you're "lucky to have them," or implying that you wouldn't be able to find another partner if they left you, is actually abusive.

"The underlying message is that the partner is truly unlovable and if the abuser left them they would be alone forever," therapist Elizabeth Cush, MA, LCPC, tells Bustle. It's another manipulation technique, used to prevent you from leaving the toxic situation.

11. They Always Think You're Cheating

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Jealousy is a major component of verbally abusive relationships. "And when the abuser feels jealous the verbal abuse might include false accusations of infidelity or flirtation and threats to break things off," Cush says.

Your partner may also call incessantly whenever you're out. "Most of the time they know where their partner is and that they might not be able to answer, but still get angry if they don’t answer the phone," Cush says.

This is not only unfair, but controlling and abusive.

12. You've Been Apologizing More Than usual

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While it's healthy to know how and when to apologize to your partner, folks in abusive relationships tend to find themselves apologizing 24/7.

"Verbally abusive people create a world in which everything is the other person's fault, and they can be convincing about it," Dr. Eckler says. "Even when something isn't our fault, we can start apologizing just in case."

13. Your Self-Esteem Is At An All Time Low

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If you've been lacking confidence lately, seemingly for no reason, it's definitely a sign something's wrong. "In a healthy relationship, there are ups and downs, but we generally feel at least OK about ourselves," Dr. Eckler says. "In a verbally abusive relationship, our sense of self-worth and competence can whither away, leaving us anxious and insecure about all areas of our lives."

If any of these signs ring a bell, let it serve as a red flag you might be in a verbally abusive relationship. This type of relationship can come on slowly, and be difficult to identify. But trust your gut, and if it doesn't seem safe or healthy, start making moves to get to a healthier and happier place.

Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.