Mandy Kloppers

Signs of Verbal Abuse in a relationship


Assume the best of others
Assume the best of others

Do you feel that you are walking on eggshells, that you have to think very carefully before you say anything for fear of receiving a negative and/or angry response?

If so, you might be in a relationship with a verbally abusive partner.

Here are signs that you may be on the receiving end of someone engaging in verbal abuse:

1) Your partner criticises you and uses negative words to describe you such as; “fat”, “lazy”, “promiscuous” and so on. A one off incident does not indicate an abusive relationship as we all have bad days but when there is a regular pattern of negative words being directed at you, this leads to a likelihood of abuse.

2) When a partner regularly demeans you and engages in an ongoing (and often subtle) campaign to reduce your confidence. Remarks such as ” No one else will want you if you leave me”, “Why are you wearing that?”, “Why are you doing it that way?”, “You are not a very nice person”…Sarcasm is often used as a legitimate way to demean another person. When the sarcasm is not well received, the recipient is accused of having “no sense of humour” or the abusive person will say “I was only joking”. This is a form of passive aggressive behaviour and is very damaging to a relationship.

This ongoing verbal abuse slowly leads to the recipient doubting themselves. They begin to second guess themselves and can often become more clingy and dependent on their partner as their confidence diminishes. This works in the abusive partners favour as it makes them feel more in control. The less we believe in ourselves, the more likely we are to allow others to influence and control us.

3) When you try to talk to your partner about your issues in the relationship, the conversation somehow gets turned around and you end up being blamed for whatever is wrong. This is known as “countering”:

An example: “When you complain about me in front of friends, it makes me feel embarrassed”.

Instead of dealing with that issue, the abusive partner turns the conversation around and says something like “Well, you embarrassed me at the supermarket that one time, so you are just as guilty.” The problem with countering is that the problem does not get resolved. Instead, blame becomes the order of the day and resentment grows while the underlying problem continues to remain. The verbal abuse persists.

Verbal abuse is insiduous and so damaging. It is hard to spot as well. Verbal abuse is easy to get away with, especially when the abuser is emotionally intelligent and when the victim has low self esteem and/or confidence issues. Victims of abuse often explain away the verbal abuse and instead focus on the nice side of their partner. What is confusing is that a verbally abusive partner can be incredibly charming and kind. They are not all bad and this blurs the boundaries of what is really going on.

I see verbal abuse as a slow form of torture, like the slow dripping of a tap – over time it wears away the surface that it is dripping on and this is exactly what happens with verbal/emotional abuse. A person can start of in a relationship confident and after being with an abusive partner for a while, they begin to become a ‘shell’ of their former selves. I have witnessed this many times over. Thinking gets changed too, almost a subtle form of brain washing. I often hear victims of emotional abuse making statements that sound like they have come straight from the abuser’s mouth. This is often indicative of ongoing ‘indoctrination’ in a relationship.

In an ideal world:

Every relationship has it’s problems. There are bound to be differences when two people with different attitudes, needs, wants and backgrounds come together and try to work from the same platform. Inevitably there will be conflict. In healthy relationships, both partners attempt to get their needs met in an assertive way (win-win) rather than in a passive (you win, I lose) or aggressive way (I win, you lose).

The happiness of both partners is always paramount and when one person is unhappy, instead of looking for blame or becoming defensive, the other partner will listen and try to find a way to work around the problem. Coming up with positive solutions that benefit both parties is the healthy option. If one person in the relationship cannot comment on what is making them unhappy without the other person becoming attacking and defensive, communication will decrease. This is the beginning of the end when a partner feels muted by their partners unwillingness to look at, and talk about the problems openly and maturely.

An example of a healthy and productive conversation:

Mary:  Paul, I need to talk to you about something that’s been bothering me.

Paul: What’s up?

Mary: Well, when you are in a bad mood I feel that you take it out on me and it makes me feel unhappy.

Paul: What do you mean? When do I do that?

Mary: Last night you shouted because I had moved your favourite mug in the kitchen and then you had a moan because I forgot to move my shoes from the front door. I feel that you were grumpy and you spoke to me in an aggressive way.

Paul: I didn’t mean to. I was really tired last night. I didn’t intend to upset you.

(negative response would be: well you shouldn’t leave your stuff there.)

Mary: That’s okay. I will try to remember to put my shoes away but if I don’t please don’t overreact. It’s not the end of the world if my shoes are in the wrong place.

Paul: Laughs. Yes, you’re right. It’s not a huge deal.

If the above incident had been about something that was more important – such as leaving the gas on, or doing something that could lead to injury…Paul would have had every right to be annoyed with Mary and warn her about the dangers. But he does not have the right to criticise Mary or speak to her in a demeaning tone. This introduces negative energy into the relationship and goodwill is eroded.

We are all human, we all make mistakes. If our behaviour affects our partner in a negative way, we have every right to talk about it and try to reach a compromise where both partners feel they are winning. Respect each other, don’t play games and put back positivity into the relationship to keep it happy and  chugging along without stress.

Bring out the best in each other, fight each other’s corner and don’t treat your closest loved ones badly just because you know you can.

Mandy X