How to Recognize Verbal Abuse in Your Relationship – and What to Do


These four examples of verbal abuse in a love relationship may surprise you! They’ll definitely help you recognize unhealthy communication patterns and think about how to respond. Verbal abuse isn’t always direct or obvious, and it’s not always easy to recognize when you are being treated badly by your partner.

Examples of Verbal Abuse in Love Relationships

4 Examples of Verbal Abuse in Love Relationships

“Thank you for this article on surviving life with an angry husband,” says Sarah on 7 Ways to Survive Life With an Angry Man – When You Can’t Leave. “I’ve been living with my man for 13 years now and am used to his anger and manipulation. It’s sad to say but I just have come to accept it. Sometimes I get confused though because it’s not like he’s really insulting me – but I’m pretty sure what he says is verbally abusive. Have you written any articles on the definition of verbal abuse in a marriage? If so I need to read them! I’m not ready to leave my husband and I don’t think I could survive life without him financially or emotionally, but it does help me to know that he is verbally abusing me and that isn’t right. Thank you, Sarah.”

Did you know that most women in abusive relationships don’t want to get their boyfriends or husbands in trouble? They want to stay in the relationship even if their abuser is verbally or physically hurting them. Women just want the abuse to end –  but they don’t want to lose their relationship with the man they love. This is why Sarah doesn’t want to live without her husband. She loves him even though he is verbally abusive. If you feel the same way, you’re normal! But, it may still help you to learn these examples of verbal abuse in love relationships…





Have you been honest with your friends, family, or even a counselor about the way your husband or boyfriend talks to you? If not, you’re normal – again! Most women who are verbally abused and who are in counseling don’t talk completely honestly and openly about their love relationship with their therapist.

“Many abused women in individual therapy withhold important details about their relationships,” says Steven Stosny in Emotional Abuse: Why Your Individual Therapy Didn’t Help and Your Partner’s Made it Worse. “Most say they’re embarrassed to be completely honest with their therapists.”

If you’re in counseling, you won’t get healthy if you hide the worst parts of your relationship. It’s normal to feel ashamed if you’re in a bad or unhealthy relationship because you love your boyfriend or husband. You might feel ashamed because it seems wrong or even stupid to stay with a man who is verbally abusing you…yet you can’t walk away. This happens more often than you think – and you are not wrong or stupid for staying in this relationship.

What is Verbal Abuse?

Verbal abuse is when your partner belittles you, calls you names, criticizes who you are, yells at you, or makes passive aggressive comments. There is a huge difference between valid feedback (eg, “I felt frustrated when I realized you were running late again, but you didn’t call to let me know”) and verbal abuse “What’s wrong with you – can’t you tell time? You are always late, you’re disorganized, and you never call to tell me you’re behind schedule as usual.”

If you aren’t sure if your husband is a verbal abuser, read 5 Signs of a Verbally Abusive Relationship.

1. The wall of silence (aka the silent treatment)

This is my fallback position in my marriage when I feel hurt, angry, frustrated, or scared. I withdraw. I stop talking to my husband. I didn’t even know this was a type of verbal abuse until I read The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans. Verbal abuse doesn’t have to be direct yelling and criticisms! It can be nonverbal. Nonverbal abuse is what I struggle with in my own personality and marriage.

If your husband uses the “wall of silence”, read 5 Tips for Dealing With the Silent Treatment in a Relationship.




Your thoughts are welcome below! I don't give advice, but you can get free relationship help from marriage coach Mort Fertel.



2. Trivialising your concerns and feelings

Here’s a lighter example of verbal abuse in relationships:

Yesterday my husband lost our dog in the forest. She is teeny tiny – only seven pounds! – and she was wearing her leash. My husband had dropped her leash for a few minutes, and she just took off after a squirrel. He had to come back home and ask me to help him look for her. For a few minutes, I panicked because I envisioned her leash getting caught on a log or shrub and trapping her there, somewhere in the forest where I couldn’t find her!

4 Examples of Verbal Abuse in Love Relationships

4 Examples of Verbal Abuse in Love Relationships

I started to panic, and told Bruce my fears. There are coyotes in this forest, and I was worried that she would be an easy meal. He trivialized my worries, saying, “Oh, don’t be silly, that won’t happen. She’ll be fine.”

