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25 Signs You Are Emotionally Abusing Your Partner


While some forms of abuse, such as sexual or physical abuse, are easily identified, emotional abuse can be more difficult to pinpoint in a relationship, as the pain and scars are mental, not physical. It is natural to wonder, am I being emotionally abused? Barrie Davenport, founder of emotional support website, Live Bold & Bloom, reveals 25 signs that could mean you are emotionally abusing your partner.

Women crying and upset

We have all heard of emotional abuse, but do you know what it really means? It is essential to be clear on what this form of abuse is, in order to know if it is impacting your relationship.

Let’s first talk about the things that do not constitute emotional abuse. Getting into an argument or breaking up with your partner is not abusive. It is also not abusive to react in a negative way if your partner has hurt you.

It is OK to speak your mind openly and honestly, even if it is blunt. Raising your voice in an argument isn’t even necessarily abuse – it is a pretty standard expression of one’s emotions.

What are the signs of an abusive relationship?

Emotional abuse occurs when you are trying to control your partner. It is similar to physical abuse, however it doesn’t involve physical forms of harm. Rather, it involves using emotional manipulation as a weapon.

Do abusers know they abuse?

Sometimes, this type of abuse is so subtle that you don’t even know you are doing it. You may be aware of your insecurities about whether or not your partner loves you. You might feel the need to accuse your partner of cheating, or tell them who they can and cannot be around. Accusations, blame and checking up on your partner more than necessary constitutes emotional abuse.

The truth is, more women experience this type of abuse than physical abuse. In fact, 35% of women who have been married or lived with a partner have been in an emotionally abusive relationship. In contrast, only 29% of women have been physically abused by their male partners. Emotional abuse is often the precursor to physical abuse.

Is it possible that you may be emotionally abusing your partner?

Whether or not you recognise these signs to be abusive, they are behaviours that you should watch out for. Otherwise, you might destroy the trust, intimacy and love you share with your partner.

1. You often criticise your partner

Constructive criticism is not a bad thing if it is meant to be helpful. However, if your criticism is frequent and unkind, it can truly harm your partner. While you may find your criticisms to be true, or you think you are helping your partner, you are really trying to shame or control them. If you continue pointing a finger at your partner, it will eventually harm her self-esteem and her closeness with you.

2. You shame your partner

Shaming your partner essentially means that you are making them feel bad for being who they are. Two ways to shame your partner include making them feel like they are never good enough and making them question their worth. Toxic shame occurs when you see your partner’s vulnerability as a weakness and try to use it against them.

3. You belittle your partner

If you are trying to give your partner some helpful advice or constructive criticism, it can sometimes come across more harshly than you intend. For example, the tone of your voice may be abrasive, or one comment devolves into a variety of put-downs that are more hurtful than helpful. Putting your partner down to make her feel small serves no positive purpose other than to make you feel more powerful.

4. You engage in name calling

Everyone jokes around at times in their relationships. However, there is a fine line between being playful and being abusive. Innocent teasing can quickly turn into insulting your partner. Name calling is considered a verbally abusive behaviour because it is putting a negative label on your partner by calling her dumb, fat, worthless, etc., without concern for her feelings. By insinuating that she is “bad” in some way, you are taking control and asserting power over her sense of self-worth.

5. You withhold something

‘Withholding’ involves freezing your partner out and refusing to share thoughts or feelings with her, which leads to a loss of emotional intimacy. This could include giving her the silent treatment. This is a subtle form of abuse that is a way of controlling and wounding your partner. When you do not share your thoughts or feelings with your partner and get angry when she tries to dig deeper, you are undermining the relationship and showing a lack of respect and trust in her.

6. You frequently counter

If you tend to be argumentative with your partner over ordinary, everyday things, you may be practicing abusive behaviour. For example, your partner shares her positive feelings about the time you spent together at a family event, but you respond by negating her thoughts and trying to convince her that she is wrong. This dismissive and thoughtless way of responding is hurtful and pushes your partner away. Who wants to share their thoughts with someone who always counters them?

7. You threaten

Threatening can be explicit, such as, “If you don’t do XYZ, I will leave.” Or it can be subtle, such as, “If you don’t do what I think you should do, everyone will think you are crazy.” Other threatening behaviours include:

  • Threatening to leave your partner
  • Say bad things about her
  • Harm her in some way
  • Take your children away from her
  • Cut her off financially.

8. You practice denial

When you deny your behaviour is wrong – or that it occurred – and refuse to see or accept the consequences of your actions, you are being emotionally abusive. If you continuously try to find a way to justify your behaviour, you are putting a wedge between you and your partner. She will lose respect for you and view you as someone unwilling to accept personal responsibility.

9. You blame your partner

Do you blame your partner for any problems that come up in your everyday life, even if it is something she has no control over? For example, if you run out of bread at home, is it your partner’s fault? If you are running late in the morning, do you blame her? Placing constant blame on your partner is unhealthy.

