How To Spot Verbal Abuse In Relationships (From Subtle To Explicit)

verbal abuse, relationship, life


How To Spot Verbal Abuse In Relationships (From Subtle To Explicit)

Written by: Lindsay Sibson

“You need to fix your hair.

“You need better clothes.”

No. I don’t. What I need is a loving life partner.

The above statements were said to me by an ex-boyfriend. And as the words came out of his mouth, they HURT.

You see, the thing is, I’ve been living out of a small (and I mean SMALL) backpack for the past 3 years because I have been traveling the world. Therefore, my options are limited. Ninety percent of the time I don’t think twice about my clothes, but having someone point it out to you (more than once, may I add) – well, it makes you think twice.

While I was told by him that I was “being too sensitive” and that “he didn’t mean it that way…” it didn’t matter. It was absolutely unacceptable.

The words you use in relationships MATTER. They are powerful and one of the simplest ways that you communicate with the people around you. Words can either build people up – OR tear them down.

Here are the different types of verbal abuse that show up relationships:

Types Of Verbal Abuse In Relationships:

Judging And Criticizing
  • Making a negative evaluation about a partner.
  • Statements that are critical, judgemental and abusive. Often start with “you”:
    • “You are never happy.”
    • “You don’t know what I mean.”
  • Failing to share your thoughts and feelings by withholding information.
  • Refusing to engage with your partner.
  • The person limits their interactions to factual information, such as:
    • “The trash needs to be taken out.”
  • A common form of verbal abuse.
  • Can be very explicit:
    • “If you don’t do ‘x, y, or z,’ I’ll leave you.”
    • Or more subtle: “If you don’t to ‘this,’ people will know you are fake.”
  • Can also be in the form of actions and behaviors, such as physical violence or threatening your safety.
Disguised As Jokes
  • When an upsetting statement is said by the abuser and if the victim becomes upset the abuser adds, “It was just a joke!”
    • Abuse is NOT okay in any form.
    • Jokes that hurt ARE abusive.
Abusive Anger
  • Any form of screaming and yelling.
    • Especially is out of context.
    • “Shut up!”
  • The tendency to be argumentative.
  • Abuser may attempt to make the victim feel like his/her feelings are wrong.
  • Dismissing the victim’s feelings, experiences, or thoughts on a regular basis.
Accusing And Blaming
  • The abuser accuses the victim of things that are outside of his/her control.
Blocking And Diverting
  • A form of withholding.
  • The abuser decides which topics can be discussed.
  • The abuser may tell the victim he/she is complaining too much or speaking incorrectly.
  • Denying one’s bad behavior.
  • Failing to realize the consequences of your behavior.
  • Abuser justifies and rationalizes their behavior.
    • Denies that anything has been done wrong.
Name Calling
  • Can be explicit or subtle.
  • Using hurtful words or labels that are implicitly hurtful.
    • “Oh, you think you are special, don’t you?”
  • Not remembering things that are important to you.
    • A covert way of showing you that you are unimportant.
  • The abuser implies that you are “less than” them.
  • An attempt to deny that the victim has any right over his/her feelings or thoughts.
  • A specific type of criticism: saying the victim is “too sensitive, has no sense of humor.”
  • Indirectly telling a partner how they feel is wrong.
    • “You misunderstood me!”
  • Making the victim feel that what they want seem insignificant.
    • Undermining a person’s choices: clothing, food, work, etc.
  • Demanding statements as an attempt to control the other person.
  • Similar to trivializing.
  • Undermining everything the victim suggests or says.
  • Making a person question their own interests and opinions.

How To Improve Communication In Relationships

1. Find The Right Time

    • Choose a time to talk when you and your partner are not distracted or stressed out to discuss how each other is feeling.  If something is bothering you it is imperative to find time to express yourself and truly listen to what each other is saying.
    • Tip: Talk face to face and be honest. Avoid using text/digital messaging where words can be easily misunderstood. 

2. Do Not Attack

    • Stick to using “I” statements when sharing your thoughts (example: “I feel… I think… “). Avoid “you” statements, which can sound like you are attacking your partner (example: “You aren’t being… You always…”). 

3. Move on

    • If there has been a pattern of consistent verbal abuse and you have attempted to talk to your partner about it and they aren’t open to hearing what you have to say (or the behavior continues), then it’s time to MOVE ON. 

On a final note:

“Relationships are like glass. Sometimes it is better to leave them broken than hurt yourself trying to put them back together.”


Lindsay Sibson

Lindsay Sibson

Lindsay Sibson turned her lifelong dream of traveling the world into a reality when she first stepped on a plan in April of 2014. With the simple intention of learning more about this beautiful world, she stepped away from corporate America to explore an alternative lifestyle of long term international travel, volunteering, blogging and pursuing a blissfully happy and fulfilling way of life.

Lindsay documents her journey in hopes of empowering others to find their passion, reignite their spark and freshen their outlook on life. Connect with her on her website and follow her travels on Instagram (

Through her blog, Lindsay documents her journey in hopes of empowering others to find their passion, reignite their spark and freshen their outlook on life.
Lindsay Sibson

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