How Verbal Abuse Impacts Relationships

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words...can hurt, just as much as physical pain.

Verbal abuse is a form of emotional abuse exemplified by non-physical behaviors such as insults, threats, put downs, intimidation and humiliation. Some classic examples of verbal abuse include name calling, yelling and screaming, intentionally embarrassing their partner in public, blaming their partner for their unhealthy behavior, threatening to hurt themselves if they’re broken up with, threatening to harm their partner or the people their partner cares about, or guilting their partner for not wanting to participate in sexual activity.

Why Is There Verbal Abuse?

The goal is to control or manipulate the victim into staying in the relationship. This is what distinguishes this kind of abusive behavior from others. Control is driven by the abuser’s fear or anxiety of a perceived threat, such as their partner chatting with friends or nagging them to do things a certain way. Manipulation is an attempt to coerce or dominate their partner so they can feel superior and prevent the shame of having their superiority challenged.

How Does It Affect The Relationship?

While it may not cause physical damage, verbal abuse can leave scars well beyond those left by violent contact. Victims can believe what their partner says, whether it’s that they are fat, stupid, ugly, worthless or unloveable - in fact, the abuser is the only one that would ever want to be in a relationship with them. The victim is suddenly the cause of the behavior and blames themselves for what they’ve done, instead of the abuser taking responsibility for their words.

This kind of constant criticism leads to a loss of confidence and low self-esteem, on top of other mental health issues such as an increased risk for depression or eating disorders. In fact, a recent study from Michigan State University shows that those who suffered from dating abuse in their adolescence obtained less education compared to those who had not been victims, plus a link between lower earnings in adulthood by those who were victims.

It’s still abuse, even if it’s verbal abuse. If you think you or someone you know is suffering from verbal abuse, talk to someone about the situation or chat with a peer advocate for more help.