6 Ways Normal Relationship Fights Turn Into Verbal Abuse

Will you make excuses and stay, or see the signs and go?

Last updated on Jun 22, 2023

man yelling at wife GBJSTOCK / Shutterstock

We all have arguments in our relationships, but knowing the difference between a normal disagreement and verbal abuse is important.

This type of "communication" wears you down, leaving you questioning yourself, and feeling humiliated, isolated, and broken.

They say love is blind and, often, we are blinded to the reality of the dynamic of our most intimate relationships. We rationalize, excuse, and accept behaviors that are, in fact, abusive. Abusers always have an excuse, including telling you that their verbal abuse is just normal arguing, something all couples do.


 Will you rationalize excuses, feel sorry for them, and stay — or will you recognize that your arguments and fights have turned into verbal abuse?

Words matter. They matter so much that they start and end wars. The children’s rhyme about sticks and stones many of us grew up with was simply trying to convince us otherwise.

RELATED: 5 Signs You're Being Verbally Abused — And Don't Even Realize It


Here are six examples of verbal abuse that go beyond normal fighting in a relationship 

1. Criticizing that becomes degrading

When their goal is to put you down rather than to build you up, your partner is a bully and your relationship is unhealthy.

When their nitpicking becomes condescending, harsh, degrading, and makes you feel bad about yourself, watch out.

Your self-esteem will suffer from the barrage of judgments and finger-pointing declarative "you" statements — "You're too uptight," "You're such a child," or "You have no sense of humor."

There's nothing constructive about these statements — they hurt.

2. Blaming you for their own choices

When you find that you're often put on the defensive for things outside your control and made to feel guilty for their choices and outcomes, watch out.


They are responsible for their own actions.

But if they always find a way to twist and turn it to blame you, they are being abusive toward you. It's confusing and creates self-doubt.

3. Name-calling disguised as humor (or just straight-up mean)

When they disrespect you by using words to degrade, humiliate, demean, unacceptably tease, or attack your character, watch out. In fact, get out.

This type of belittling is often masked as humor, but it's used to keep the abuser in a position of superiority. If you question them or stand up to them, they will dismiss your feelings by saying they were "just joking" and that you're "too sensitive."

If this has started in the dating phase, it will not get better — it will only get worse.


They can get help for their underlying hurt — you know, hurt people hurt people — but not if you enable them by remaining in the relationship and allowing them to have a victim to abuse.

RELATED: 10 Critical Things To Know About Verbal Abuse, So It Doesn't Happen To You

4. Criticism or mean jokes that become public or are designed to shame

When they make you feel inferior about who you are or what you do or how you do it, it's a red flag. This is deeper than criticism and involves mockery and sarcasm.

It leads to feelings of humiliation, sounding like jokes that reveal or attack your vulnerabilities or private or accusations that make you think you're doing something wrong.


The verbal abuse might even be public. This keeps you off balance and diminishes your self-worth.

RELATED: How To Stop Verbal Abuse With One Simple Trick

5. Yelling, especially when combined with physical posturing or threats

When they raise their voice to intimidate or frighten you, this is toxic, abusive behavior.

Yelling is a common bullying tactic to control and manipulate. And when yelling and screaming is combined with physical posturing, it is often threatening and punishing — regardless of the words being said.

If they're yelling now, threats are likely not far behind. Any threat is a red flag and should be taken seriously.

Fear is the greatest control tactic an abuser will use.


6. When taking space to cool down becomes withholding 

When they're not talking, watch out.

If they're not responding to you, making you beg for attention and basic information, or they respond in a minimal, undermining way that makes you question if you’ve done something wrong, the silent treatment may be used to keep you subordinate and "toeing the line."

You'll be starved, yet settle for crumbs.


Verbally abusive behavior is a power play to exert control over you. The bottom line is this — if it feels bad, it is bad.

Trust yourself. If you've normalized it somehow, trust that gut reaction you had when it happened the first time. Trust the one you're having now, as you read this. Eventually, the aggression could escalate to another type of abuse, likely physical.

If you don't feel safe and respected in the relationship, leave it. If you don't feel safe leaving the relationship, seek help and guidance.

You're worthy of love and respect, no matter what they say.

If you or someone you know feels threatened in a relationship, help is available 24/7 from the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE).


RELATED: What Is Verbal Abuse? What To Do When His Teasing Jokes Aren't Funny At All

Ann Papayoti, PCC, is a relationship coach, author, and speaker helping people help themselves through losses and transitions. She helps people untangle from their past and heal their hearts.