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Learn How to Identify Emotional Abuse

In this article you will learn the 5 signs of emotional abuse that can't be ignored.

Emotional abuse is difficult to identify since it doesn’t leave physical marks the way physical abuse does. To clearly know the signs of emotional abuse, you need to look at the behavioral patterns of the abuser.

Even from within the relationship, it can take time before either party realizes that abuse exists within their partnership. Like toxic waste, the abusive behavior slowly contaminates the couple's marriage or committed relationship.

Often, individuals quarrel amongst themselves. Arguing is common in a marriage or committed relationship. Arguing is an attempt to 'get one's way.' When the arguing is exclusively to attain a particular outcome, this is not emotional abuse.

Abuse is different than marital or committed relationship discord. The intent of emotional abuse is to dominate, to control. Abuse may be a husband attempting to bully his wife to demonstrate that  he is 'he boss,' or the opposite, a wife 'bullying' her husband to claim her role of superiority.

Anger and emotional abuse in marriage and committed relationships


Regardless, an emotionally abusive partner is wrong in his or her approach. Each person has a God-given right, a human right, to live free of the control of others!


emotional abuse in marriage, emotional abuse test

Examples of relationship conflict verses relationship abuse

Arguing over what color to paint the bedroom is not a sign of emotional abuse. Rather, this quarrelling is an expression of differing opinions, and though the bickering is unfortunate and unpleasant, it does not mean you are in an emotionally abusive relationship.

Arguing with the intent to establish a relationship rule that a particular individual — be it the husband or the wife or a male or female partner — 'always makes the decisions' regarding how to decorate the home, regardless of how his or her partner feels, this is abuse.

If the intent of the argument is to establish a 'relationship rule' that one member of the relationship makes the decisions because of a belief in his or her superiority or entitlement, this is emotional abuse.

If Mary needs to make an important phone call and is insistent that her husband quiets the children, so their playing does not disturb her call, this is not emotional abuse. In this case, Mary only wants some help from her husband.

If Greg insists that his wife is responsible to ALWAYS keep the children quiet so they don't disturb him when he watches TV, takes a nap, uses the phone, or simply wants quiet time, this is emotional abuse. The 'always' implies an entitlement to be treated special regardless of how Cindy feels or what her needs might be — this is emotional abuse.

Dina insists her husband, Peter come home immediately after work and help her in the home. When Peter is home, she demands that he must comply with her instructions since she knows best how to do things 'correctly' and he is not allowed to stop helping her until she says he can stop. If Peter attempts to resist her control or do things in a way other than how she wants them done, Dina threatens him with divorce and says he will never see his kids again. This is emotional abuse!

Joe, wanting to get together with some friends and go to a sports bar to enjoy a game meets with opposition from his wife Mary. Mary explains that on this particular evening her mother is having a birthday party and she would like him to attend with her. They argue about whether Joe should go to the sports bar or the birthday party. This is not emotional abuse. Rather, this is an argument more about about what is more important to them as a couple, family responsibility, or relaxation.

Susan likes to occasionally get together with some of the friends she had before she married Sean. However, Sean has told her she is no longer ALLOWED to associate with her old friends, and she needs to stay home in the evening and keep him company. They always fight whenever she wants to go out. Sean threatens her with punishment, and he prevails. Susan stays home. This is emotional abuse because the intent is to isolate and control Susan's life.

In the above examples that are labeled 'abusive' the intent is to establish permanent and systematic control over one's partner. 

It makes no difference which partner is abusive — abuse by anyone is wrong.

The 'intent' of the disagreement is one of the most important signs of emotional abuse. When the intent is to establish superiority and entitlement over one's partner, then it is emotional abuse.

Every person is of equal value, and no one has the right to control another person. Should an individual try to claim superiority and claim the right to control his or her partner, this is abuse and must be resisted and denounced.

emotional abuse, abusive relationship

Here are the 5 signs of emotional abuse that can't be ignored:

1. Intent of behavior, the first sign of emotional abuse

The intent of the abuser is to assert his or her superiority over his or her partner. Implicit in this aspect of abuse is the belief that he or she is superior, and that this entitles him or her the right to make the decisions and control his or her partner and the relationship.

Typically, this entitlement is expressed with extreme criticism of the other partner and the belief that their contributions are of a higher value than the partner's contributions.

The abuser believes that his or her authority is her or her entitlement in the relationship. This gives the abuser the right to dominate and control every other family member.

