Sometimes we know there’s something seriously wrong in a relationship or marriage, but we can’t quite put our finger on it. There are a number of ways that unhealthy patterns can develop or communication can break down.

But one of the most damaging ways is through emotional abuse. Often the signs can be subtle, or confusing, and we doubt our own perceptions and continue to try harder, to no avail.

If you’re looking for some clarity and what to do next, here are 5 signs that unhealthy patterns are actually abusive.


Does the person use verbal weapons such as cursing, name calling, degrading comments, constant criticism, blaming to get you to do something? Or on the flip side, does the person pout and use the silent treatment?

Everyone says mean things once in a while. But the line to verbal and emotional abuse is crossed when “mean things” become a constant pattern, a way to gain power in the relationship, keep you off balance, and control you.


Do you ever feel afraid of the person? Are you afraid to disagree with the person?

Fear like this is a sign that you feel your well-being is threatened, whether emotionally or physically. Someone can intimidate you without ever touching you physically.

This allows them to get you to do things just to avoid conflict and more abuse. If you’re fearful and feel like you’re walking on eggshells around this person, you may be in an abusive relationship.


Does the person tell you something didn’t happen when you know it did? Or question and challenge your certainty of what he said or did?

This is called “gaslighting”. It’s when someone makes you question your own thoughts and perceptions of reality. It is very cruel and very confusing when someone you love and trust challenges you like this.

It’s more than questioning your tone of voice or a word choice, it’s telling you that something “never happened”, or “I never said that”, or “you’re imagining things”.

This can be a very subtle control tactic and difficult to see until you recognized other patterns of abuse.


When you share your thoughts or feelings about something important to you, does the person ignore you, make fun of you, or dismiss you?

Have you given up things that were important to you because the person pressured you?

In her book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, Leslie Vernick points out that “The opposite of love isn’t hate; it is indifference.” A person who doesn’t care about your thoughts, feelings, or needs is indifferent to you as a person.

This indifference is often coupled with a self-centeredness that requires all of their needs be met, while yours are always classified as silly and unimportant.

This can undermine your self-esteem and cause you to question the things you thought were important.


Does the person make excuses for his or her behavior (anger, jealousy, lies)?

When the person does something wrong, does he or she admit it and take responsibility for it – or blame others?

An abusive person often has excuses or people to blame (mostly you) for his angry outbursts, lies or indifference.

At the same time, he holds you and others to very high standards of behavior, honesty, and attentiveness.

Many women suffer silently in abusive marriages, trying harder to make the marriage work, while their husbands make excuses and blame them for their anger and indifference.


You may be feeling overwhelmed and frightened if you recognize several of these signs of abuse in your relationship.

I want to assure you that the first step is to focus on becoming healthier yourself. That is something you have control over. Often, we become so focused on trying to change or appease the other person, we lose sight of ourselves.

I can help. Whether you’re at the beginning of realizing that something is seriously wrong, or further down the road in recognizing abuse and wanting to set boundaries.

I can help you find the clarity and strength you need.

Please don’t ignore the signs, or try to just get by for another day, hoping the damage won’t be too great.  Get the support you need. There is hope and healing for you.

Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash

Kristin Reid

Kristin Reid

Womens & Couples Therapist | MS, LCPC

I walk with women and couples who want connection, healing, joy, and meaning. I help them work through the fog of relational issues, abuse, trauma, life transitions, depression, and anxiety.  Don’t live another day in the fog. Let’s work together. 

Call for Free Consultation |(630) 797-9872 

Choose A Topic!

Cedar Tree's Mission: 

There are a lot of broken families who struggle to do life well together. 

That’s why we help families create an environment where deeper connection & healing can happen.


(630) 797-9872 Ext. 0

[email protected]



(630) 797-9872 Ext. 1

[email protected]



2172 Blackberry Drive, Suite 202

Geneva, IL 60134

(630) 797-9872



15 Spinning Wheel, Suite 125

Hinsdale, IL 60521

(630) 797-9872

    Ask Us Anything!