In healthy relationships, partners may argue, criticize each other, and use hostile language, but perpetrators know their behavior is hurtful and inappropriate. They feel remorse, have meaningful discussion about what happened, and make genuine efforts to improve. The conflict can make a relationship stronger if couples are able to resolve their issues respectfully and both partners feel heard and understood.
When there is emotional abuse in a relationship, wrongdoers rarely take responsibility for their behavior. They attempt to justify their actions by blaming their partners or other circumstances. They may apologize to relieve tension, but they fail to follow through with proof of their sincerity. Before long, the same controlling tactics reappear. The conflict creates distance between partners, and victims are left feeling distressed, frustrated, and empty.
It is a mistake to believe that repetition of harsh treatment is not abuse.
Let’s look at what it feels like to have a partner who is emotionally abusive. If you are experiencing any of the following 12 signs, you may be tolerating emotional abuse. Partners who resolve conflicts with mutual respect can experience the healthy alternative.
- You consistently have a high level of anxiety right before your partner gets home. Healthy alternative: Partners look forward to seeing each other at the end of the day.
- You feel the need to screen what you say and how you speak to your mate for fear that he or she will criticize you or get angry. Healthy alternative: The freedom to speak openly is one of the core values of a good relationship.
- You have recurrent feelings of sadness, frustration, hopelessness or lack of vitality that you suspect is the result of your relationship. Healthy alternative: Partners energize each other and feel good about themselves and their relationship.
- You spend an excessive amount of time trying to figure out what you could have done to anger your partner. Healthy alternative: Open communication is essential to a successful relationship. When there’s trouble, both partners express how they feel and ask for what they need.
- The quality of your relationships and the frequency of visits with friends and family members have decreased since you’ve been in your current relationship. Healthy alternative: Both partners are free to enjoy time with friends and loved ones with or without their partner.
- You are staying with your mate because he or she makes threats against you when you say you’re leaving. Healthy alternative: Both partners are willing to get professional help to improve their relationship.
- You are often confused about whether or not you caused your partner’s anger or bad behavior. You take responsibility for the trouble in your relationship when you feel it’s not your fault. Healthy alternative: Honest and effective communication will prevent confusion over who’s to blame and foster understanding and forgiveness.
- You spend long periods of time thinking about what happened between you and your partner. Healthy alternative: Talk with each other and express feelings when one or both partners are feeling hurt or conflicted.
- You ruminate over what you wish you could say to your partner, even though you never actually say it. Healthy alternative: Talk to your mate about your anger, resentment, or fear. Take responsibility for not expressing your feelings sooner and asking for what you need.
- You are afraid of saying or doing anything that might upset your partner. Healthy alternative: Muster the courage to respectfully confront difficult subjects and issues in your relationship. Unexpressed feelings generate stress hormones that are damaging to your emotional and physical health. They also enable your partner’s emotionally immature behavior.
- You often feel angry, fearful, or agitated when you are around your partner. Healthy alternative: Work with your partner to achieve feelings of security, joy and solace when with each other.
- The stress between you and your partner is distracting you from work, hobbies, and enjoyment of life. Healthy alternative: Couples that learn how to resolve their conflicts have more time and energy to pursue their own life interests and enjoy time together.
If you’re in a relationship that is muddled with conflict, pain, and confusion, don’t wait to get professional help. A psychotherapist can help you and your partner understand your own psychological issues and how these issues create trouble in your relationship. Looking deeper into old destructive patterns can break the cycle of emotional abuse.
If your partner refuses to take responsibility for harsh treatment, seek individual therapy. You could be enabling your partner’s emotional abuse. Making changes in your reaction to your partner’s oppressive treatment can have positive effects on your relationship.