2. Power disparity, the second sign of emotional abuse

Abusers establish power over their partners in two ways: 1. Having more resources such as money, ownership of material goods, a larger physical body, or having a stronger voice, and 2. having convinced his or her partner that because of his or her superiority, he or she is entitled to control and make the decisions.

The abuser's authority is expressed with a disregard for the emotional abuser victim's feelings, and an aggressive twisting of the victim's rational thinking into an 'accepted belief' that it is a pathetic collection of absurdities. This is no different to that of a cult leader who brainwashes his or her subject and then demands compliance.

3. Escalation, the third sign of emotional abuse

Typically, emotional abusers are ruthless and insensitive to the feelings of others. They are willing to squelch any challenges to their power by no longer just using words to control their partner. The abuser may take away their partner's car keys or wallet, break personal belongings or they even resort to physical assault, sometimes even injuring their partner. 

To an abusive person, boundaries and limitations do not apply. In their twisted minds, they believe they are entitled to control and that nothing will get in their way of achieving whatever is their impulse or goal.

4. Duration, the fourth sign of emotional abuse

Emotional abusers are comfortable making their partners uncomfortable. Because of this, they are prepared to sustain, without any let up, their claim to the 'right' to control their partner.

At the time of conflict, an abuser's arguing, threats, curses, may go on for hours, or passive-aggressive anger of withdrawal can continue for months. An emotional abuser may refuse to talk or engage in romantic/sexual activity with his or her partner for weeks, or even months.

5. Repetition, the fifth sign of emotional abuse

An emotional abuser understands that he or she must be consistent with his or her demands in order to win the prize of partner and relationship control. Thus, the same demands are repeated over and over again.

If the victim periodically asserts his or her right to be free or independent, the response of the abuser is predictable. The abuser will repeat his or her past efforts to assert control and not let up until he or she has vanquished his or her partner.

Which is it... relationship conflict or emotional abuse?

Differentiating between conflict and abuse is a key step in determining whether or not your relationship is emotionally abusive. We’ve already stated that conflict is common in a relationship and that abuse is not — abuse is not reasonable nor acceptable; ever.

First, think about your own behaviors. How often do you feel the need to apologize to your partner or others on behalf of your partner's bad behavior?

Do you feel like you need to change certain things about yourself in order to be more accommodating to your partner’s needs?

When conflict arises between you and your partner, what are your physical reactions? It’s not normal for a person to experience nausea, increased heart rate, and a general tightening of the body in the face of an everyday conflict. When someone is being abused, sadly these reactions are a common day occurrence. There are more extensive emotional abuse injuries that are also common.

You and your partner should be able to talk about things and make decisions without having the conversation turn into an argument — if your partner seems to be constantly turning on you during conversations, it is a sure sign of emotional abuse.

An emotionally abusive person leans towards blaming others instead of taking responsibility himself or herself, thinking that their spouse should be taking care of his or her problems. The abuser will shift the blame to their spouse when something doesn’t go quite right and expect them to take care of the consequences.

Abusers have a distorted view of themselves and the world and those around them; in their mind they are superior to others and deserve special treatment, so they will do whatever they need to do to stay on top.

There are different methods that an emotionally abusive person will use to stay in control of their partner, all of which can be equally damaging.

Click or tap for the Emotional Abuse Test

Find out if you or a loved one is in an emotionally abusive relationship and what to do if that is the case. Take the confidential Emotional Abuse Test. It only takes a few moments and is the first step in learning how to how to stop emotional abuse.

Many thousands of husbands and wives and committed partners have taken my Emotional Abuse Test and have learned the truth about their relationships. These husbands and wives and committed partners have then gone on to learn about various options of how to stop emotional abuse.

If you have an emotionally abusive wife or an emotionally abusive husband or partner, you need to take decisive action now.

Learn more. Purchase this professional guide on how to free yourself from emotional abuse.

emotional abuser, verbal abuse, signs of emotional abuse, psychological abuse

There are several best self-help books in our bookstore dealing with emotional abuse. Learn more about the books that can free you from abuse.

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More  to read on Emotional Abuse:

What Is Considered Domestic Violence and Abuse and Who Are Its Victims?

What To Do If An Emotionally Abusive Partner Blames You!

In addition to my own research based on years of clinical experience working with victims of emotional abuse and abusers who wanted to learn how to be kind and respectful with their partner, I have used information from the following sites:


The National Domestic Violence Hotline.org

AZ Central.com

Topics: What is emotional abuse, Signs of emotional abuse