When a spouse is physically abusive, you know it. However, emotional abuse is often harder to detect – usually because it’s both subtle and sophisticated. Emotional abuse usually increases in intensity over time, as the negative patterns of behavior by the abuser become more ingrained and the victim keeps trying to adapt. That can make it difficult for victims to realize what is actually happening and draw a line.
So how do you tell if your spouse is emotionally abusive and your marriage has grown toxic? These are some signs to watch for and to evaluate thoughtfully.
They constantly criticize you
While constructive criticism is a normal part of any relationship, belittlement, name-calling and demeaning comments are not. Over time, this can deeply erode your self-esteem and sense of self-worth.
They try to isolate you
Emotionally abusive partners often seek to isolate their spouse from friends and family so that they can keep you dependent on them (and hide their actions). They may discourage you from spending time with your loved ones or insist on controlling your social interactions.
They gaslight you
Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic in which the abuser attempts to make you doubt your own eyes, ears, thoughts and reality. They may outright deny things they’ve said or done and find ways to twist the narrative around any mistakes they can’t deny to make it seem like you’re somehow responsible.
They’re fond of the silent treatment
Emotional abusers may employ the “silent treatment” as a way to control and punish their partner. They withdraw affection, communication and emotional support just to create anxiety and insecurity in your mind.
They make threats
Threats and intimidation are clear signs of emotional abuse because they create an atmosphere of fear that is designed to keep you under their control. (It’s important to note that they don’t have to threaten you directly. Threats against your pets, for example, can be significant. So are threats of self-harm if you don’t comply with something they want you to do.)
Emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse and should not be ignored. Your spouse is the one person who should always be there to lift you up and make you feel empowered. If you feel like the exact opposite is happening, it may be time to explore alternative options and to safeguard your legal interests moving forward.