10. You control resources

Taking control over joint resources such as money, transportation, methods of communication, etc., is abusive because it is robbing your partner of their freedom and independence. For example, if you share a bank account with your partner but you don’t allow her to have direct access to the money in the account or have money of their own, that is a form of control. If you threaten your partner if she tries to exert control of these resources or insinuate that she is incapable of handling resources, this abusive behaviour is clearly a way of keeping your partner under your control.

11. You are possessive

Do you constantly wonder what goes on in your partner’s life when you’re not around? Do you insist on checking her text messages and emails? Do you try to control your partner’s interactions with other people? These are all signs of unhealthy and abusive possessiveness.

12. You create rules

There should not be rules in relationships that dictate how one partner or the other should live his or her life, or how the household should be run. For example, it is abusive to tell your partner what places they can and cannot go without you. One partner is not the boss or dictator in the relationship.

13. You engage in ‘gaslighting’

Have you ever tried to convince your partner that she is remembering something incorrectly even though you know she is right? Have you pretended that you didn’t do or say something that you both know you did?

Gaslighting is a dangerous form of manipulation that will have your partner questioning her own sanity. To intentionally try to make your partner think she is crazy or forgetful when you know she isn’t is cruel and abusive.

14. You isolate your partner

Keeping your partner away from her friends or family or prohibiting her from making new friends is control. If you are making your partner choose between “them” or “you” this is an attempt to isolate your partner. You don’t want anyone else to have more influence on her than you do.

15. You lie frequently

Abusive partners will lie about small things for no reason, and they will lie about big things without a second thought. Using lies to prevent your partner from having certain information is abusive, especially if you respond with rage when you are confronted about it.

16. You require permission

Abusive partners expect their significant other to ask permission before they do certain things that most people do independently. You might require your partner to get your approval before making a purchase, changing a hairstyle, or visiting a friend. This is another way of maintaining control over your partner.

17. You don’t take responsibility for your emotions

If you are feeling down, do you expect your partner to cheer you up or blame them for your unhappy emotions? If you resent your partner for being happy when you are not, or you demand that she do backflips to accommodate your moods, then you are being passive-aggressive and manipulative.

18. You use emotional blackmail

If you make comments that intimidate or subtly pressure your partner or try to make her feel guilty for not accommodating you, this is emotional blackmail. Emotional blackmail undermines the feelings of trust and mutual respect that everyone should have in a healthy relationship. Saying things like, “You must not love me very much if you won’t do what I ask,” is a common example of emotional blackmail.

19. You use excessive gift giving to manipulate

Giving excessive or elaborate gifts as a way to make your partner feel indebted or obliged to you is abusive. You may use gift-giving as a way of bartering for forgiveness rather than owning up to bad behaviour. Or you may try to cajole your partner into staying in the relationship. Using gifts to confuse and manipulate her is insidious and selfish, as your partner may not know your true intentions.

20. You require constant check-ins

You can disguise this as worry, but making your partner check in with you on a regular basis throughout the day is crossing a line. Your partner is not a child, and she shouldn’t have to keep you posted on her every move.

21. You are hot and cold

You may be loving one moment and emotionally unavailable the next. You may deny being withdrawn, causing your partner to blame herself for your distant behaviour. By doing this, you figure out that you can make your partner an anxious ‘pleaser’.

22. You revise joint decisions

When you take it upon yourself to switch up plans you mutually made with your partner or change a mutual decision, you are being controlling. This becomes a pattern where your partner’s say in things doesn’t matter anymore.

23. You engage in micro-cheating

Micro-cheating when you have an inappropriate connection with someone other than your partner that you feel you need to hide from her. You may engage in secret messages, changing the name of a contact in your phone, going out without telling your partner where you are going, or giving someone else attention while withholding attention from your partner. You may not be physically unfaithful, but you are engaging in behaviour that is hurtful and out of line.

24. You give ultimatums

Do you try to control your partner’s decisions or actions by issuing ultimatums? You might say something like, “If you don’t have dinner ready tonight when I get home, I’m taking the kids out and leaving you here.” This is a power play to make your partner toe the line and meet your expectations. It reveals that you see yourself as the boss and your partner as someone to order around.

25. You constantly keep score

Keeping a tally of wrongdoings for the purpose of reminding your partner of her mistakes and to justify your own righteousness is emotionally abusive. Doing this creates a competition between you to determine who is “right” or more deserving. The more you do this, the more unnerving it is for your partner who feels she must work increasingly harder to even the score.

Final thoughts about emotionally abusive behaviour

If you recognise any of these verbal and emotional abuse behaviours in yourself, start a conversation with your partner to let her know you want to change the behaviours and improve the way you relate to her.

It will require determination and daily effort to change ingrained patterns so that you no longer resort to emotionally abusive words and actions. You may need the support of a professional relationship counsellor who understands emotional abuse to help you and your partner break the cycle of abuse so that it doesn’t tear your relationship apart.

To read more about emotional and verbal abuse and how to communicate more effectively with your partner, go to

Feel the need to talk this through further?

You could start by talking to us on our online forum, from the 34,000 dads on forum – you’ll probably come across someone who has been in your shoes but a little further on in the journey to be able to offer you support. If you are in a violent relationship, please don’t suffer in silence. It’s essential that you seek immediate help from a trained professional.

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