While you might think it'd be easy to spot the
signs it's time to break up with someone, it isn't always crystal clear. And this is especially true in emotionally abusive situations.
If your partner is trying to
control or manipulate you, it can create an atmosphere where even the biggest deal-breakers in a relationship suddenly seem normal. But if you keep an eye out for red flags — including the types of things toxic partners say that often point to underlying character flaws — you can start deciding if the relationship is truly working for you.
The moment one of their comments stands out as "strange," approach your partner and mention that "you've noticed behaviors that you're concerned with,"
Isolde Sundet, M.A., LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor, tells Bustle. See if it's possible to have a discussion in order to work on improving your relationship.
Remember, though, that
emotionally abusive relationships are complex, Sundet says, and often difficult to leave. A toxic partner certainly isn't going to agree they're being toxic, and they aren't going to be easy to break up with, either. But with outside help — from friends, family, a therapist, or hotline — it will be possible to do so.
If your partner says any of the things listed below, experts say it may be
time to move on. 1 They Get Weird About A Lie
If you catch your partner lying, or suspect that they might be, "notice their reaction when confronted," Sundet says. "If your partner consistently tells you [they don't] know why they are lying, there could be a significant problem."
Generally, she says, people know why they're lying, and only pretend they don't as a way of covering something up. And the same is true if they lash out at you.
2 They're Rude To Strangers
Does your partner snap at servers in restaurants? What about Uber drivers or people on tech lines?
Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW, an NYC-based therapist, tells Bustle, you should "pay close to attention to how your partner treats those who serve them," as well as strangers on the street.
While they may be super nice to
you, because they're dating you, how they talk to others is a sign of their true character. 3 They're Mean To Family Members
Keep an eye on how they treat their family and friends, too, Hershenson says. Because if they can't be kind to their grandma? Well, that really says a lot.
4 They Tell You How To Think
"A healthy relationship is built on mutual respect, compromise, and open communication,"
Jonathan Bennett, a relationship expert at Double Trust Dating, tells Bustle. Not "being right" or attempting to change how someone thinks.
In fact, telling a partner how to think is a common technique
manipulative people use, and it's one that can quickly escalate from seemingly innocent comments to full-on control. 5 They Say You Can't Go Somewhere
A partner should never try to set rules for you, Bennett says, including saying where you can or cannot go, or who you can see. Since abusive people often try to isolate their partner from friends and family so that they have total control, this a huge red flag.
But even less intense "rules" can be a sign of a problem — like maybe they say you can't go to bars alone because it makes them jealous. It's something you'll want to discuss ASAP, to see if you can work through it and create a more balanced relationship.
6 They Insist You Act A Certain Way
A good partner will never make you feel bad for for being you. They won't tell you to stop talking, they won't claim you're being "embarrassing," or say that you aren't intelligent. So keep an eye out for these types of comments.
On the one hand, if you're constantly rubbing each other the wrong way, it might just be a
sign you aren't compatible. But on the other, it could also hint at underlying toxicity. 7 They Comment On Your Appearance
If your partner can't stop commenting on your clothes, your body shape — or worse, if they start telling you what to wear — it's yet another red flag.
This is a classic manipulation tactic that's often used
during emotional abuse, Whitney Hawkins, M.S.Ed, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist, tells Bustle, but one that's easy to overlook.
The idea is to ruin your self-esteem so that they're in control. And that's obviously not OK.
8 They Direct Their Anger At You
Everyone is allowed to have intense emotions — to cry, yell, etc. But your partner should never direct their anger at you, take it out on you, or make you feel afraid when they get upset.
"Individuals who feel that they are being routinely criticized, yelled at, or verbally abused by their partner should consider their options and possibly formulate a [
safe exit plan out of the relationship]," Hawkins says. 9 They Call You Names
The same is true if they call you names, even if they apologize immediately afterward, or claim they only said something terrible "in the heat of the moment."
According to Hawkins, a good partner will never call you a derogatory name or insult your character or intelligence, no matter how upset they get.
While it's OK to
argue in a healthy way and to disagree, it's not OK for arguments to routinely turn toxic. 10 They Claim "Everything Is Your Fault"
Your partner also shouldn't act like you're causing all the issues in your relationship because 1) problems are never just one person's fault and 2) that's a toxic and unfair mentality to have.
"If their anger is always because you 'did something wrong' or they say you wouldn't fight so much 'if only you didn't act this way,' it is time to move on from the relationship," Hershenson says.
