9 Ways To Tell If Your Partner Is Emotionally Abusive

Abuse can come in many different forms. When we think of relationship abuse, physical and verbal abuse are often the first that come to mind. But can your partner be abusive in other, more subtle ways? Yes, they absolutely can. Emotional abuse is not as immediately life-threatening as physical domestic violence. But it is something that should cause you to question whether your significant other really is “the one”. Now before I move on to the list, just remember: We’ve all probably been guilty of a few of these things at one time or another! The path to a healthy relationship is one of mistakes and learning experiences. But if this behavior is constant, you might have a problem.

Here are 9 ways to tell if your partner is emotionally abusive.

1. They’re Always Jealous Of You

Scoring a major win like a job promotion or a pay-raise feels amazing. It feels even better when your partner is just as happy as you are for your success. But are they? Does your partner’s mood turn sour when good fortune comes your way? Do they try to downplay your moment by telling you it’s not that big a deal, or that it happens to people all the time? If so, you might have yourself a problem.

A healthy relationship starts with support, and being overly competitive with your partner can cause resentment in light of your partner’s happy moments.

2. They Criticize Your Every Move

Honesty is valuable in a relationship… but not when being honest comes at the needless expense of your feelings. If you’re wearing a new shirt or sporting a new haircut that everyone seems to love and your partner tells you with a look of disgust they hate it, it’s probably safe to say that they are trying to break down your confidence.

It doesn’t stop there, critique-heavy partners are also prone to:

  • Making sure you know you aren’t funny
  • Calling you out on all your minor mistakes
  • Being quick to blame you when things go wrong
  • Judge the friends that you have

If you’re feeling constantly cut-down every time you have a conversation with your significant other, it might be time for a re-evaluation of the relationship.

3. Humor At Your Expense

There is a huge difference between laughing with someone, and laughing at someone. Humor is an effective social bonding mechanism between people. Laughing about similar opinions and inside jokes can add to the conversational clout to a romantic relationship and bring you closer to your partner. But a joke is never funny when you are the butt of it.

Does your partner mock you and ridicule you about sensitive subjects? Do they make fun of your quirks and habits in front of friends? This is yet another method to make you feel stupid and test your self-esteem. Sometimes the line between a gentle tease and a hurtful jab is unclear. But if your partner refuses to spare your feelings and stop making fun of something like a job termination or a house eviction, you’ve got a problem.

4. Sky-High Expectations

You try to do everything right. You text them good morning, you shower them with hugs and kisses, you open doors for them… you even listen to their mother complain about the news. So why do they go nuts when you’re five minutes late to pick them up for your date? Why do they scream “it’s like you don’t know me at all!” when they don’t get the joke on the cover of the cute card you decided to get them?

It’s not your fault that your partner has high expectations of you. A common reason for this mindset is that people sometimes idealize – and romanticize – how they believe relationships are meant to be. This is more common today than you think; the “happily ever after” narrative that mainstream media depicts to us all too often gives many of us the idea that our partners should be without flaw. This problem may be more about them than it is about you, but that doesn’t mean that these high expectations affect your self-esteem and your drive to maintain the relationship.

Talk to your partner about their expectations and remind them that you’re only human. And that they make mistakes too!

5. Disregard For Your Opinion

In a healthy relationship, it is important for partners to be open about their thoughts and opinions, and to respect them. I’m not telling anyone to obey their significant other and do or say anything that they tell you to. But to hear someone out or to ask what they think signifies respect and that no one is above the other.

If you hear “I didn’t ask you” from your partner fairly often, this may be a form of emotional abuse, in that they may be getting across that what you have to say does not matter.

6. No Empathy

Good partners are there for you when you’re down. It’s important to try and understand our partner’s feelings – especially during times of sadness or frustration – in order to connect with them and help them feel better.

Does your partner refuse to do this for you? If your partner leaves you purposely to deal with grief on your own, telling you things like “that’s just life”, they may not be looking out for your best interest. Are you a natural born pessimist? So am I. But sometimes, it’s best to look beyond what we think about life’s unfairness and look our for our loved ones instead.

7. They Hold Grudges

Romantic relationships do not come without conflict. At some point or another, you and your partner will have to deal with disagreement, and be able to handle it healthily by finding the root problem and facing it together.

Found the problem? Was it something you said and apologized for, or something you thought you both settled? Are they still mad at you? Holding grudges is a problem that many people take habit in doing. For many of us, it’s hard not to let old conflicts go for the good of a relationship. But doing this only causes harm for both parties involved. Holding grudges can cause your partner to lose confidence in themselves and to be anxious about making you angry again. They can also cause your partner to become resentful due to the fact that you cannot be reasoned with. My advice? Find the root cause of your argument. Discuss it. If you’re the perpetrator of a wrongdoing, apologize. Move on.

8. They Are Controlling

Does your partner have a control issue? Have they ever said anything along the lines of:

  • I don’t like tattoos, so you can’t get one.
  • Don’t cut your hair, I like it this way.
  • You are not allowed to go out to bars, I don’t like it when you do.
  • You can’t hang out with her.
  • You need to let me know where you are at all times.

This is an issue. Trying to control other people’s actions is never okay, and it’s a huge red flag that you need to re-evaluate your relationship. Anything you do should be your business, so long as what your doing isn’t with the intent to harm or offend anyone. Your partner does not have to like what you do, or where you go, or how you do your hair. But they need to respect it.

9. Aggressive Non-Verbal Communication

Does your partner:

  • always talk to you with a condescending, sarcastic tone?
  • always stand a few feet away from you in public?
  • give you looks of disgust when you speak or try to show them affection?
  • constantly deny you physical intimacy?
  • give you the silent treatment for hours, or even days?

These too are forms of emotional abuse. This constant behavior is a form of punishment that many people tend to inflict on their partners rather than verbalizing their problems to them. They might not be saying anything too nasty to you, but the lack of affection can be just as mean.

When we give displays of affection – a hug, a kiss, a handhold, even some bedroom action – our brains release “love hormones” like oxytocin, which promotes affection and bonding. We also release dopamine, which caters to the reward center of our brain, making us feel pleasure from the experience. So, affection can be very important as it helps couples to maintain the intimate physical bond of their relationship. Withholding it can hack at those bonds, causing them to break.


Do you have any points you would add to this list? Psych2Go wants to know! Leave a comment down below and let us know what you think of this article.


Works Cited
Hughes, Candice. “What Is Mental Abuse?” LIVESTRONG.COM, Leaf Group, 14 Aug. 2017, www.livestrong.com/article/133320-what-is-mental-abuse/.
NSPCC. “Emotional Abuse.” NSPCC, www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect/emotional-abuse/.
Stop Violence Against Women, www.domesticviolenceinfo.ca/article/emotional-abuse-231.asp.



Edited by Viveca Shearin




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  1. Passive-aggressive behavior.
    Using romantic gestures or declarations of love to guilt you into giving them what they want.
    Making public statements of how much you mean to them, just so if you leave them, they have “proof” that everything was your fault.

  2. Being part of a couple is hard, but the best relationship tips are really all about maintenance. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Keep up the good work.