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Verbally Abusive Relationship: 31 Signs, Dos, Don’ts & Ways to Get Out ASAP

If you can’t tell if your partner is joking around or belittling you, you need to know the signs of a verbally abusive relationship to protect yourself.

verbally abusive relationship

Nobody deserves to be in a verbally abusive relationship. Not only do they take a toll on you mentally, but they put you in a dangerous mindset that can derail other things in your life.

The worst part about these types of relationships is that most people have no idea they’re in them.

You may be thinking that you’d probably know if you were being verbally abused, but sometimes the manipulation is so strong that you just don’t see it. The abuse can seem subtle, but the effects will be harmful and lasting.

[Read: Am I in an abusive relationship? 66 early signs, effects & ways to get out]

What is verbal abuse?

Even though verbal abuse doesn’t get physical, it doesn’t mean that it’s “not that bad.” Verbal abuse is just as bad as physical and psychological abuse.

But what is it? Verbal abuse is a form of emotional abuse where an abuser will use words to put you down, demean you, play with your emotions, damage your self-esteem, make you question your sanity, and make you fearful or obedient to them. They manipulate you and verbally assault you to damage your psyche.

Verbal abuse also isn’t accidental. It’s not like you could get into a heated argument with your partner that leads to them accidentally calling you a harsh name. Although that is verbal abuse, it’s not as spur-of-the-moment or unintentional as that. Verbal abuse takes place over a long time.

It usually starts off small and unnoticeable. Your partner might start with a comment here or there about your body or your hobbies. It’ll be small so that you brush it off and carry on.

But eventually, an abusive partner will chip away at your self-esteem by slowly increasing the frequency or severity of their verbal assaults, until you’re in too deep and feel like you can’t leave.

The long-term effects of verbal abuse

There are a lot of people who don’t think verbal abuse is even that harmful. They figure that a person can just ignore harmful comments, but that’s simply not true. When someone is verbally abusive, they’re emotionally damaging the other person.

This isn’t a matter of, “Sticks and stones may break your bones but words can never hurt you.” Words hurt people in the most severe way. They harm their psyche. Those words leave lasting scars on a person’s mental health that can sometimes never heal.

But what are some of the more precise long-term effects of verbal abuse? If you recognize yourself in any of these points, you might be in a verbally abusive relationship without even knowing it.

1. You have low self-esteem

Assess how you feel about yourself versus how you felt at the beginning of your relationship.

Are you skittish around them? Do you hold your tongue when you have an opinion? If that’s the case, you’ve been verbally abused for a while. [Read: Signs of low self-esteem and how to increase it]

2. You feel like a different person

Healthy relationships do encourage each partner to grow into a better version of themselves. Plus, whether it’s in a relationship or while we’re single, we all change over time. You won’t stay the same person that you were as a teenager.

However, that personal change should always be good. You should look at yourself in the mirror and be proud of how far you’ve come over the last, say, 5 years. [Read: 48 real secrets to change your life & find the right path when you’re lost]

But if you’re reflecting on yourself and you feel ashamed or you don’t even recognize the person you’re becoming, your significant other might possibly be the cause of that.

Constant verbal abuse is, as we’ve said, damaging. It can lead you to feel insecure, do things you wouldn’t normally do, or change yourself in ways just to make yourself more ‘agreeable’ to your partner.

3. You feel like you’re walking on eggshells

Verbal abuse is calculated to be random. Meaning, your verbally abusive partner purposefully times their verbal attacks or their behavior so that you can never predict when they’re going to be nice or abusive.

Because you never know when it’s going to happen, you might find yourself constantly walking on eggshells around them to prevent provoking their next outburst.

4. Anxiety

Walking on eggshells 24/7 has the nasty side effect of making you feel anxious. Bad. [Read: Signs of anxiety – How to read the signs ASAP & handle them better]

Verbal abuse that is extreme or prolonged over a very long period of time can even cause you to develop an anxiety disorder, such as generalized anxiety or social anxiety.

5. Changes in mood

A once level-headed or stable person, you now find your mood swinging from one extreme to the other. One minute you’re happy, the next you’re feeling sad or fearful. While there are many things that can influence mood swings, one cause might be a verbally abusive relationship.

