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

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Viewers may initially tune in to the world of Vanderpump Rules for a glimpse inside the glamorous lives of Lisa Vanderpump and her restaurant employees, but they stay for the relatable conversations around relationships, heartbreak, and communication. And in Season 8 Episode 9, as Raquel Leviss fielded angry texts from her boyfriend, James Kennedy, while out drinking with friends, fans may have recognized the potential signs of a verbally abusive relationship.

When Leviss woke up the next morning, she read through some of his messages, which included hurtful comments such as, "I hate you" and, "I'm breaking up with you," all because she didn't answer her phone. Leviss went on to blame herself for not being a more attentive and responsive partner. But experts say Kennedy's actions and Leviss' subsequent response is a red flag, as it encourages victim-blaming, which faults the person on the receiving end of abuse.

Unlike other forms of abuse, verbal abuse can be easy to ignore or explain away, but that doesn't make it any less toxic. "The ... control isn't physical, but it still cuts deep and can leave wounds that take a very long time to heal," Dr. Jo Eckler, a licensed clinical psychologist, tells Bustle.

That's why it's often best to leave a verbally abusive relationship, especially if it seems to be escalating. This may be the case if your partner gets defensive whenever you share your feelings, Eckler says, or if you find yourself having to comfort them for having hurt you.

If you make the decision to move on from a difficult situation, consider reaching out to friends, family, or a therapist for support, or if you ever fear for your safety.

Here are a few signs you may be in a verbally abusive relationship without realizing it.


You Think Twice Before You Speak


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 what you say.

"People who are in emotionally abusive relationships often learn to edit their conversations in order to avoid a heated argument that may devolve 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.


You Feel Super Guilty After Arguments

It's common to feel a bit low after an argument. But you shouldn't feel immensely guilty, or like you did something wrong, simply for speaking your mind. And yet this is what happens when a partner is constantly upset, or blaming you for doing things "wrong."

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."


They Blame You For Their Bad Moods

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

So if your partner ever blames you for their bad behavior, take note, Rachel Ann Dine, LPC, therapist and 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," she says.


They Call You Names

Many people have slipped up and accidentally said something rude or slightly mean when they're upset. But it certainly 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," Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, relationship counselor and 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.


They Belittle Your Intelligence

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')."


They Make Fun Of You

While there is such a thing as mutual, light-hearted teasing in relationships, it should never be done in a way that leaves you feeling hurt or ashamed.

"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.


They Only Pretend To Be Concerned


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 insecure, so they can be in control in the relationship.


It Feels Like They're Messing With Your Head

Another sign that can be tricky to detect is gaslighting, which is a sneaky — 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," Sharea Farmer, LCSW, therapist and 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."


They Devalue Your Experience

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, perspective, 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.


They Claim You're Lucky To Be With Them

Claiming that you're "lucky to have them," or implying that you wouldn't be able to find another partner or make it on your own if they left you, is incredibly abusive.

"The underlying message is that the partner is truly unlovable and if the abuser left them they would be alone forever," Elizabeth Cush, MA, LCPC, a therapist, tells Bustle. It's also meant to scare you into staying, since you may start to believe you "need" them, and thus won't feel confident enough to leave.


They Always Think You're Cheating

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.

They may call incessantly whenever you're out, send angry texts, or leave voicemails demanding to know where you are. The thing is, they'll do so even when they know where you are, Cush says, and why you can't answer the phone. They get mad at you anyway, and it's entirely unfair.


You've Been Apologizing More Than Usual

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 in an effort to calm their partner down.

"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."

This is a sign that their abuse is shattering your self-esteem, and that you feel uncomfortable around them.


Your Self-Esteem Is At An All Time Low

Speaking of self-esteem, take note if you've been lacking confidence lately, seemingly for no reason.

"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 you recognize any of the above signs, you may be in a verbally abusive relationship. While your gut instinct may be to brush off mean text messages or blame yourself, know that you can always reach out to friends, family, or mental health professionals for help. Just like Leviss, you deserve to be in a healthy and happy relationship. And if you ever feel unsafe in your partnership, it's OK to walk away.

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


Dr. Jo Eckler, licensed clinical psychologist

Dr. Helen Odessky, licensed clinical psychologist and author of Stop Anxiety From Stopping You

Rachel Ann Dine, LPC, therapist and owner of Humanitas Counseling and Consulting

Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, relationship counselor and director of the Baltimore Therapy Center

Mike Domitrz, founder of The DATE SAFE Project

Sharea Farmer, LCSW, therapist and owner of RS Counseling & Wellness Center

Elizabeth Cush, MA, LCPC, therapist

Dr. Josh Klapow, clinical psychologist

Jonathan Bennett, certified counselor and dating expert at Double Trust Dating

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