Gay & Lesbian Services of Western New York

Verbally Abusive Relationships

Over the last few months I have gotten questions about a type of relationship pattern. These questions have been about how to react when your partner is abusive. Some of the emails describe relationships in which it is clear that verbal abuse is occurring. I will talk about that below. Some, but not all, verbally abusive relationships evolve into physical abuse. The topic of physically abusive relationships requires a column by itself and I will address that issue in another Info Page.

People tend to minimize verbal abuse until it is a well entrenched pattern in a relationship. They dismiss the sarcastic remark or put down by a partner as the result of a bad day, stress, perhaps too much to drink or some other excuse. As verbal abuse increases sometimes we may even convince ourselves that we deserved it. “I am stupid …or fat…or ugly…or dumb…or whatever…”

Sometimes you may start to believe that you are “lucky” that your partner stays with you and often your partner will tell you how luck you are that they stay…that is, if your relationship is abusive! No one who really loves you in a mature way would tell you that you are lucky to have them…quite the opposite! They would be grateful to have found you and that you choose to be in their life.

People who are verbally abusive are often insecure themselves. They use put downs as a way of controlling you by making you feel insecure and therefore less likely to leave. Often, the periods between verbal abuse are very nice and the partner seems very loving. It can be this “sweetness” in between that seduces us into staying because it seems so real and feels so good….especially after a bad, hurtful period.

So what can you do. Well, for one thing you can give up on the idea that your mission is to save the abuser…WRONG…your task is to free yourself. Abusers rarely change their behavior because they were asked to or under the threat of the relationship ending. Second, the process of change for them is long, arduous and usually does not occur without considerable therapy. Believe me, your self esteem will be long gone before the abuser improves.

The important thing is taking care of yourself. Distance yourself from the person who is abusive. Put yourself around people who respect you, who treat you well, who acknowledge your strengths and accomplishments. If the abuser is someone you love, remind yourself that there will be other loves…and more satisfying ones…in your life.

Should the verbal abuser be a sibling or a parent, distance yourself by being involved with your school, friends or after school programs. Remind yourself that this too shall pass as you grow up and eventually move out on your own.

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