Maybe your mood is significantly affected whenever your partner enters the room, or maybe you’ve become so accustomed to their swift changes in mood that you eventually start emulating them.

6. Chronic stress

Another side-effect of walking on eggshells around a verbally abusive partner is chronic stress. This can manifest in many different ways, such as insomnia, mood swings, digestive problems, or physical aches and pains in your muscles.

[Read: How to reduce stress – 17 fast hacks to a calmer & happier life]

Signs of a verbally abusive relationship

No one should ever have to live with being verbally abused. But if you don’t know it’s happening to you, how can you end it?

Here are the signs of a verbally abusive relationship to keep an eye out for, not only for yourself but for the important people in your life. Once you know the signs, you can put an end to the abuse for good.

1. Obvious insults

A verbally abusive partner will make clear insults. You won’t have to guess if it’s an insult because it’ll feel like a punch to the gut – from someone you care about.

Anything like, “Why are you so stupid?” is a clear sign of a verbally abusive relationship, and you shouldn’t put up with it. [Read: 33 creative insults to insult someone with sarcasm]

2. Backhanded insults

These are the types of insults that’ll be a little harder to pinpoint. Basically, they’ll be comments that you’ll end up thinking about later in the day and you’ll get upset about them.

Your partner may say something like, “great to see you’re finally taking care of yourself,” after you just returned from the gym. These might seem like compliments, but they’re clearly meant as a negative.

3. Name-calling

No loving partner would ever call their lover a malicious, hateful name that pokes at their deepest insecurities.

Even in the worst argument, name-calling is never ever justified. If your partner uses name-calling in the middle of an argument, or even in day-to-day life, they’re purposefully verbally abusing you.

You deserve to be with someone who would never dream of hurting your feelings.

4. Circular arguments

Arguments should be very linear – you address a problem, discuss the problem and how both partners feel about it, come up with a resolution that makes everyone happy, and leave the problem in the dust. Once an issue has been dealt with, it shouldn’t be brought up in a future argument.

[Read: Relationship arguments – 38 tips & ways to fight fair & grow closer in love]

But that’s not how arguments go with a verbally abusive partner. They will never let an argument end, instead choosing to just let it keep going in circles over and over and over. After all, for an argument to end, both people have to admit their wrongs and apologize.

5. Manipulation

Any form of manipulation is abuse in a relationship. The thing about this is that it’s the hardest to figure out. It’s not easy to spot because you’re being manipulated to not see it.

If your partner is saying anything like, “Wow, you really seem to like those shoes. Wouldn’t you rather wear them less so they don’t get worn out?” it’s manipulation.

When they try to get you to do something for them while trying to make you think it’s a good idea for you, it’s manipulation and it’s wrong. [Read: 27 signs of emotional manipulation to know you’re being manipulated in your relationship]

6. Making fun of your beliefs, hobbies, etc.

There are so many people who do this to their partner and it’s really, really harmful. Your significant other should never put down the things that make you who you are. If they’re “poking fun” at your hobbies and beliefs, it’s verbal abuse.

7. Withholding

You might associate verbal abuse with loud, explosive arguments and vicious name-calling. Although that’s true, there’s another tactic used by verbal abusers that you might not expect.

Withholding, otherwise known as “the silent treatment,” is when someone just simply walks out of an argument without saying anything or working to find a solution. But don’t be fooled, this technique is just as harmful as the intense yelling sessions.

If a partner is withholding, they could go as far as to ignore all your calls, texts, and attempts to talk. They will give you the silent treatment until you just give in and agree with them. [Read: Silent treatment abuse – how it’s used and 40 signs & ways to respond to it]

8. Negative comments about your community

This can be a wide variety of things, specifically race, religious groups, and more. The thing that makes this less obvious is when they add, “But I don’t mean that about you.” However, they do mean it about you and it’ll resonate in your mind in that way.

9. Negative comments about stuff or people you love

This is most commonly seen when your partner is talking about your family or some object that means a lot to you.

