Around a year ago, I thought that I was in love. I realized a few months later that not only was the relationship doomed to fail, but that it was also incredibly unhealthy. I was so startled by the realization and how long it took me to get there, I wrote about some signs that it’s time to move on from your current significant other. Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about those of us who may not realize we’re in a bad situation – situations that, if it were happening to a friend, we would be outraged, but we don’t want to believe they could happen to us. Emotional, or verbal, abuse went a long time without being recognized as abuse. It recently garnered a lot of attention with the social media tag: maybe he doesn’t hit you. If any of the following apply to you, it may be time to have a serious conversation with your SO about the way they treat you and/or leave the relationship.
1. Changing your behavior to avoid a fight.
If you have given up something you like to do or believe in because your SO “doesn’t like it” or “it will make them angry,” something may not be quite right about the relationship. I once went to lunch with a friend and listened to them complain that they wanted to order a burger and fries, but their SO would get angry if they found out they ate anything that wasn’t a salad. When I asked them why their SO would be angry, they told me that their SO told them they “don’t date fat people.” I have heard people say that their SO will “kill them” if they do something they don’t like. If you have changed something about your personality or hobbies, ask yourself why. It may be time to take a closer look at your relationship if the answer involves the likes, dislikes, and beliefs of your SO.
2. You feel guilty.
Many people who have been in abusive relationships often describe themselves as walking on eggshells or actively trying to avoid doing anything that might set off their abuser. They feel emotionally exhausted from constantly trying to keep the peace.
You may feel like your relationship is a chore or a job; you may feel guilty if you “fail” and your SO gets upset with you. Some even report feeling guilty that there is something about them that makes their SO mad at them. Chances are, if you feel like you’re walking on eggshells or constantly responsible for your SO’s bad mood, it’s time to get out of the situation.
3. “If you weren’t so _____, then I wouldn’t ______.”
Your SO does something or something happens to them, and suddenly it’s your fault. A cheating SO may say something like, “Well, maybe if you weren’t so ugly/fat/boring/whatever insult they can find to hurl at you, then I wouldn’t be talking to other people.” A SO who lost their job for consistently showing up late might insist that “If I hadn’t had to deal with (insert thing you needed once here), then I wouldn’t have gotten fired.” It may be time to have a talk or leave the relationship if your SO blames you for things that happen to them or things that they caused to happen.
4. Using threats or other manipulative behaviors.
If your SO ever threatens you, get the heck out of that situation. If you have ever had to rationalize your SO’s language with “well they won’t actually do that,” it’s time to get up and leave.
The thing about abusers is that they want power and to feel in control. They want you to behave in a certain way, and they will do what they have to for it to happen. Some people, including myself, have been in relationships they are scared to leave. Some common tactics used by manipulators include: “If you leave me, I’ll kill myself,” “If you really loved me…” or they will bring up something they know you feel guilty about and then use it to get what they want. This behavior, which is especially common at the end of a marriage, can be very subtle at times. It all comes down to them using the fact that you have a conscience against you. If you feel like your SO may do these things or they have said these things, something isn’t right about your relationship. Always remember: you don’t owe anyone anything.
5. They “joke” about things they know will get a rise out of you.
Many of us, especially women, are self-conscious about our weight and appearances. Friends have told me stories about their SOs commenting on their weight in a negative manner while being fully aware that it was one of the biggest insecurities that friend had. When I asked a male friend why he worked out so much, he told me that it was because his girlfriend had pointed to another, more muscular man in the mall and said, “Now that’s what a REAL man looks like.”
The abuser will often apologize, but how much weight should we give an apology if they continue the behavior or have done it before? Many people in abusive relationships will make excuses for their SO’s behavior to friends, “They’re only doing it because they love me and want to motivate me.” If something your SO says strikes you as mean-spirited, that’s probably because it was. Don’t let “love” be an excuse for staying with someone who treats you poorly.
If you don’t feel happy, comfortable and safe in your relationship, it may be time to consider moving on. You are surrounded by people who love and support you, no matter what you choose to do. You deserve to be with someone who treats you well and makes you feel like you’re on top of the world.