Leaving a verbally abusive relationship when you have nowhere to go, nobody to talk to, and nothing to lean on will take grit, courage and strength. You may not feel ready to actually leave, but you can start reflecting on the steps toward freedom. Each of these five examples or signs of verbal abuse are paired with an idea for getting out of the relationship.
Some types of verbal abuse are easy to recognize. For example, name calling, insults and cruel criticism are verbally abusive behaviors in a relationship. But what about the less obvious signs of verbal abuse? How do you know if you’re being verbally abused by someone who says he loves you?
Even more importantly, how do you get out of a relationship when all you hear is how stupid, incompetent, fat, ugly and unlovable you are? I wish I could tell you that it’s easy to leave a relationship that is verbally abusive, but it’s not. Men who are controlling and manipulative are masters at tamping women down, making them feel terrible about themselves, and destroying their self-esteem and self-confidence.
The most important thing to know – after you recognize the signs of a verbally abusive relationship – is that it takes time to create a plan to leave. There are often stages to leaving an abusive relationship.
Don’t be hard on yourself if you’ve been suffering in the same unhealthy relationship for years, or even decades! It often takes a long time for women to leave. Some women feel trapped and unable to support themselves. Other women have no way to pay the bills, feed the kids, or even take care of their own health issues without their partners. Emotional and verbal abuse isn’t “just” psychologically damaging…it destroys you physically, socially, professionally and spiritually.
But it doesn’t always have to be this way.
5 Tips for Getting Out of a Verbally Abusive Relationship
Learning to recognize the signs of a verbally abusive relationship is really important. Some verbal abuse is so subtle and manipulative that you think you deserve to be talked to that way, or that somehow it’s your fault. That’s why I’m describing five different examples of verbal abuse and pairing each with an idea for leaving the relationship.
Be gentle with yourself! It can take months or even years to leave an unhealthy relationship. Why do women stay in verbally abusive relationships? Sometimes they hope the man will change or the relationship will improve. Sometimes they feel trapped for financial and family reasons. Often, women in verbally abusive relationships also lose their self-identity, energy, and confidence. This makes getting out of an unhealthy relationship really hard.
1. Look at your relationship with a fresh pair of eyes
You may be so used to the things your boyfriend or husband says that you don’t even notice how bad things have become. Silence, trivializing, direct criticisms, and passive aggressive comments are four typical examples of verbal abuse in relationships. Do you feel uncomfortable, afraid, insecure, or silenced? Your feelings and instincts are one of the best signs of a verbally abusive relationship. Trust yourself. Your intuition does not lie.
You can start leaving a verbally abusive relationship by looking at him through a more objective lens. If you believe your relationship is verbally abusive, read Should I Stay or Should I Go?: A Guide to Knowing if Your Relationship Can–and Should–be Saved by Lundy Bancroft and JAC Patrissi. You’ll learn how to tell the difference between a healthy-yet-difficult relationship versus one that is verbally abusive. You’ll also recognize the signs that your boyfriend or husband has a serious anger or rage problem.
2. Recognize how you respond to verbal assaults
Think back to the first time your husband or boyfriend said something mean, critical, or rude. How did you respond then? How did you feel, what did you think? Compare it to the things he says to you now. Notice if you’ve changed, or if you respond differently. Do you feel like you deserve to be in a verbally abusive relationship because you’re not good enough to be loved? Some women have a hard time leaving unhealthy relationships because they feel like they deserve to be called names, ignored, or belittled.
How do you get out of a verbally abusive relationship when you feel bad about yourself…or even hate yourself? Start by recognizing what his words and actions are doing to your self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-identity. Just notice how you feel and respond when your husband or boyfriend calls you names or puts you down. This is developing self-awareness – and it will help you leave a man who is verbally abusing you.
3. Imagine telling your friends or family how he talks to you
In Are You Hiding the Truth About Your Marriage? we discovered that one of the most powerful weapons emotionally abusive men have is a woman’s SILENCE. When you don’t share how your boyfriend or husband talks to you, you are protecting him and your relationship. When you protect him, you keep yourself trapped, weak, and helpless. Your silence and secrecy keeps you trapped in despair and helplessness.
Imagine telling your friends or family that you want to leave your relationship because your husband or boyfriend is verbally abusive. What does it feel like to talk about it? How might you bring up the fact that you’ve been suffering in silence for so long? Who can you tell, and how might they respond? Just imagine what it’d be like to say “I’m in a verbally abusive relationship” to someone.
4. Borrow someone else’s strength
One of the biggest, most telling signs of a verbally abusive relationship is low self-esteem. Men who abuse are masters at making women feel like they have no power or control, no choice or freedom. Verbally abusive men are manipulators, bullies, and liars. You feel weak, insecure and powerless because his words have been tearing you apart for so long.
When you feel too weak or scared to leave a verbally abusive relationship, lean on someone else’s strength. You don’t necessarily need close friends or family members to lean on (though they are extremely helpful, of course!). You can borrow strength from a crisis support worker at a safe house or shelter, or a neighbor. You can lean on someone who is part of your church, synagogue, or faith tradition. And you can lean on the most powerful source of strength in the universe: God.
5. Reimagine your self-image and identity
Men who are verbally abusive men are very good at controlling what women think about themselves. If you’ve been in a verbally abusive relationship or marriage for years, then you may have lost your self-image and self-identity long ago. This means it’s time to reimagine, recreate, and reinvent yourself! Start by remembering who you were before. Picture yourself healthy, happy, whole. Who did God create you to be?
When you’re planning to get out of a verbally abusive relationship, remember that a healthy, strong self-identity doesn’t come from men, possessions, or your appearance. It comes from God. If you root yourself in your identity as a beloved child of God, you will have more strength and power than you ever thought possible! And that power will help you not only recognize the signs of a verbally abusive relationship, but also find the energy and strength you need to leave.
These five tips on how to get out of a verbally abusive relationship are a lot to think about…and that’s all I’m encouraging you to do. Just think about the signs of verbal abuse in your relationship, and what life would be like if you were free.
If you’re thinking about ending your relationship, read How to Leave the Man You Love – But Can’t Live With.