Does your husband routinely berate you or hold economic power over you? Just because he's not physically hitting you doesn't mean that something isn't wrong. Women who come to Circle of Moms looking to understand whether they are in an emotionally abusive relationship often get this kind of questioning and coaching from other moms. A typical story, this one shared by a Circle of Moms member named Hope, goes like this:
"Sometimes he's just so mean. He's never hit me or anything like that but he's very controlling. I'm not allowed to have a job or go to school. He checks my phone every day. He tells me what I can and can't wear and how to do my hair and makeup. Is it abusive?"
Hope's answer: a resounding yes, offered up confidently by Circle of Moms members who have successfully extricated themselves from abusive relationships. Here, culled from their frank conversations about the nature of abusive relationships, are six signs that you are in one.
1. Your Partner Blames You For the Mistreatment
When a woman feels thrown off balance or has to ask if her partner's behavior is abusive, chances are she is being abused. As Circle of Moms member Julie explains, "Feeling lost and not knowing where to turn and being caught off guard are true signs.
"A victim is often the target of angry outbursts, sarcasm, or cool indifference. The abuser's reaction to these actions is frequently cloaked in a 'What's wrong with you?' attitude. She is accused of 'making a mountain out of a molehill.' Over time she loses her balance and equilibrium and begins to wonder if she is the one who is crazy. Often he makes light of the abuse and does not take your concerns seriously."
Lisa adds, definitively: "This is called emotional abuse. No one deserves it or should put up with it. The next step might be physical."
2. Your Partner Tries to Control You
Abusers often have extremely manipulative personalities and can make you feel like they own or control your every move. "Someone doesn't have to physically hit you for it to be abusive," says Jenn. "I've been a social worker for 14 years and have worked with families. If someone controls everything you do then you should not be with them. You should be free to do and think what you want."
3. Your Partner Withholds Love and Affection
There is nothing lonelier than living with a partner who doesn't allow you to express or share your feelings or who trivializes you and makes you feel invisible or insignificant. "A marriage requires intimacy, and intimacy requires empathy," says Julie. "If one partner withholds information and feelings, then the marriage bond weakens. The abuser who refuses to listen to his partner denies her experience and leaves her isolated."
She goes on to explain how this can be a subtle form of abuse: "Often the partner becomes confused and believes she hasn't effectively explained to her mate how important certain things are to her. Undermining is also verbal abuse. The abuser not only withholds emotional support, but also erodes confidence and determination. The abuser often will squelch an idea or suggestion just by a single comment."
4. Your Partner Berates, Belittles, or Humiliates
Victims of abuse know all too well how sneaky abusers can be with their snide comments and mocking. They will shoot you a barb but walk out of the room smiling and charming in public so that others never see your private shame and hurt, says a Circle of Moms member named Bonnie. This kind of treatment is a special kind of violence: "If the person is telling their significant other [that] they are worthless, fat, ugly, stupid, [or] can't do anything right . . . that hits emotionally."
Jessica W. knows this all too well. She describes one of her husband's typical ploys: "He blames me for the reason we can't save (I don't have a job) [and] he takes it out on me. I am hearing a lot now that I am the cause of our money problems when I stay home all day. He tells me all the time and runs me down to where I feel like scum . . . but it's because I am busy taking care of the house, a 2-year-old, and growing a baby inside me. I try to defend myself and give him real true reasons why this way is best, and [assure him that] the money is actually going towards things we need versus his carefree spending. But when I try he gets angry, cuts me off, and speaks above me so he won't have to hear what I have to say."
And Megan R. has these choice words to describe her ex-husband's humiliating behavior: "Downright cruel. He would allow our roommate to call me a fat *ss lazy b*tch and then say, 'Oh I thought you deserved it' when I asked why he didn't say anything."
5. Your Partner Tries to Isolate You
Cutting off your relationships with your friends, family and other social contacts is another classic sign of an abusive relationship. Abusers, says Laura S., are "very jealous and possessive of you," and they want you to think that you need them.
A Circle of Moms member named Jenni describes how her former partner accomplished this: "He eventually convinced me to stop talking to family and friends. I was embarrassed for them to see what he was doing to me and his behavior, so I shut them out. He isolated me and I felt he was the only person I had in my life who cared about me."
6. Your Partner Loses His Temper Quickly
Abusers tend to have a quick fuse, say moms who've spent time with one. Jenn describes her experience: "In an argument, he would yell at me for 24 hours straight until I conceded. He'd sleep-deprive me so I was in a weakened state. And then yell at me until he believed I actually agreed with him and wasn't just agreeing to shut him up. It was horrible, I was miserable, I became a shell of my former self."
Ultimately, if the signs do point to the fact you are in an abusive relationship, it's critical that you not blame yourself. "Please don't make the mistake of thinking that any of this is your fault and that things will get better if you only do all things he has told you will make him happy," says Camie. She follows with some strong words: "NOTHING will ever be good enough no matter what you do. This will be your life. And if you have children with an abuser, they will be damaged and continue to live this cycle of violence."
Are you concerned that there are signs of abuse in your relationship?