3 Types Of Abusive Relationships To Watch Out For

Photo: getty
sad woman in sweater
Heartbreak

You didn’t see the signs of an abusive relationship. It’s taken you a while to realize your partner might be abusive. You still don’t want to believe it, and may even be wondering if what you're experiencing is really a type of abuse.

For a while, you shut down your feelings to it all — but now you can’t. Your partner yells at you and demeans you for one thing after another. It’s awful.

Do you deserve to be mistreated like this? You’re not always sure. It’s confusing.

Most likely, it’s all too familiar, stretching back to childhood and maybe even other difficult relationships you've had since then.

RELATED: 5 Signs Of Gaslighting You Need To Watch Out For With Manipulators

You might be living in fear, insecurity, and immersed in bad feelings about yourself. Those feelings — that you aren’t good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, organized enough, and on and on — are seemingly valid in your mind.

You’ve always had a critical voice in your head berating you. Your partner's abuse links up with that voice.

Perhaps you were similarly abused as a child. When you think about leaving this abusive relationship, the voice inside takes over and makes you doubt yourself.

If you’re not completely sure you’re in an abusive relationship, there are signs you need to be aware of. 

Here are 3 types of abusive relationships you need to learn how to recognize before it's too late.

1. Emotional abuse.

Emotional abuse is any tactic used to control you. The ultimate goal is for one partner to feel superior and in control, so you doubt yourself and never feel like you're standing on solid ground.

This can take many forms. Your partner might call you crazy or paranoid, or make you doubt your perceptions — also known as gaslighting.

An emotionally abusive partner may constantly oppose you, isolate you from family and friends, call you selfish, give you the silent treatment, or even accuse you of cheating. They might make jokes at your expense.

You feel inferior all the time. Your partner tells you your opinions are stupid or ill-informed, and uses your confidences or fears to humiliate you. What you do never meets their "standards."

If you say how you feel, an emotionally abusive partner tells you you’re “too sensitive.” They nitpick everything. You’re always walking on eggshells, never knowing when they will explode next.

If you’re vulnerable, you believe them. You never feel good enough.

2. Verbal abuse.

Any abusive relationship is emotionally abusive. Usually, verbal abuse is also involved.

You’re being verbally abused any time your partner speaks to you in demeaning ways, discounts you or your feelings, uses words to make you feel inferior, or puts you down.

A verbally-abusive partner will call you names or give you what they call “helpful” suggestions or “feedback” (which are really criticisms of you and your character). This is usually in a seemingly sweet and sincere tone.

A verbal abuser belittles you, blames you, judges you, makes jokes at your expense, screams at you, trivializes your ideas and feelings, threatens you, and calls you names.

They expect you to follow their orders, never asks, and is verbally disrespectful. Plus, they're never wrong. If you believe this, they've got you where they want you.

If your partner is also physically violent, it’s not only your self-esteem that's at risk.

RELATED: When He Consistently Does Any Of These 8 Things, He's Slowly Trapping You In A Toxic Relationship

3. Physical abuse.

A physically-abusive relationship involves physical violence and battery on top of other forms of abuse.

Being pushed aside, roughly tugged, driven recklessly, “lightly” smacked on the head, dragged along. Even if it begins with these, it can — and most likely will — get worse.

You’re held down against a wall or bed. Scratched or bitten. Slapped. Kicked. Choked or strangled. Forced to eat or denied food.

They might throw things at you, break belongings in a rage, use weapons or objects to hurt you. An abuser threatens you in many ways.

You’re constantly terrified. You never know when they will hurt you or beat you.

If your abuser is also forcing you to have sex against your will or makes you satisfy them "because you’re his wife or lover" — you’re also being raped, sexually used, and violated.

If any of these things sound remotely familiar, and if there's any physical force involved, you are in a physically (and perhaps also sexually) abusive relationship.

Don't be fooled by apologies or displays of remorse.

Don’t be fooled if your partner feels occasional remorse, apologizes, cries, says they’ll “do better.” They can’t. This is a physically-abusive relationship; they are not in control.

Most importantly, you’re in danger and need to get out to be safe.

An abuser — in any of the three kinds of abusive relationships — has some common characteristics. Mostly, those have to do with how they make you feel:

  • Scared of making the “wrong” move.
  • Bad about yourself.
  • Full of self-doubt.
  • Boxed in.
  • Under their control.

You can’t have thoughts of your own. You have to mirror your abuser. But no matter how hard you try, you seem to slip up. They are unpredictable. You can’t keep track of what they want.

And, if they want something, it better be now. Even sex. There’s no respect for you. You’re blamed and criticized for everything. Nothing is ever any abuser’s fault:

  • You made him yell.
  • If you hadn’t done that, he wouldn’t have hit you.
  • Why do you have to get him so frustrated?
  • How could you? You never… You always…

All abusive relationships are emotionally abusive, because the target is your self-esteem.

If you find yourself in any of these types of abusive relationships, it's important to remember it's not your fault. Your abuser likely replicates something that happened in their childhood.

An abusive relationship won't get better.

Leaving an abusive relationship isn’t easy, but to safely get out of any of these abusive relationships, you need a well-established safety plan.

  • Don’t waver or let your abuser convince you that you’re wrong.
  • Don’t respond to manipulation or professions of “love.”
  • If you feel in danger, get legal help and a restraining order.

For help with a restraining order, finding a battered women’s shelter, an attorney, or answers to legal questions, Women's Law is a great resource.

Cry and grieve as much as you need. That’s important. Remember: You will feel better and heal over time.

It’s important to get professional help. You can also seek out a private referral. But do focus on finding a professional who specializes in trauma.

You’ve been seriously traumatized if you've been in any type of abuse and need to heal. Abusive relationships make you feel like you have no control, but you do — and you can choose to never be in this position again.

RELATED: 13 Acts Of Emotional Abuse Commonly Misinterpreted As 'Acts Of Love'

If you’re experiencing domestic abuse, you’re not alone.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that approximately 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the U.S. More than 12 million women and men over the course of the year suffer from instances of domestic violence and abuse.

Experiencing domestic abuse can happen to anyone and is not a reflection of who you are.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline defines domestic violence, domestic abuse, or relationship abuse as a “pattern of behaviors use by one partner to maintain power and control over another person in an intimate relationship.” Anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender can suffer from domestic abuse. According to NDVH, close to 3 in 10 women and 1 in 10 men in the U.S. have experienced rape, physical violence, and or stalking by a partner.

If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic abuse or violence, there are resources to get help.

There are ways to go about asking for help as safely as possible. For more information, resources, legal advice, and relevant links visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline. For anyone struggling from domestic abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). If you’re unable to speak safely, text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474 or log onto thehotline.org.

Subscribe to YourTango's newsletter to keep up with us for FREE

- Our best articles delivered straight to your inbox
- The latest in entertainment and news
- Daily horoscopes and love advice

Dr. Sandra Cohen is a Los Angeles-based psychologist and psychoanalyst, who specializes in treating persistent depressive states and childhood trauma. Contact her if you have any questions.