Is It Verbal Abuse or Something Else?

September 5, 2019 Katlyn Brinkley 

It can be hard to tell when you're in a relationship: Is it verbal abuse or something else? Over time, every relationship develops a unique dialogue that you share with your partner--a communication style you both understand. But what happens when verbal abuse gets mixed into that dialogue? Is it a unique love language or is it verbal abuse? This was a struggle I faced in many forms over the course of one of my longest relationships.

Is It Verbal Abuse or Healthy Involvement?

I've experienced many moments when I had to decide if my partner's involvement was healthy or overprotective. Examples include asking who would be at a gathering I was going to and requesting we share our phone locations. There can be a fine line between what's acceptable and what's considered possessive, but the best way to decide is by the way it makes you feel.

In my relationship, it was clear that sharing our location was only used in emergencies, so while that could be considered possessive, it didn't bother me. Yet, when he asked who every intended guest would be at a gathering with my friends, it would upset me because it resembled a lack of trust. I learned that these boundaries depend on the nature of your relationship and the most important thing is that you both feel comfortable with your dialogue.

Is It Verbal Abuse or Humor?

Another sensitive area for me was the subject of humor. I'm a sensitive person and tend to take things personally. However, being sensitive doesn't automatically lend itself to being taken advantage of; there were many times when my partner crossed lines that would offend anyone. This included jokes about my family, career path or physical appearance. I learned that a line was crossed when his humor focused on topics of my insecurity, not good-natured jokes ("When Verbal Abuse Is Disguised as a Joke").

It became easy for him to blame my frustration on my sensitivity if I fought with him or cried, which was hard for me to argue against in those moments because I didn't have a fully clear image of myself or my expectations. However, after the relationship ended, I realized that those comments were manipulative no matter the levels of my sensitivity.

Is It Verbal Abuse or Unrealistic Expectations?

Once I started living with my partner, it involved more than just focusing on our romantic interactions; we had busy lives that existed all around and intertwined in our romantic relationship. However, I learned that living together also meant being supportive on the dull, rough days of ordinary life.

My partner was less interested in the moments where I wanted to talk about the job I hated or the fight I had with my friend than he was about conversations that directly involved him. It felt like he compartmentalized topics and paid little attention or shut me down when I wanted to talk about things bothering me in my life, saying I should "leave my problems at the door" because when he was home, he wanted to destress. He made me feel like it wasn't okay to experience negative emotions in the comfort of what was my home, too. I thought maybe I was being too needy.

In hindsight, I see that our partnership shouldn't have been put on pause while we experienced our own issues, and there should have been an effort to support each other as individuals as we went through unique obstacles in our lives.

What I Learned from Verbal Abuse that Looked Like Love

I took a lot away from this relationship, the most important thing was the achievement of clarity about what I expect from a relationship and the confidence to prioritize this in my future relationships. No relationship will be perfect, but being trusted, respected and heard are now standard expectations in my partnerships, and I encourage you to listen to yourself throughout your relationships to discover the expectations you deserve and prioritize them.

So how do you decide if it is verbal abuse or not?

APA Reference
Brinkley , K. (2019, September 5). Is It Verbal Abuse or Something Else?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 15 from

Author: Katlyn Brinkley 

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