That’s similar to telling me to relax and calm down – except it was worse because it was very possible that her long leash would trap her somewhere in the forest. And we see coyotes all the time – we’ve even had an owl swoop down in an attempt to take her. Thank God, we found our little dog…but I’m still thinking about how he trivialized my concerns. I don’t feel like I’m being verbally abused in our marriage, but I didn’t like the way he spoke to me — even though he was just trying to help me.

3. Direct criticisms

Calling you stupid, ugly, fat, lazy, etc are the most obvious examples of verbal abuse. In my definition above, I offered an example of direct verbal abuse. However, just because they’re obvious to me doesn’t mean they’r e obvious to you. If you grew up in a verbally abusive household, then you may be so used to it that you don’t even notice it.

If you tend to withhold the truth about your relationship – and what your boyfriend or husband says to you – then you are normal. Many abused women who are in counseling do not share the most important details about their relationships. Why Most say that they’re embarrassed to be completely honest about how their boyfriend treats them.

4. Passive aggressive comments

This can be tricky. Passive aggressive comments don’t seem like they’re verbally abusive, but they are. An example of this type of verbal abuse in a relationship is, “You’re so disorganized, you could start your own blog on how to be the most disorganized person on the planet! You’re always late and I’m the only person on the planet who could ever love you.”

Help Dealing With Verbal Abuse

Examples of Verbal Abuse in RelationshipsIn The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize it and How to Respond Patricia Evans explains why verbal abuse is more widespread than ever, and offers ways to deal with a verbally abusive love relationship. You’ll get more of the answers you need to recognize abuse when it happens, respond to abusers safely and appropriately, and lead a happier, healthier life.

I highly recommend you read this book, even if you don’t think you’re in a verbally abusive relationship. As you can see, verbal abuse isn’t just the obvious criticisms and attacks. It’s about unhealthy communication patterns, and how to make them healthy again.

If you are being verbally abused (or you’re dealing with other types of abuse), read How to Cope With Abuse in Your Relationship.

How are you? I welcome your thoughts on these examples of verbal abuse in relationships, but I can’t offer counseling or advice. If you’re dealing with an abusive relationship, reach out for help in person! I know it’s hard…but you need to start talking about what’s happening.

Start by telling me your story below….



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5 thoughts on “How to Recognize Verbal Abuse in Your Relationship – and What to Do

  • Laurie Post author

    Hi Liz,

    That’s a great question – thanks for asking it! Yes I kinda hate to say this but you are being verbally abusive when you call your boyfriend a name. Even if he called you a name first it’s still verbal abuse to respond the same way.

    How are you feeling about your relationship? You and your boyfriend have been together for five years, so you have a long history together. If your relationship is healthy, would you and he consider working together so there’s not so much name-calling or taking things to crazy levels?

  • Liz W

    Some of this resonates with me. I’m a bit confused though…It’s hard to explain but am I myself guilty of verbal abuse when my boyfriend calls me a “b***h” and I react by calling him a name? Is it abuse when they take things out of context and use it against you? For example: when I first met my boyfriend I was laughing and joking and said I was Cybil. IT WAS A COMPLETE JOKE. He still five years later uses that against me! Saying I have an anger problem and I said it myself when I said I was Cybil. Totally twists things and takes it to a whole different crazy level. He takes things LITERALLY.

  • Nicole B

    Yes this post resonates with my little brother and me. We were always verbally abused by both our parents. I always felt like my parents were bullies, and I always had very low self esteem. Sometimes I feel so worn out by my parents. I try to avoid them any chance I get. I was suicidal and attempted suicide once. I was depressed through out my childhood and teen years. I’m finding ways to deal with my depression. It’s extremely hard but I’m trying to push through it. I want to be content with myself, and build new relationships with people not related to my family. I know I will be okay without my parents putting a strong hold on me.

  • Laurie Post author

    Verbal abuse is often learned from our parents – thank you for mentioning this, Janie. It can be a cycle, perpetuated from generation to generation. Those patterns of communication are hard to unlearn — but it can be done!

    The key is becoming aware of when we are verbally abusive, so we can change.

  • Janie

    I will definitely take a look at this book. I know my mother was verbally abusive to me and my siblings and my whole life was an effort not to be like her. but I know sometimes it might slip in because its how we were treated. I think this book might be a handbook for, not just how to recognize an abusive relationship, but how NOT to talk to people…