If they make any negative comments about stuff that means a lot to you, it’s verbal abuse. [Read: How to deal with negative people in your life]

10. Indirect comments that make you feel stupid or inadequate

If you walk away from a conversation with your significant other and feel stupid and inadequate, then they’re verbally abusing you with what they say. You should never feel this way, and if they make you, it’s abuse.

11. They blame you for everything

An abuser is never going to admit that they’ve done wrong. So, whether it’s about something small like them leaving their keys at home or if it’s something a lot larger like the direction that their life is going in, it will always somehow be your fault.

They could accidentally drop a glass yet even blame you for it, who was at the opposite end of the room.

12. They accuse you of things you haven’t done

Not only that, but they accuse you of doing things you haven’t done all of the time. You can’t go out with your friends, leave the house without them, or even go to work without being accused of cheating on them or lying about what you’re doing.

Over time, with all of these constant accusations, you’ll be pushed to doubt yourself, your behavior, or the way you dress.

You might start thinking that you are unknowingly flirting with other people or acting inappropriately in public, even though you aren’t.

13. Threats

This sounds like it might be one of the most obvious signs of verbal abuse, but sometimes it can be hard to spot. When we say threats, you probably think of outright threats to someone’s safety, like “I’m going to hit you.”

However, verbally abusive partners quite often make threats towards themselves. For instance, they might threaten to hurt themselves if you leave them.

14. You feel nervous when entering a discussion

This is most common after someone has been in a verbally abusive relationship for a long time. They just don’t realize it. If you never want to get into discussions or arguments, it’s abuse.

15. Your side of an argument is never addressed

When you do get into heated discussions and fights, and your side is never addressed, it’s abuse.

Usually, you don’t even get the chance to defend yourself because your partner is shutting down your thoughts with their harmful words. Then you give up. It’s verbal abuse if this is happening.

16. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a highly abusive and manipulative mind game that an abuser will play to make you question your memories, your intelligence, and your sanity.

If you bring up an example of their abusive behavior towards you or you recount a particularly horrible and hurtful thing they said to you, you’ll be met with a wall of denial. All you’ll hear is “I never said that,” “that never happened,” or, “it didn’t happen like that.”

This is, by design, a tactic to make you feel like you’re crazy and that actually you’re the problem.

17. They raise their voice at you

If you ask anyone, they will tell you that every couple has arguments every now and then. However, in a healthy relationship, both partners approach disagreements with a level head, a calm attitude, and the awareness that they’re not fighting their partner but fighting with their partner against the problem.

If your partner raises their voice at you, that’s not healthy. They’re not impassioned or angry or justified. They’re purposefully raising their voice to intimidate you.

18. Your friends or family are concerned

Verbal abuse is insidious, meaning that it usually happens in private. Yet even though your abusive partner is unlikely to verbally abuse you in front of people who could intervene or question their behavior, that doesn’t mean that your friends and family won’t notice what’s going on.

They love you, they care about you, and they know what you were like before you met this person. Now, you’re more anxious, insecure, quiet, and withdrawn, and they can see that more than you think they can.

If your friends or family take you aside and ask if your partner is abusing you or tell you that they don’t like how your partner treats you, they’re not being malicious, judgmental, or jealous. They’re concerned. Maybe it’s worth listening to their concern.

Do’s and don’ts of dealing with verbal abuse

Now that you’ve read some of the signs of a verbally abusive relationship, you might be recognizing your relationship in a few of these points. Next, you want to know what to do. That’s not easy, however, because verbally abusive relationships are incredibly confusing.

So, what should you do now? Here are some do’s and don’ts when dealing with an abusive relationship to help you move forward.

1. Do remain calm

We recognize that this won’t be easy. Verbal abuse is specifically designed to attack your emotions, but whatever you do, you have to remain calm. If you let their comments or behavior affect your emotions and make you explode, you’re letting them win.

Keep your emotions to yourself, and you’ll effectively be stripping the power away from your abusive partner.

2. Don’t retaliate

It can feel so tempting to play your abuser’s game and make them feel the way you do. But you’re better than that. Meeting immature behavior with immature behavior won’t go anywhere. The best thing to do is be the bigger person and respond with maturity.

