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13 'Hidden Signs' of Emotional Abuse From a Romantic Partner


Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced domestic violence, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by selecting “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233.

When we think of the word “abuse” in the context of romantic relationships, we typically think of physical or sexual violence. While those types of abuse are heartbreakingly common, they aren’t the only kinds of abuse people experience at the hands of a significant other.

Sometimes abuse isn’t physical — it’s emotional.

Because emotional abuse from a romantic partner can often fly under the radar, it’s important for us to talk about the signs. To open up this conversation, we asked members of our Mighty community to share one “hidden sign” of an emotionally abusive partner we often overlook.

If you’re in a relationship or have been in a relationship that seems emotionally abusive, you’re not alone, help is out there, and you deserve love and support. If you’re interested in getting more support on your recovery journey, sign up for our Trauma Survivors newsletter with weekly encouragement from people who have been there.

Here are some “signs” of emotional abuse from a romantic partner we can’t keep overlooking:

1. Controlling Who You Can and Cannot Have in Your Life

“They never have a legitimate reason for you to not talk to someone or see someone. They just don’t want you to. You give in once, they’ll convince you to do it every single time. They want you to be completely dependent on them so you’re afraid to leave. They’ll even do this with your family.” — Kimberly L.

“Asking you why you’re friends with someone. It’s not directly asking you to cut them out, but it manipulates you into thinking it’s your idea and controlling who you’re around and making you insecure at the same time about your own judgment.” — Cheyenne L.

2. Refusing to Admit Wrongdoing and Shifting Blame

Instead of communicating normal problems and how to advance on an issue, being on the receiving end of blame and the focus being instead on a guilt trip and not how to work on something.” — Jason T.

“Deflection, every time you bring up a problem, they flip it on you. [They] make it seem like your fault and entangle you until even you believe it’s your fault and [you] end up apologizing.” — Sandy C.

“Every conversation/conflict gets twisted to be your fault. You end up with so little self-esteem that you’re almost incapable of living a ‘normal’ life. But when you’re told something so often by the people closest to you, you end up believing it.” —Phaedra M.

3. Making “Harmless” Jokes at a Partner’s Expense

“Picking on you… using ‘harmless’ jokes to poke fun.” — Erica M.

“Masking criticism and hurtful comments in humor as a way to consistently and constantly belittle and tear you down, especially in public. Because presenting it as a joke is socially acceptable, and the comeback of, ‘It was only a joke!’ turns the tables and makes you look immature and too sensitive if you try to put a stop to it.” — Charity P.

4. Withholding Love to “Punish” a Partner

Withdrawing/withholding love. More than just taking a step back to collect your emotions during tense moments — [I mean] shutting down for day(s) to ‘punish’ a partner.” — Nora A.

“My ex would flip out on me and ignore me for absolutely nothing. They would get pissed about something that had zero percent involvement with me, and not talk to me for three days, knowing my anxiety would drive me ‘insane’ the entire time. Then they would send me a picture, or text me like nothing ever happened and expect me to drop it.” — Liz M.

5. Humiliating a Partner in Public

“Talking about my weight in a group setting. Bringing up intimate details about me with others.” — Melinda M.

“I don’t know about anyone else, but my ex used to make a noise like a sprinkler watering the yard whenever he hated my talking in a group or in public. I learned that he was telling me what I was saying was not valuable or important. He was telling me I was worthless and ‘stupid’ with that small noise.” — Karen S.

6. Blaming a Partner for Things Out of Their Control

“Blaming their partner for the loss of friendships. The ‘friends’ walked due to their poor attitude and behavior, not me!” — Ruth W.

7. Belittling Things That Are Important to a Partner

“Demeaning your interests such as reading, or spending time alone or hiking in nature and saying those aren’t fun and are unimportant and calling you names like ‘nerd,’ ‘loner’ or saying, ‘You’re too quiet and too shy’ or ‘Just open up a little so we can have fun with everyone.’” — Maggie M.

8. Controlling What a Partner Wears

“Telling you to change what you’re wearing, no matter what you’re wearing.” — Dana P.

9. Telling a Partner No One Else Would Love Them

Making you feel like no one else would ever love you. Make you feel like you’re lucky he puts up with your crap and that no one else would do that.” — Megan M.

10. Insisting on Knowing Every Detail of Your Partner’s Life at All Times

“Making you feel like you have to let them know your plans 100 percent of the time. They make it seem like it’s a ‘safety thing,’ but it’s a permission thing really. If they don’t like it, they’ll guilt trip you into not doing it.” — Marie V.

11. Guilting a Partner Into Engaging in Physical Intimacy or Sex

My ex lived an hour away from me. When we would have our dates, he’d expect me to give him a kiss — right when I got in the car, before anything else. If I didn’t do it automatically, he would get mad. Then he’d say, ‘You must not miss me as much as I miss you.’” — Douachee V.

12. Being Hot and Cold to Get an Emotional Response From a Partner

“I’m not sure what you would call this, but he would call me and cry, and yell, and scream at me for not calling him first, even if I was at work. He would psychoanalyze me and tell me I wasn’t capable of loving another human… then five minutes later tell me how grateful he was to have me loving him… He basically made me feel like a monster.” — Nicole S.

13. Insisting You Spend All Your Time With Them

“Wanting/insisting the person to spend 100 percent of their free time with you and then getting upset/making them feel bad when they want some time to themselves or friends!” — Matt K.

If you have lived through emotional abuse in a romantic relationship, your experience matters and your feelings are valid. Emotional abuse is complicated and can often overlap with other kinds of abuse. For more information and resources about domestic violence, head to The National Domestic Violence Hotline website and if you or someone you know is in an unsafe situation, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. 

Unsplash photo via Amadeo Muslimovic