Everyone wants to be in a good relationship, but sometimes it's hard to realize that you've gotten yourself into a bad one. If your partner is physically assaulting you, it's clear that you're in an abusive relationship, but what about other types of bad relationships?
An emotionally abusive relationship can be just as damaging as a physically abusive one, but it can also be more difficult to identify. You're likely to stay longer with someone who's abusing you in a more subtle way, so it's important to recognize the signs of emotional abuse, as this will help you to get away from a toxic partner sooner rather than later.
Here are 10 signs that you're in an emotionally abusive relationship:
1. Your partner is very controlling. If you feel like you need to ask permission from your partner to do things; if they're the one who gets to make all the major decisions, or if you sometimes feel like they're more your parent than your partner, and an autocratic parent at that, you're in an emotionally abusive relationship.
2. Your partner is rigid and unreasonable. If you feel that there's no point in trying to negotiate with them because they always manage to get their way, and because they never seriously consider your point of view, you have an emotionally abusive partner.
3. You feel the need to tip-toe around your partner. If their temper is unpredictable and scary to you or their cold contempt cuts like a knife, and if you find yourself being extra careful not to upset them because of this, your partner is emotionally abusing you.
4. They can be incredibly charming or tremendously cold and unfeeling toward you. If you never know whether the person walking through the door will be your knight in shining armour or an unmovable block of ice, your relationship is emotionally abusive.
5. They discourage you from going back to school or getting a job. If they always have a "good reason" why you should be at home, taking care of the house and the kids, and you never have the opportunity to learn, grow, be challenged or fulfill your potential, your partner is emotionally abusive.
6. They talk you out of seeing your family and friends. If you find yourself more and more isolated because your partner is hyper-critical of your friends and relations, and if there are fewer and fewer people in your life who have a different opinion than your partner or who challenge what your partner is saying, your relationship is in fact, emotionally abusive.
7. They make you feel stupid, ugly, clumsy, inept, or useless. If you start believing that you're worthless, that you deserve to be mistreated or that you don't deserve anything better, you've spent too long in an abusive relationship.
8. Your partner's needs are always the priority. If your partner has no problem putting their own needs first, and if your needs are always described as foolish, excessive or unreasonable, you're experiencing emotional abuse.
9. They constantly let you know that you wouldn't be able to cope without them. If they imply, or tell you outright that you'd never manage without them; that you'd end up on the street, homeless, without them to take care of you, your partner is a typical emotional abuser.
10. They behave in ways that humiliate or shame you. If they flirt overtly when you're with them; if they criticize you in front of other people, or if they belittle you in any way, either privately or in public, your relationship is emotionally abusive.
These are the 10 signs that you're in an emotionally abusive relationship. If you're experiencing any one of these things, you ought to think very carefully about the pros and cons of staying with this person. Sadly, the truth is that when one of the above 10 things is present, most of the others are, as well.
If you want a good relationship, sometimes the first step in creating one is by walking away from the emotionally abusive relationship you're currently in.
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"Ask yourself one key question, can I assume positive intent when it comes to this person?” says holistic coach Ekene Onu. This matters because in most good relationships, the answer is yes — and changing your mindset to consider that can provide you with needed perspective. "Even when your partner does something that impacts you negatively, if you can assume positive intent then your approach to conflict resolution will likely be different because you know that they didn't intend to hurt you,” she says.
Constantly looking for someone to blame in the relationship when things go wrong can really add a negative tone to your interactions over time. "Instead of blaming your partner for something you don't like or upsets you, try a softer approach like saying, 'I feel upset or hurt when you leave your clothes on the floor after I told you that bothers me,’” says psychotherapist Jessica Marchena. “You can also say, 'I feel unheard and my feelings don't matter to you.’"
Make an effort to start the day off on a positive note by avoiding morning nagging and arguing, says blogger Surabhi Surendra. "Morning is the most important time of the day and thus if spent peacefully and in a loving, thankful way can lead to a peaceful, happy day,” she says.
Couples often share their dreams with each other in their early days, Onu says, but don’t necessarily keep that up over the years. They might stop for a variety of reasons, big and small — but continuing to picture your partner in your future dreams can help you keep him or her in your resent, she says.
It’s natural that after a long period of time together, you fall into a day-to-day routine. And when we all live such busy lives, it can be hard to break from the regular cycle of work-kids-housework-repeat. But that can lead couples to feel more like roommates than romantic partners. "You can repair this issue by setting goals together for you as a romantic couple,” says relationship coach Ravid Yosef. “Try date nights, holding each other while watching TV, sitting down for dinner and speaking to each other — kid-free, logistics-free talk time or doing things you love doing together."
Never saying “I love you”: Making a point of sharing your feelings, even briefly, can be a good reminder to you and your partner of why you’re in for the long haul when things are tough day to day. "This builds emotional connection,” says Marchena. "Even sending an 'I love you' text lets your mate know that you are thinking of them."
It’s easy for little gestures like hugs and kisses to slowly fall out of a relationship, but they’re important to hold on to because they can help maintain your intimacy in small ways when life is busy. "I have been married for more than six years and we still begin our mornings either with a kiss or a hug,” Surendra says. "Nothing can beat this daily ritual."
Just making a point of spending time together that doesn’t involve screens can increase you emotional connection by giving you more opportunities to really talk, or to cuddle without phones and laptops in the way. "Put the phone down after a certain time and do something together, even if it is just watching TV or a movie,” Marchena says. "And also make a rule that there are to be no screens at the dinner table. Or cuddle and be together without the screens."
"Shared experiences bond partners,” Onu says. You don’t have to do everything together — but if the only experiences you share are the mundane ones of running your household, then you’re missing out on a simple way to grow your bond as a couple. "Make an effort to have more shared experiences than not,” Onu suggests. “It gives you something to remember when things get tough.” Getting back to that can be as simple as scheduling a regular date night, signing up for a class together, or planning a vacation with just the two of you.
"We're neurologically programmed to predict the future based on our past,” says Yosef, "and so we make a lot of assumptions about how our partner feels and how they will react instead of actually acknowledging what's happening in the moment and dealing with it appropriately.” Take the time to be mindful of your thoughts and what is really behind them before you just run on them based on past behaviour in your relationships or assumptions about your partner’s intentions. “Ask yourself, is this a feeling or a fact?” she says.
"Self awareness is a powerful tool of success in every area of life — particularly in relationships,” Onu says. Take some time to think about who you are and what you need from a relationship. For example, are you an introvert who needs regular alone time to recharge and bring your best self to your partner? Knowing things like that can help your relationship by making it easier to explain your needs to your partner, or to understand theirs.
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