Also, you’re new to the mental manipulation game, while they’re an experienced pro. If you try to meet them on their playing field, you’ll likely just get played harder.

3. Do set the boundary that they can’t talk to you that way

From now on, you’re not going to let any of their comments fly. If they call you names, you’re going to shut it down. If they threaten to hurt themselves, you’re not going to allow it.

Verbal abuse works best when you act passively or let it. But if you stand your ground and set boundaries, their words won’t hit as hard.

4. Don’t believe they have the right to hurt you

With all of these mind games a verbally abusive partner will play, they might convince you that you’re deserving of the abuse. But no matter how often they blame you, accuse you, or gaslight you, you’re never deserving of verbal abuse.

And your partner is never in the right to abuse you.

5. Do keep communication brief, informative, and firm

If you give an abuser the opportunity, they will abuse you. That’s just how they work. So if you have to communicate with your abusive partner, keep the conversation short and stay firm in your resolve. Once you’ve said what you needed to say, walk away.

[Read: 42 secrets to communicate better in a relationship & ways to fix a lack of it]

6. Don’t believe you deserve verbal abuse

Verbal abuse is a vicious cycle. Your abuser hurls hurtful comments at you, which lowers your self-esteem, which then makes their hurtful comments have a greater impact on you, which lowers your self-esteem further, etc., etc.

If you’ve been in this relationship for a long time, your self-esteem is going to be massively damaged, so much so that you might believe that you deserve this verbal abuse.

But just know that absolutely no one deserves to be a victim of abuse. You don’t deserve anything that’s happening to you.

How to get out of a verbally abusive relationship

Nobody should stay with a person who is verbally abusing them. Not only are they being abusive, but they’re also harming the other’s mental health and well-being.

If you realized – after reading the above signs – that you’re in a relationship like this, here’s how you can get out. [Read: How to get out of an abusive relationship with a step-by-step guide]

1. Confide in someone you can trust

Go to a close friend or family member who will support you. This is not an easy process, so having someone there every step of the way will give you the confidence you need to pack your bags and get out.

2. Limit exposure

You need to put some distance between you and your abuser. When you’re away from the hurtful comments and the manipulative mind games, you’ll finally get some clarity on the situation without their toxic influence.

3. Set boundaries

Don’t just sit back and allow them to say horrible things to you! Set boundaries on what they’re allowed to say to you, and call them out as soon as they overstep these boundaries.

4. Discuss it with the abuser

Sit your partner down and have a lengthy, firm discussion with them. Sometimes, the abuser is unaware of the negative effects of their comments. Truthfully, that’s absolutely no excuse.

So sit them down and talk about how they make you feel with their horrible comments toward you. If they refuse to hear you out, leave them for good.

5. Seek professional help if you don’t want to leave

This is only ever okay if you’re married and have a family. Otherwise, there is absolutely no reason to stay with the person who is ruining your self-esteem and mental health.

A professional can help the two of you talk through the issue in a safe and controlled environment. You’ll get to say your part, and they’ll be forced to actually listen for once. [Read: 16 signs it’s time to move on and end the relationship]

6. Be honest with yourself about their ability to change

Sit down with yourself and be honest. Will they really change and stop the verbal abuse? If you can’t see that end, then you should do yourself a favor and leave them.

7. Leave and cut off all communication

This will be hard. Many people are in verbally abusive relationships because they’re not the type to stand up for themselves. That’s how their partner was able to take over and act this way in the first place.

And that’s okay. Not everyone has a dominant, aggressive personality. But you need to pick yourself up and leave. Cut off every form of communication possible. Change your number if you have to.

If you ever fear that a confrontation or your leaving may result in any other form of abuse, including physical or sexual, please bring a family member with you and call an abuse helpline.

 [Read: 39 signs of an emotionally abusive relationship you can’t miss]

Being in a verbally abusive relationship isn’t good for anyone. If you’re able to spot the signs, you should get out of that relationship and save yourself some hardships.

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Vinod Srinivas Serai
Vin Serai
Vin Serai is the founder of LovePanky.com, and has delved deep into the working of love and relationships for almost two decades. Having dipped his feet in almo...