When you're in the middle of an argument, everything your partner says can
seem like verbal abuse. But even though their words might sting, and you may not be open to what they're saying, that doesn't necessary mean it's toxic or abusive. And being able to tell the difference is key.
"It's important to understand the two because if a partner is not being abusive, there is room for the relationship to grow and change," licensed marriage and family therapist Virginia Williamson, of
Collaborative Counseling Group, tells Bustle. "Conflict is a component of all relationships; we are not always going to agree. If you believe your partner is being abusive simply because they are asserting themselves, you will miss valuable opportunities to strengthen the relationship."
If they are being verbally abusive, however — and you really need to
trust your gut here, since every relationship is different — then you don't want to stay with this person. "Recognizing it is crucial to your well-being," Williamson says. "And, if a partner isn't willing to acknowledge it and get help to address it, you should put yourself first and let that relationship go."
Here are a few examples of comments during arguments
and situations that often count as verbal abuse , compared to ones that may be annoying be can be worked on, and shouldn't be cause for alarm, according to experts.
Verbal Abuse: "You're Making Me Act This Way"
One way to tell the difference between a rude comment and
one that's toxic and abusive, is if your partner says it in a way that's intended to hurt or manipulate you.
Let's say you're arguing, and they begin to point fingers and make it seem like they had no role in the conflict. "If your partner treats you poorly and insists that [everything] is your fault, this is a form of verbal abuse," Williamson says. "Everyone is responsible for their own behavior."
While you may both be upset, it's important to keep a clear head and remain aware of what you're saying. And how you're
both contributing to the issue at hand.
Verbal Abuse: "You're Remembering It All Wrong"
If your partner ever claims that you're remembering something incorrectly, that a particular argument never happened, or that you are out of line for thinking so, it may also be
a form of gaslighting. And that's all sorts of toxic.
"Gaslighting can be delivered as verbal abuse,"
Dr. Lori Whatley, licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "It is a form of psychological manipulation. It makes the targeted person question their sanity, perception, or memory." And is used as a way of confusing you, so your partner can be in control.
Verbal Abuse: "You're Absolutely Crazy"
While it's fine for them to be upset, it's never OK for
your partner to call you crazy. "This is a direct attack on someone's character and mental health," Williamson says. "It also invalidates any thoughts or feelings that are trying to be communicated."
This comment is rude, but it also shuts down the possibility of having a healthy discussion. As Williamson says, "It essentially nullifies one person's side of the story and implies that their reality is untrue." This is a form of gaslighting, and it is a huge red flag for emotional abuse.
Verbal Abuse: "You're An Idiot"
Whether they're calling you an insulting name, or overwhelming you with an onslaught of expletives, it all
counts as verbal abuse. "There is no justifiable reason for name calling in any relationship," Williamson says. It's always a sign of an underlying issue, such as a lack of respect.
If that's the case, it may be time to make moves to get out of the relationship, possibly by
seeking the help of family, friends, or a therapist.
Verbal Abuse: "See? You''ll Never Change"
Throwing things you've said back in your face, as a way to making you feel bad or insecure, is manipulative, and thus considered verbally abusive.
But it's also a
huge breach of trust. "When you expose your vulnerabilities to your partner, you are trusting them with a sensitive and perhaps wounded part of yourself, and no matter how angry a partner may be with you, it is abusive to use those things to make you feel ashamed or to justify their bad behavior," Williamson says.
Verbal Abuse: "We're Breaking Up"
If your partner wants to discuss the possibility of breaking up, that's fine. But if they're throwing it around as an empty threat every time they get upset, that's crossing the line.
"This statement can be verbally abusive if it is used as a manipulation," Williamson says. "If you are bringing an issue to your partner and they know you will back down if they
threaten the relationship, or they use this statement to get you to to do something you are not comfortable with, it's worth examining whether your partner has genuine respect and care for you." Fabiana Ponzi/Shutterstock
The tone your partner uses can turn a reasonable conversation into one that's
toxic and verbally abusive. So if they're screaming at you or coming off as intimidating in any way, take note.
"Yelling or screaming is verbal abuse as no one should be yelled at," Dr. Whatley says. "It's
frightening and traumatic for many people."
It can also be a
way to manipulate you. "Sometimes it is delivered as an order or demand in hopes to control the victim," Dr. Whatley says. Whatever the case, it's not considered healthy or normal for anyone to scream or yell.
Not Verbal Abuse: "I'm Not Happy Right Now"
Switching gear to comments that
aren't considered verbal abuse, keep in mind that your partner may have some things to say that aren't very positive — but that doesn't mean it's wrong or bad.
For example, "it's OK for a partner to express their unhappiness with the relationship even if it's difficult to hear, and it's healthier to hear them out before trying to talk them out of their feelings or becoming defensive," Williamson says.
If your partner gathers the nerve to say this out loud, try to remain calm and talk it out. While it might be tough, this will be a great time to discuss the health of your relationship, and if there's anything you can do to
make each other happier.
Not Verbal Abuse: "I Don't Understand You"
This one can sting, because if your partner doesn't understand you, then who does? And yet it's not actually
considered to be verbal abuse.
"Unlike telling you that you're crazy, a partner may not understand where you're coming from and may be frustrated about the disconnect," Williamson says. "It's how you choose to address having your wires crossed that determines whether it's a healthy or unhealthy interaction."
Not Verbal Abuse: "I Need Some Time Alone"
Whether your partner needs an hour to themselves, a whole evening, or wants to discuss taking a short break, listen to what they need without putting your guard up.
"While it's often painful or worrisome when a
partner wants space, especially when the relationship is rocky, it's reasonable to need time to think about what's going on and how to move forward or not," Williamson says. "They may need some separation from you to sort things out."
Try to discuss
what the expectations will be for your break, and make sure they know how you feel about it. Giving yourselves a little breathing room may be just what your relationship needs.
Not Verbal Abuse: "I Can Never Win With You"
This is something many people say when they're having an argument with their partner, and it can be annoying to hear. But it's usually nothing to worry about.
"Your partner may feel that your disagreements go in circles and it's difficult to come to resolution," Williamson says. "This is an expression of frustration and may indicate a desire to end the fighting. It is typically not that your partner is invalidating your feelings."
It may simply mean you both need to work on you communication skills, possibly by listening to each other and learning to
argue in a healthier way.
Not Verbal Abuse: "I'm Not Sure I Can Stay"
While it may not fun to talk about, if your partner approaches this topic from
their perspective, it's not abusive. "The 'I' statement can change this from a manipulation about breaking up to your partner taking ownership that the challenges of your relationship may be too much for them," Williamson says. And it opens the door to further discussion, which is always a good thing.
It's fine if your relationship goes through ups and downs. And it's even OK to have arguments with your partner, as long as you're both doing so in a fair way — while also working to fix any communication problems that seem unhealthy.
But if it feels like your partner is being verbally abusive — and they aren't willing to change — it may be time to reconsider the relationship, or seek help from loved ones or a therapist.
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.