11 They Threaten You
Any type of comment that even
hints at abuse or assault shouldn't be ignored.
In fact, "if your partner ever threatens to [hurt] you,"
Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, a relationship counselor and director of the Baltimore Therapy Center, tells Bustle, you should break up and leave, as soon as possible.
They might try to pass it off as a joke, or promise to never do it again in order to get you to stay. But since this is about safety, Bilek says, don't let your decision be swayed.
12 They "Have A Lot Going On Right Now"
Switching gears, let's talk about other comments that might mean you should break up, including the classic "I have a lot going on right now" line.
don't want to commit, they often say they're too busy for a relationship, and that's fine. If your partner isn't ready to take things to the next level, they certainly don't have to. This isn't about toxicity as much as it's about mismatched goals.
But if they're giving you relationship-y vibes one minute and then pushing you away the next, you have every right to decide enough is enough.
13 They Won't Make Plans For The Future
In the same vein, you may want to break up if your partner refuses to talk about the future, won't set a date to
meet your family, won't plan vacations, etc.
Not only do you deserve to be with someone who envisions a future, Hawkins says "arguments about commitment can signal that there are bigger problems in the relationship and desires are not aligning."
14 They Don't Want Kids
If either of you
doesn't want to have kids, that's 100% OK. But it is something you should talk about the moment the relationship gets serious, in order to prevent resentment from forming at some point down the road.
"Often individuals think they will
change their partner's mind," Hawkins says. And yet, if there's one thing you really need to agree on, it's procreating.
Talk about your goals for the future and take each other's answers seriously. If you don't want the same things, end the relationship.
15 They Say You're "Bad With Money"
According to social worker
Jane Seskin, LCSW, it's important not to let a partner make you feel like you're incapable of handling your own finances. If they offer to be the one in charge of your bank account, it could be a sign of impending economic abuse and/or a way to limit your mobility so you can't leave the relationship. 16 They Threaten To Leave
If your partner gets angry and threatens to break up during an argument, you may be able to work past it. But if they're constantly throwing this threat in your face whenever things get tough, take note.
therapist Darlene M. Corbett tells Bustle, comments like this one are a manipulation tactic meant to slowly erode your sense of security and self-esteem.
If you're constantly afraid a partner is going to leave, you
will eventually give in and stop arguing with them, sharing your opinion, etc. And for an emotionally abusive person, that's exactly what they want. 17 They Say You "Made" Them Do Something
According to Sundet, another common habit among abusive partners is blaming, and then justifying in the same breath. "This could look like, 'You made me upset so I texted X person,'" she says.
So don't ignore this kind of pattern. "The truth is you are not single-handedly responsible for the emotional reactions of anyone else," she says, "including your partner."
18 They Say They're "Worried About You"
Speaking of lies, let's chat about
gaslighting and what it is.
Gaslighting is a "manipulative technique that can completely undermine someone's sense of value or worth, and perhaps even worse, can cause them to believe their own thinking is faulty,"
Dr. Margaret Rutherford, a clinical psychologist, tells Bustle.
If you ask your partner about an argument, for instance, they might say you aren't remembering it correctly, or they might even pretend to be "worried" about how you aren't remembering it correctly. But it's all a mind game meant to keep you unsure of yourself so they get to be in control.
19 They Claim You Don't Have Any Friends
If your partner is constantly making fun of your friends, claiming you don't have any, or saying yours aren't "good enough for you," take note. It could be their way of making you turn away from others so that you're more reliant on the relationship.
20 They Threaten To Hurt Themselves
And finally, it's a major, major red flag if whenever your partner gets upset, they immediately start threatening to hurt themselves or others as a way to influence an argument.
"It is extremely important to not take these threats lightly," Sundet says. "Identify someone you can trust to confide in and consider seeking professional help."
It'll be tough to break up, and it often takes a long time to process and recover from this type of relationship, but you can definitely do it. If your partner makes these comments, seek some outside support, and move on.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the NDV Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org. Experts: Isolde Sundet, M.A., LMHC, licensed mental health counselor Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW, therapist Jonathan Bennett, relationship and dating expert Whitney Hawkins, M.S.Ed, LMFT, licensed psychotherapist Jane Seskin, LCSW, social worker Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, relationship counselor Darlene M. Corbett, therapist Dr. Margaret Rutherford, clinical psychologist
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This article was originally published on
March 28, 2018