Subtle Verbal Abuse in Couples

Although it's not as evident as physical abuse, subtle verbal abuse can undermine self-confidence little by little.
Subtle Verbal Abuse in Couples

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Violence in couples can show up in very subtle ways. These include verbal abuse: words that we might not give much importance to but that in reality are significant.

Hidden insults, put-downs and mocking are just some examples of this.

In this article, we’ll share some other examples so that you can learn to identify them. Then, you’ll stop seeing them as normal or simply a part of your partner’s personality. You can’t allow verbal abuse, no matter who it comes from.

Clear verbal abuse in couples

verbal abuse

There are some kinds of verbal abuse within couples that perhaps you don’t want to see. In some cases, you accept them as something that has always been that way.

These kinds of verbal abuse include:

  • Making fun of someone in a way that seeks to belittle them. This may includes using diminutives to disguise it, for example “You can tell you’re from a small town.”
  • Drawing attention to the attributes of other people: “Wow, what a great body, that’s the kind of body I like.”
  • Deliberately lying about all sorts of things even if they aren’t significant: “I didn’t leave the keys there.”

These are some of the kinds of verbal abuse that may come at us and that we’re not prepared to react to. In fact, it’s very possible that we allow these kinds of reactions in our relationship because we may have seen this in the most significant relationship that we had as a model: that of our parents.

However, in order to realize that this verbal abuse is happening, we have to pay attention to our emotions. Do you feel OK? Are you noticing that your self-esteem has been trampled?

Emotional blackmail

Emotional blackmail

Emotional blackmail is a kind of verbal abuse that has the objective of manipulating the other person. The goal? To get something, or simply to achieve some kind of satisfaction from the feeling of controlling the other person in the relationship. Using very subtle wording, this approach tries to make the other person feel guilty.

As you can see, if there is emotional blackmail in a relationship, there is no love. Instead, there’s manipulation: the desire to control and to use the other person.

Within the scope of emotional blackmail, there’s a technique currently known as “gaslighting” which attempts to make the other person doubt their mental faculties.

Through phrases like “I didn’t say that” or “you’re crazy, I would never do that”, the manipulating person tries to disconcert their partner and make them doubt what happened.

Their goal? To disorientate the other person so as to have greater control over them. In fact, sometimes, if the partner gets annoyed because they knowr what happened and they say so, the manipulating person can take their voice away from them.

The prolonged silence that comes with completely ignoring a partner is also a kind of abuse. In this case, the goalis to get the other person to come  grovelling to them or to take the first step towards a possible reconciliation.

This whole section could be summarized in just one word: humiliation.

Putting a stop to verbal abuse

Putting a stop to verbal abuse

Even if we don’t think it’s that bad, this dynamic needs to be stopped. Overall, the decision to leave a situation like this is based on paying attention to our feelings.

If you feel bad, guilty, or depressed, you need to get out of there.

There are no “buts”. A person who uses verbal abuse in a relationship is not healthy.

However much they say they love you, however much they say they knew they were wrong, all they really want is a new opportunity to continue with the behavior dynamic that has brought you to this point in the relationship.

Let’s not fool ourselves. The most likely thing is that it won’t change.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bjorkqvist, K. (1994). Sex differences in physical verbal and indirect agression a review of recent research. Sex Roles.
  • Demianova, Y. (2014). Verbal agression in the pedagogical medium. Recent Issues of Pedagogy, Psychology and Vocational Education.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.