I think I’m in a verbally abusive relationship. How do I know for sure and what should I do about it?
When verbal abuse occurs in relationships, it’s often dished out by both partners, not just one. If you or your partner can answer yes to any of the following questions, you may be in a verbally abusive relationship:
- Have I ever purposely said things to make my partner feel bad because I was angry?
- Have I used words intentionally to hurt my partner?
- Do I believe partners should be made sorry if they have made me angry or sad?
- Has more than one person accused me of using words to insult or put them down?
- Did my parents or siblings use insults or sarcasm to put others down?
- Have I lashed out at others with angry words when I’m upset?
If you feel safe doing so, the next time your partner says something hurtful, you could point out the abusive behavior and insist that it stop. You might say: “Chris, you just called me ugly. That makes me feel really bad. I know you insulted me because you’re mad, but you still have to respect me.”
If you’re the one who draws blood with your words, stop talking when you notice you’re about to say something mean. Take a few seconds, and then try to say something else instead. Try to express why you are angry, hurt, or disappointed, without attacking your partner.
Sometimes it’s best to declare a 15-minute moratorium when arguments get heated and insults start being thrown. It usually takes 15 minutes for everyone’s adrenalin to level off, letting folks calm down. When things are calm, you and your partner can have a reasonable conversation about hurtful language. It’s best to each take turns. Each of you should get to say how you feel without being interrupted for at least five minutes. You can decide if you need more time. When you’ve both heard each other, then you can discuss what you need to do to protect each other from hurtful language.
If you’re in a verbally abusive relationship, or if you find yourself in a pattern of getting into verbally abusive relationships, try talking to a trusted adult, such as a parent, teacher, or counselor, about ways to end the relationship or change the pattern. Remember, relationships should make us feel good about ourselves, not bad.