Relationships can be challenging. But they can be even more difficult if you’re (unintentionally) being emotionally abusive or have picked up some unhealthy habits – possibly from childhood – without realising it.
Catching these behaviours early is important if you want to have a healthy, positive relationship and avoid hurting your partner further.
There’s been a spotlight on emotional abuse and coercive control over recent years, and this has increased with the Queensland government’s recent announcement to criminalise coercive control by the end of 2023.
But what exactly counts as emotional abuse and/or coercive control?
We explore some of these behaviours to help you better understand these dangerous forms of abuse.
If you recognise these behaviours in yourself, you might like to consider seeing a counsellor to help you make changes and address any underlying issues that might be contributing.
You guilt your partner for spending time with others
A healthy relationship requires each individual to maintain their own lives, friends, interests, and connections outside of the relationship.
Guilting your partner for spending time with others or trying to control who they spend time with or talk to is emotional abuse.
You keep tabs on where your partner is and who they’re with
Do you check in on your partner with excessive texts and calls when you’re apart? Do you constantly ask what they’re doing and who they’re with?
Jealousy and insecurity in a relationship can lead to controlling behaviours such as keeping tabs on your partner and wanting to reduce their contact with the outside world.
You check their messages or emails without permission
People often go through their partner’s phone because they’re worried about what secrets they might be hiding.
But reading your partner’s texts, emails, or call log only perpetuates more secretive behaviour in the relationship.
This is a violation of privacy and may be an indication of trust issues.
You dismiss your partner’s feelings
In a healthy relationship, both people’s feelings and needs are considered equally important.
Not allowing your partner to speak in arguments, trivialising the things that are important to them, ignoring their needs, invalidating their concerns, and dismissing their feelings as “dramatic” are all forms of emotional abuse.
You’re critical of your partner, even as a “joke”
This might include belittling your partner’s accomplishments or interests, making sarcastic jokes about their looks or behaviour, calling them names, putting them down, and insulting them. You might even do this as a “joke” around friends to embarrass them.
While some couples have a playful dynamic that involves some harmless teasing, there’s a big difference between banter and abuse.
Are you helping to build your partner’s self-esteem, or are you harming it?
You comment on your partner’s clothing and/or appearance
Everyone has the right to wear what they like and present themselves as they like.
For decades, we’ve seen the “You’re not going out wearing that, are you?” trope on TV – generally between a man and his female partner when she’s wearing a short or figure-hugging outfit.
This is a way to assert control and is often because he’s insecure and worried about the attention she’ll get.
It’s never OK to tell someone what they can and can’t wear, what hairstyle they should have, what they should do with their body hair, or whether they should lose weight – no matter their gender.
You “punish” your partner
This might involve giving them the “silent treatment” or withholding affection until you get your way.
While the silent treatment can simply be a sign of poor communication skills, it can also be a manipulation tactic in emotionally abusive relationships.
These kinds of emotional and psychological punishments can be used to pressure someone to change their behaviour, and it can also make them feel like your love is conditional.
You make all the decisions
It’s not uncommon for relationships to have a dynamic where one person “wears the pants” if that’s what works for both people. But each partner must at least consider their spouse when making decisions.
In a healthy relationship, the decisions are made equally and mutually with respect to both parties.
Disregarding your partner’s input and preferences or refusing to compromise are forms of emotional abuse.
You “play nice” in public
Do you treat your partner differently around friends and family than you do when you’re alone?
You might portray yourself as charming, kind, and caring when in public, yet disrespectful, uncaring, and unkind behind closed doors.
If you’d be embarrassed or ashamed for your loved ones to see how you treat your partner in private, it could be a red flag for abuse.
Where to get help
These are just some of the ways emotional abuse can be used in a relationship.
If these behaviours sound familiar, the good news is you can change.
Identifying these unhealthy patterns in yourself is the first step to having healthier interactions and a better connection with your partner.
Our counsellors can help you identify and address any underlying issues within yourself that may contribute to these patterns and dynamics.
Counselling appointments can be booked by calling 1300 364 277.
People experiencing emotional abuse often don’t realise they’re in an abusive relationship. Learning more about these behaviours can help validate their experience and empower them to make change.
You can learn more about emotional abuse in our blog post What’s an Emotionally Abusive Relationship?