It took Jane Smith (name has been changed) four years to understand that although her boyfriend had a successful career, friends and a good family, those traits did not make up for the emotional abuse she was suffering from in the relationship.
It wasn’t until she ended her relationship that she discovered her partner had been physically abusive in past relationships. Although not all psychological abusers turn physically violent, it does happen according to Christina Steinorth, licensed psychotherapist and author of “Cue Cards for Life: Thoughtful Tips for Better Relationships.”
“If you see a behavior escalate, or if you see your spouse becoming increasingly angry and/or destroying things that are yours, these are signs that physical abuse may not be far behind,” she said. “If you notice emotionally abusive signs, talk with your spouse and see if there’s a way to work things out between the two of you so the behavior stops. If this doesn’t seem possible, it may be time to seek the services of a licensed mental health professional …”
Steinorth said those who love us should never harm us under any circumstances. That love, however, can make it difficult for victims to see they are in fact in an abusive relationship.
There are signs that a spouse or partner is physiological abusive and Steinorth noted three key behaviors of abusers.
The Silent Treatment
“The silent treatment is a one of the most emotionally hurtful things one spouse can do to another because, in essence, the spouse that gives the silent treatment is saying to the other ‘you don’t exist’,” Steinorth said. “In addition, the spouse giving the silent treatment is not trying (him or herself) to work things out. It’s also a form of control … (and is) very childish, immature and very destructive to a love relationship.”
“When someone loves us, they don’t make underhanded comments that undermine our security in our relationship, our self-esteem or anything else that is important to us,” she said. “A great example of a passive-aggressive comment is ‘You look great…though have you gained a little weight?’ Rather than giving a compliment, the compliment is given with a passive insult. If your spouse makes passive-aggressive comments fairly regularly, there’s a good chance he or she is emotionally abusive to you.”
Putting You Down in Front of Friends
“Our spouses are supposed to build us up and ideally we’re supposed to approach life as a team,” Steinorth said. “When a spouse puts the other down in front of others and/or in some other way makes him or her look bad in front of others, this is a form of emotional abuse. This type of behavior is meant to keep one spouse from feeling good and secure in the relationship. People who care about us help us look good to others, not bad.”
Psychotherapist Karen Koenig said once someone discovers they are in an abusive relationship, there are three stages of action or inaction. The first is to assume that if you are nice or good to your partner, the abuse will stop. The second, when the abuse doesn’t stop, is to fight back to no avail. The third is to get help or leave.
Koenig said many people get stuck in stage two because friends, and even professionals encourage them, to fight back.
“My other point is that it’s most difficult to leave an abusive relationship when mistreatment is intermittent, i.e., sometimes he’s nice and sometimes he’s awful. If he’s awful all the time, it’s easier to walk out,” Koenig said.