Loving someone doesn’t mean putting up with arguments that attack your self-worth and basic rights.
In the heat of the moment, sometimes the things you say in an argument can be hurtful.
You might feel frustrated if you aren’t expressing your thoughts well, or you may feel as though you have to defend yourself.
Marital arguments can involve heightened emotions and conflict from both participants. It’s typically a crescendo of each side trying to explain themselves.
When the escalation shifts from someone trying to express their point of view, to someone repeatedly imposing hurtful words, sentiments, or judgments on someone else, beyond a disconnected dialogue, this could be verbal abuse territory.
Arguing can be a natural part of communication problems in marriage, but not if you or your partner uses verbal abuse.
Verbal abuse is any spoken, written, or gestured communication used to assert power and control.
Because it’s often used to deliberately humiliate or demean, it’s considered a form of emotional abuse.
“Verbal abuse is a repeating pattern of verbal attacks towards another person,” explains Christine Scott-Hudson, a therapist based in Santa Barbara, California.
It can be communication that’s direct and blunt, or it can be passive-aggressive and subtler.
According to Scott-Hudson, verbal abuse in a relationship usually escalates over time.
Your relationship involves verbal abuse if any of the following is happening:
- mocking or ridiculing
- blaming or scapegoating
- privacy invasion
There may also be verbal abuse if the arguments make one or both partners feel:
- unable to have the “right” answer
“Denial, blame, and manipulation are different forms of making someone feel less-than and not valuable,” says Dr. Timothy Yen, a psychologist in Dublin, California.
Someone using verbal abuse may deny their own behaviors. They may claim they can’t control how they act when their emotions rise.
Examples may include:
- “I can’t help it. I just get so angry.”
- “You know I don’t mean it that way when I say it.”
- “It’s because I care about you so much.”
Blame can shift the responsibility away from one person during an argument. It suddenly makes you at fault for what you’re feeling, not them.
Blame often consists of “If you did this, I wouldn’t have to do that” statements.
Examples may include:
- “Look what you made me do.”
- “If you were listening, I wouldn’t have to yell.”
- “You know how angry I get when I see you talking to the neighbor.”
Manipulation may not always come out in heated arguments. It can be hidden in conversation and often involves guilting or testing loyalty.
Examples may include:
- “You wouldn’t do that if you really cared about me.”
- “Men find women with that hair color more attractive, you know.”
- “People would like you better if you talked less.”
Other forms of verbal abuse you may encounter include:
- withholding information/communication
- hurtful sarcasm
There may not be any obvious warning signs before someone acts violently.
Verbal abuse itself can be a red flag that your partner doesn’t respect your human rights or safety.
Other warning signs of impending violence may include:
- vindictive statements
- acceptance or fascination with violence
- paranoia that others are “out to get them”
- destruction of your property
- animal mistreatment
- violation of your personal space
- unwanted grabbing or touching
- sudden escalation in voice
- clenched jaw or fists
- flushed face/sweating
- rapid breathing
- violent gestures
Verbal abuse is abuse.
If you’re realizing the actions in this article are typically yours within the relationship, know that verbally abusive actions often develop from what was in front of us growing up. It can also result from not being taught properly how to emotionally regulate. There’s hope and help for turning these behaviors around.
Talk therapy is effective in helping folks identify what family dynamics modeled this behavior, and how to unlearn them so you can have fruitful, calm, and intimate relationships moving forward.
If you’re on the receiving end of verbal abuse it can make you feel like less of a person, and it can negatively impact your daily life.
Verbal abuse is not your fault, and you didn’t do anything to deserve it.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a verbally abusive situation, help is available. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.