How to Identify Verbal Abuse in Your Relationship

Verbal abuse is the act of forcefully criticizing, insulting, or denouncing another person. The damage is internal, and there are no physical bruises or scars—just a wounded spirit and sense of self-esteem.


Any negative form of name-calling is unacceptable. If you feel that it is a put-down, then it most likely is. There are names that are unquestionably abusive and then there are veiled attempts to put a spouse down that can be harder to identify. Verbal abusers love to use constructive criticism to beat a spouse down.

If your spouse is constantly criticizing you, “for your own good,” this may be a red flag. This is the most insidious form of verbal abuse.

Using words to shame: 

Critical, sarcastic, mocking words are meant to put you down either alone or in front of other people comprise abuse. These may be comments about the way you dress, talk, or your intelligence. Any comment to make you feel inferior and ashamed is what the abuser is attempting. 

Raising his or her voice: 

When a spouse yells easily, you may be understandably worried that anything you say will set them off. This is called the “walking on eggshells” syndrome; it may be easier to pinpoint when considering your own reactions to his or her raised voice. 

Using threats to intimidate: 

Threats to your life or your person will create fear, whether they are empty or not. No threat should be taken lightly, even if your spouse tells you they are only joking, especially if it causes you to change behaviors or to feel on guard in the relationship. 


Your spouse loses their temper and then blames you for their actions and behavior. The excuses used to blame you may be intentionally convoluted to confuse you. 

Your feelings are dismissed: 

Your spouse refuses to discuss issues that upset you. They avoid discussion of any topic where they might have to take responsibility for his or her actions or words.  

Manipulating your actions: 

This involves the persistent and intense use of threatening words to get you to do something or act in a way you find uncomfortable. This form of verbal abuse is common at the end of a marriage. If your spouse doesn’t want a divorce, they will say whatever it takes to play on your emotions and to get you to stay in the marriage, all in an attempt to get you to comply with their desires, regardless of what is best for you as an individual.

You have low self-esteem and feel like a different person: 

You may find yourself burying your feelings, walking on eggshells, and working so hard at keeping the peace that every day becomes an emotional chore. You feel depressed and have even wondered if you are crazy. You are turning your stress inward and punishing yourself for your partner’s bad behavior; though it feels like it is happening in your head, your abuser is responsible for these feelings as they are an extension of his or her abuse. 

You feel like you are walking on eggshells. 

Everything you do and say is never good enough for your abuser. You don’t have feelings of safety and security if the abuser is around and you feel the need to guard every word that comes out of your mouth. 

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MR. B.A.S. (BAS) VAN LEEUWEN (LL.M., Esq.), attorney at law, handles litigation of contentious matters through