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15 Signs That You're In an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

Published: SEPTEMBER 15, 2014 | Updated: AUGUST 7, 2015 01:43:11
Don't let yourself get trapped in a cycle of abuse. Here are 15 signs that you should reevaluate your relationship.

Recently, when the story broke that MMA fighter War Machine (yes, that is his legal name) had brutally beaten his former girlfriend Christy Mack many were (rightfully) appalled but, as always, the regular questions came out about the nature of abusive relationships - how do we get into them? Why do we stay in them? While it’s often not so easy for people in physically abusive relationships to simply "get out," the question becomes even more complicated for folks in relationships where the abuse leaves no visible marks at all.


Here's a list of 15 signs that your relationship may be emotionally abusive. If you are noticing these behaviors in your relationship, it's probably time to reevaluate:

Life is a Minefield

Maybe your partner pounces on every opinion you share, choice you make or fact you state. Maybe they have an ever-changing roster of "rules" that you are in danger of breaking at any time. Whatever the reason, you might feel like anything you say or do can spark an argument and the arguments you do have with your partner escalate quickly. Part of this is because..

Your Partner is a Contrarian

They have a counter argument to everything thing you say. "Devil’s advocate," "healthy debate" and "just being honest" are staples of their vocabulary. Every article they read is stupid because they know more than every expert. No matter what field you work in, they can give you an earful about what’s wrong with it. They fancy themselves clever and skeptical, but really they just seem to hate a lot of stuff. Also...

You are Wrong All the Time!

From the way you cook, to your pronunciation, to your driving - everything is up for criticism. Everything you say is up for debate, whether it's fact or your opinion. Your partner will argue for hours just to make sure you know that you are wrong about where your grandparents came from. It doesn’t matter the topic, they just want to make sure you know that you are wrong. After a while, you will start to lose confidence and become afraid to offer your own opinions, make decisions or engage in the activities they have criticized. But speaking up will upset them because, after all...

It's All About Them

Everything is about them. Sex is about their fantasies. Nights out are about what they want to do. Conversations always end up being about their feelings. You got a new job? You end up discussing how it affects them instead of celebrating. The thing they do the most, however, is parse things for meaning - they overanalyze your emails, voicemails and Facebook posts. They take everything personally and make everything about them. Also, it’s not their fault, because...

Everyone Else is to Blame

Does your partner have a lot of stories about how things have gone wrong for them and does the blame in those stories always lie with someone else? Unfair bosses, jerks at the bar, "crazy" exes? If they are never to blame for anything, you can guarantee you will be the one to blame for many things. And speaking of crazy exes...

All Their Exes are Crazy

Does your partner tell you all about their "crazy" exes, including the horrible ways they acted? That’s a set-up. How? Well, now you can’t get upset because "crazy" ex "A" cried all the time, and you can’t ask your partner if they're lying because "crazy" ex "B" called them a liar and it was so hurtful. You don’t want to be like those "crazy" people, right? This tactic is an extension of the "everyone else is to blame" problem, only it’s worse because it’s also used to control your behavior. Just remember, if someone you are dating tells a lot of "crazy" ex stories, you can bet that you'll eventually star in one. This is also something to watch out for sexually. They may say "Ex C was such a prude! They would never _____" as bait to get you to do what they want because...

Read: 7 Signs Your BDSM Relationship Is Abusive


Your Boundaries Don’t Count

If you say you need time to work today, they stay all afternoon. Even though they know that you value your own, private living space, they start moving stuff in. The one hard and fast sexual boundary you’ve expressed is the one they keep trying to bypass. (Read more about how to set boundaries in Yes! Why Consent is Totally Sexy). If your boundaries don’t fit their needs they simply go ignored. Also...

They Treat You Like a Possession

Anyone you are with should be proud to be with you (you’re awesome!) but if your partner seems overly concerned with showing you off, it could be bad news. If a partner fixates on how good it looks for them to have you on their arm, tries to orchestrate your appearance, and especially if they engage in sexual bragging, they are not treating you like an equal. Which they may not care about because...

They Think They’re Entitled to Whatever They Want

Emotional abusers often act out this pattern with the people in their lives and those people have become used to appeasing them. Your partner now believes this is how the world works - and that whatever they want should be provided to them. When the world (including you) doesn’t do what they want, they perceive it as an attack. Speaking of attacks...

They are Irrationally Jealous

Whether they regularly police your Facebook friend list, interrogate you about your conversation with that cute person at the party or get sulky when you spend time with your friends, your partner may often be super jealous about any interactions that they aren’t part of. (Learn about compersion - the opposite emotion to jealousy - in our article, When Your Partner Sleeps with Someone Else - And it Makes You Happy). Bonus: this can also lead to their attempting to isolate you from others because...

They are Emotionally Manipulative

Guilt is a big part of the emotional abuser’s game. Any time you act in a way that doesn’t please them, your partner suddenly becomes sad and down and you, sweet person you are, feel just horrible for hurting them and work to make it up to them... and that’s how it works. Over and over again. They can push your buttons and play your feelings like a pro, and they will. You're probably not proud of this. In fact...

You are Embarrassed by Them

Do you find that you often avoid having your friends and family hang out around your significant other? Do you often make excuses for their behavior? Do you find that you don't want to tell those close to you about the things that happen in your relationship? These are signs that something is amiss. And if you bring up your concerns about this with your partner...

You May Feel You're Losing Your Mind

Amidst this mess of feeling like you're always making mistakes and the endless arguments that you never saw coming, you may notice that your partner is a big fan of phrases like "I never said that!" Emotionally abusive partners frequently employ a tactic known as "gas-lighting" which, according to Wikipedia, "is a form of mental abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity." It allows them to simultaneously tell you that they are right AND imply that you are insane. And, perhaps most problematically...

You Feel Like You Can’t Leave

Perhaps it has occurred to you to leave your partner but you feel like you are not able to. Maybe because you feel worthless or maybe because you don’t feel up to the fight you know you’d have to endure. Whatever the reason, you feel trapped in your relationship.

If any of the items on this list ring true for you, you may be in an abusive relationship. It is important that you seek help and support.

If you are in an abusive relationship and need help, contact The Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men & Women.

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JoEllen Notte

JoEllen is a writer, speaker, researcher and mental health advocate whose work explores the impact of depression on sex and relationships. Since 2012 she has written about sex, mental health, and how none of us are broken on her award-winning site The Redhead Bedhead.

JoEllen's book The Monster Under the Bed: Sex, Depression & The Conversation We Aren’t Having is now available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook.