Love, Self

Subtle Abuse: 6 Questions You Should Ask Yourself

Your mother and your best friends say you've got to leave him. They say you are too smart for what you are putting up with. But the sex is quite sensational, to be honest. You love him and because you've read the manual on unconditional love, you know you are not supposed to give up.  Nobody is perfect. You are reminded of this when you look in the mirror.

How do we know what to listen to: our heart or our head? What we feel, what we know, what we've heard or what we've read?


There was a time in Diana's life when she spoke with confidence. When she told a story to friends she was known for her wry sense of humor. But now she realizes when she goes out, she is usually with her husband. And when she attempts to tell a story to him or to his friends, she is starting to stutter. She knows she needs to avoid certain words and certain subjects. And in knowing that, she starts to lose track of what her story is about, where she was going with the tale or what the punch line is. By then she's usually seen her husband's face—his look of disapproval or his contorted grimace at how she's expressing herself. Or, he has already usurped her story, interrupting her flow and telling it his way. Or worse, he is outright correcting her, telling everyone she always gets it wrong, and that this is just another example of how wrong she always is. "The story didn't happen like that. She's not telling it right at all," he blurts. 

How do you know if you are experiencing abusive behavior when it can be very subtle? You must ask yourself 6 basic things:

  1. Does your partner hold more control and make most of the decisions in your relationship?
  2. Are you often blamed or shamed?
  3. Does your partner dismiss your feelings, criticize you regularly, or use threats to intimidate you?
  4. Is there a lot of yelling?
  5. Are you changing your behavior to try to make him happy so he will not yell or humiliate you?
  6. Are you isolating yourself from friends and family?


It had gotten to the point that Maddie just didn't talk about her home life anymore. If she wanted to see her parents and her sisters she did it on the sly, so as to not rile up her husband. He thought her family was always trying to turn her against him and that it was her fault. In the past, she'd complained about his temper and behavior. She'd even spent a few nights on her sister's couch. As a result, her family wanted her to get out of the marriage on no uncertain terms. But her family didn't know her husband's good sides, or the reasons why he was the way he was; only Maddie did. So to protect everyone, Maddie shut down. She stopped talking about her marital problems when she visited her family, and be the times were so rare, she'd rather make the most of them while she had the time.

We know from our own experiences and work that many women live inside the ether of abusive situations and that they are often unaware. In stark contrast to physical abuse, this form of suffering can be more insidious. It is subtle because it is more difficult to see. It is harder to prove to others and to ourselves. With emotional/verbal abuse, there are no black and blue marks.

At SAS we understand the power of love, and we know that you love him. But we also know that for love to be healthy, sustaining and nourishing it must start with ourselves. So we ask our clients, "Who is looking out for you?"

To love, respect and protect yourself is your right. You deserve to know what your options are in life. Your heart says you love him, but you need to listen to your head too, and most especially to that little voice inside that says something is not right. Ask yourself, "Can you love yourself enough to get the support you need—with or without him?"

Also, think about what you are modeling for your kids. Are your children watching you enable your own mistreatment? Do you recognize there is only one you, and that you are too important to squander? Are you modeling for your children what it means to take charge of your life, no matter how hard?

Loving someone and living with him is not always the same thing.

If you would like supportive feedback on where you are right now in life and what you have to look forward to, but what you likely have no glimmering is possible, give us a call. There is no charge for this initial consultation, and we welcome you.

For More Abusive Relationship Advice From YourTango: