9 Early Warning Signs of an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

Understand the kinds of abuse and know what you need to do in an abusive relationship.

- | 110 Aha! comments | Posted in category: Love & Relationships

Woman making warning signs of emotional abuse

The worst you can expect from your partner is an abusive relationship. Physical abuse is bad and it’s apparent when it happens. But emotional abuse in a relationship is a hidden danger and often very painful and devastating. People go through emotional abuse in marriage because they simply do not recognize its signs and symptoms. What are the signs of an abusive man? What are the signs and symptoms of emotional abuse? Get an in-depth understanding of the early warning signs of emotional abuse and learn how to save yourself from getting hurt in this updated post. ~ Ed.


Have you ever gone through an abusive relationship?

If you’ve then you’ll recognize the emotional abuse signs mentioned in this post.

Even if you haven’t, I think it’s good to know the early signs of an abusive relationship that might help you in your marriage.

The fact is that often times you might not even come to know that you’re going through an abusive relationship, and this goes for both, men and women.

Yes, the signs of emotional abuse could be so subtle.

But there are some warning signs of emotional abuse in a relationship that can help you foresee what you’re getting into.

Besides, there are things that you too can do to keep away from such abusive relationships.

You’ll learn everything in this post.

I’ve often come across men and women who go through a lot in their relationship, whether it’s before or after marriage.

Most of them tend to bear up things, not realizing that sooner or later serious issues will arise in their relationship.

However, the sooner you recognize the signs of emotional abuse, the better.

Before going any further, let’s first understand the meaning of emotional abuse, and who is an abuser.

What is Abuse

Generally, to abuse means to exploit, insult, and mistreat.

Specific to a relationship, abuse is the misuse of power that uses trust and dependency, and the bonds of intimacy to make the victim vulnerable.

“The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.” ~ Edmund Burke

Abuse is experienced in many different ways, and isn’t just limited to physical violence. Simply put, it’s an attempt to control the behavior of another person.

What is an Abusive Relationship

An abusive relationship can include emotional, mental, physical, verbal, and sexual abuse, and also involve control of finances.

  • Physical abuse can include things like punching, hitting, pulling hair, kicking to name a few – as sometimes seen in domestic violence besides other relationships.
  • Emotional abuse can be bullying, teasing, and humiliation. Intimidation, threats, putdowns, and betrayals are other forms of it.
  • Mental abuse shows up in the form of mental harassment, mental torture, blaming, and demeaning ways to put the person under stress, and made to suffer from feelings of intellectual incapability and despondency.
  • Verbal abuse involves the use of foul language and calling names that often leads the person to have low self-esteem.
  • Financial abuse occurs when you aren’t allowed to keep or use your money, nor have any control over money.
  • Sexual abuse can happen to anyone, and it’s mainly being forced into any type of sexual relationship that you don’t want.

“The quiet but inexorable breaking down of self-esteem is much more sinister – it’s violation of the soul.” ~ Rachel Abbott

What is Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is also known as psychological abuse. It involves malicious manipulation systematically used by the abuser through non-physical acts. It is recognized through various emotional abuse signs and symptoms.

The signs of emotional abuse include intimidation and threats, criticism, name calling, mocking, blaming, shaming, undermining, being made to feel guilty, ignoring or excluding, humiliating, economic abuse, emotional bullying and controlling behavior.

According to Wikipedia, emotional abuse is a form of abuse, characterized by a person subjecting, or exposing, another person to behavior that may result in psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Who is an Abuser

An abuser is also a human, but he or she has a complex and destructive problem that no one should underestimate.

Such a person acts deliberately, rather than accidently. His or her behavior is conscious at most times.

The person knows what he or she is doing, though not necessarily the underlying reason why he or she is doing it.

An abuser learns about controlling behavior and manipulation from various sources like peers, roles models, and pervasive cultural messages. On reaching adulthood, his manipulative behavior becomes automatic!

Man shouting and expressing anger towards woman who shuts her ears

Emotional Abuse in Marriage

Falling in love feels so wonderful that you often forget the potential problems that might occur, let alone entering into an abusive relationship – a thought that never crosses anyone’s mind.

You fall in love and quickly get married. In marriage, you tend to give yourself up completely to make your partner happy that you forget to see the early signs of an abusive relationship creep up slowly – when they do.

During the process, love hurts at times and you also face problems in a marriage. However, an emotionally abusive relationship is a bit different, intense, and serious.

Violence or abuse in a relationship doesn’t appear at the beginning of a relationship, but builds slowly over time. The more you give of yourself, sometimes the faster the red flags appear.

Everyone wants love in their lives. No one ever plans or thinks of entering into an abusive relationship, and some of those who do get into one, swear never to enter into another relationship ever again.

“You have the right to your own ideas and opinions, to make your own decisions, and to have things go your way at times. Stand up for those rights.” ~ Beverly Engel

One of the first early signs of an abusive relationship is your gut feeling that something isn’t going right. Sadly though, it often takes nearly five to seven acts of violence before a person leaves the abuser.

Taking the other person for granted, or lack of love from your partner could also lead to an abusive relationship.

It’s easier to avoid such a relationship if you are able to detect the initial signs of an emotionally abusive relationship. If your partner is doing any of the below, you may be in an abusive relationship.

9 Signs of Emotional Abuse in a Relationship

Be very careful of these warning signs if you are in a relationship because if you experience them, you might just be in an abusive relationship without even knowing about it.

I should mention here that sometimes even normal people show these signs of emotional abuse. However, if these get intense or repetitive, then these may really be the signs of an emotionally abusive relationship.

You need to weigh out that from your gut feeling about your partner or the person in relationship with. If you see the signs he will abuse you, you need to take action.

I’m also providing call to action or suggestions that might help you deal with the emotional abuse problems if you’re facing them in your life.

Here are the emotional abuse signs and symptoms:

1. Quick Commitment and Involvement

This is one of the earliest signs of emotional abuse. Your partner might come on strong and pressurize you for a commitment before you are really ready for making one. He or she might want more involvement than your present one and force you into it.

Does he or she want your hand in marriage very quickly? Does your partner flatter you a lot more than expected to win you over?

While these might occur in normal cases too, just be careful because these are also the early warning signs of an emotionally abusive relationship.

Words like “You’re the love of my life. I’ve never loved anyone like this before”, might pressurize you to make a commitment immediately.

What Should You Do? Take your time and let your partner know that you will weigh out the situation and decide. What’s the rush if it’s love? Love always takes time to bloom, so keep things going slowly till you are very sure about what you want. Don’t commit and give in to the pressure, only to regret later in life.

2. Controlling and Jealous Behavior

Perhaps your partner is of a controlling nature and wants to control how you dress, where you go, what you do – is it so?

Or your partner might be calling you constantly and making unexpected visits?

Sometimes your partner might even accuse you of having an affair, flirting, and blaming you for things you haven’t done because they are jealous or get sadistic pleasure out of it.

If this happens, then it rings an alarm as these could be the signs and symptoms of emotional abuse.

Jealousy is a negative emotion, and a sign of insecurity and being over possessive. State of being over-jealous could lead to an abusive relationship.

Sometimes the partner tends to think he/she is in control. Or feels he/she should take all the decisions as he/she is normally the one heading the relationship.

It’s nice to take a back seat letting your partner take the decisions; though don’t let his/her expectations become controlling.

Is your partner a little jealous and tells you of how much he/she loves you and can’t see you with anyone, or allow you to be near anyone?

I wouldn’t call this love; instead, it’s trying to be in control!

When you are in love, your relationship is built on trust, faith, and freedom. This means your partner will trust you wherever you go, or with whomsoever you are. He/she won’t stop you from being yourself.

True love always gives freedom. Ensure you don’t interpret jealousy as a sign that your partner loves you immensely, or taking control as your partners concern for your protection. Instead, these may be the signs of emotional abuse.

What Should You Do? Learn to say no, and do what you feel like doing – including what you feel like wearing! (depending on your culture and society). See your family and friends without second thoughts. There is no person superior than the other in a relationship, so work out your problems and take decisions together. Don’t give in to the jealous and controlled pattern of your partner as that might just set a pattern for your future relationship, or you might be expected to do as you’re told, if you do it once.

“Trying to make someone fall in love with you is about as pointless as trying to control who you fall in love with.” ~ James Earl Jones

3. Possessiveness & Isolation

Do you find your partner always wanting you to talk or be with him/her? Is it that he/she doesn’t like you socializing around?

Does your partner take out reasons why it’s better to be with him/her, rather than with others? Such people directly or indirectly try to isolate you and keep you for themselves.

I hope you don’t follow such a person’s possessive behavior and as a result lose contact with your family and friends! That would totally cut you away from them and the rest of the world.

This isn’t good as it’s one of the signs of emotional abuse. If yours is a healthy and loving relationship, it should thrive in a community where you have your loved ones and friends around you.

What Should you Do? Involve your family and friends, or meet up with other couples and people. Make this a habit from start, so that you know from your partner’s reactions if he/she is the kind of person who is possessive and wants to isolate you from others.

4. High Expectations & Humiliation

Does your partner expect you to be the perfect man, or perhaps the perfect woman? Are you expected to meet his/her every need and demand? And if you don’t, or make mistakes, you are punished for it?

Perhaps your partner then tends to sulk, withdraw, and use all in his/her hand to put you down to punish you. They do everything to humiliate and make you feel bad about yourself.

He/she might call you names, insult you, bring you shame, and publicly put you down to make you feel powerless.

Don’t let anything fool you because these are definitely signs of emotional abuse in a relationship.

Everyone makes mistakes, so set yourself off the hook when you make them too – dealing with people becomes easier when they have too many demands from you.

What Should You Do? Set limits to, and challenge the high unrealistic expectation your partner has from you. Don’t let them take hold of your life or humiliate you. Start doing this early in your relationship and live with boundaries about what you can accept, and cannot.

5. Oversensitivity

Do you or your partner feel insulted easily? Or perhaps he/she tends to take little setbacks as a personal attack?

Perhaps you feel that anything or everything you say just might upset your partner, so you stop yourself from conveying your feelings.

Does this happen quite often? Then it’s a problem and may be one of the signs of emotional abuse played by your partner.

No one is perfect, and you need to remember that there are problems in every relationship. There will be times when you will disappoint and upset your partner, so accept that fact.

What Should You Do? You need to confront your partner and resolves issues in your marriage or relationship, instead of adapting to his hypersensitivity. If you fear talking to your partner and can’t convey your feelings because of such a behavior, rethink on your decision to be with such a person. You need a person who is more understanding and doesn’t take things so personally or as personal attacks.

6. Mood Swings

Does your partner have mood swings? Is your partner’s behavior unpredictable? Does he/she have a short temper? Perhaps your partner has a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde kind of personality!

You just don’t know what might happen next, when he/she loses temper, or you just don’t know what mood he/she is going to be the next minute. All this can often lead to misunderstandings that should be avoided.

Often times, as a partner you might bear with such mood swings and wild temper. You even might try to remain calm and resolve things if possible, but it’s not always possible – isn’t it?

Such frequent behaviors are signs of emotional abuse in a relationship.

What Should You Do? Once your partner shows such traits; you need to set limits on it. It’s normal for everyone to get angry once in a while, but going overboard can be dangerous and should be taken as a warning sign of what might happen in your relationship later. Convey to your partner that you won’t tolerate such temper, mood swings, and violence. Nip it in the bud as they say, before it gets out of hand.

7. Blame Game

Does your partner tend to blame anything or anyone for the problem he/she faces? Indirectly, he/she blames you for the reason of his/her behavior.

Sometimes people love to play the blame game and say that had you not put them in such a situation, things would have been different.

Or then if you change your way, he/she wouldn’t have done what he/she did? Such people keep blaming you for their faults. Doesn’t it break your self esteem?

Don’t accept this as normal behavior. It is one of those signs of emotional abuse that your partner uses to put you down.

Such people don’t take responsibility for their own actions, but prefer blaming others for their life. You might feel you are worthless or there’s something wrong with you.

What Should You Do? Take this as one of the early signs of an abusive relationship because he/she will always blame you for whatever goes wrong in his/her even later in life. And if it happens once, it might happen again and again. The blame game continues lifelong if not stopped when it starts.

8. Sexual Demands

If your partner forces you to have sex with him without your will or puts you down for not having it, you need to reconsider things. These are sure shot signs of an abusive man.

He might not reconsider your feelings and emotions, and is only keen to gratify his own sexual needs. Such people don’t care about the consequences of how you feel about such an act.

If your partner is successful in forcing his way, then it is physical or sexual abuse. If your partner makes you suffer emotionally as a punishment for not letting have their way, then it’s one of those signs of emotional abuse that should raise a red flag for you.

What Should You Do? Say ‘no’, when you aren’t ready to make love to your partner – so no to disrespect. If you are being forced against your will to have sex, then it’s time to get out from such a relationship because this IS sexual abuse. Such people seldom change, so don’t wait for that time and bear it all up.

9. Past History

How much do you know about your partner’s background? Does he/she have a history of abusive relationship?

Or perhaps your partner talks about the past relationships and blames everything and everyone for why things didn’t work out.

You need to be careful of such a person because if your partner does have such a background, then you could be next in line. Unless such people undergo counseling, it’s rare that they change their ways. Be watchful of the subtle signs of a controlling partner and their emotional abuse signs.

What Should You Do? Don’t fall for the talks such people make nor their promises to get better, because their past records are proof that they cannot change. It’s a clear sign that such a person can’t see his/her own behavior and would land up blaming you for what happens to him/her. Steer away from such a person if you get to know of it before, or try moving out if you know of it later.

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” ~ M.Kathleen Casey

A woman showing a fist to a man expressing abusive relationship.

Wrapping It Up

There may be more signs and symptoms of emotional abuse but this post gives you a pretty good picture to assess the situation you’re in.

Right from the first signs of abusive relationship, do not take any of the red flags lightly. Don’t accept mistreatment, disrespect, verbal abuse, or abusive behavior of any kind.

Remember, you aren’t the one who is guilty. Instead, by learning these early signs of an emotionally abusive relationship, you can keep away from people who might ruin your life later.

Don’t feel ashamed for what’s happened, instead, seek help or support. It will boost your self esteem, make you feel empowered, and keep you protected from more abusive attacks.

Lastly, never ignore your conscious and intuition about the way you feel about your partner.

If you feel fearful, in danger, or mistrustful, then rethink as to why you feel this way. Do you really want to continue in such a relationship? The long-term effects of emotional abuse could adversely affect your sense of self-worth.

“Remember sadness is always temporary. This, too, shall pass.” ~ Chuck T. Falcon

I hope you use these warning signs of an emotionally abusive relationship in your and save yourself from getting hurt.


Over to you

Do you know of anyone who has been in an abusive relationship? If it were you, how did you deal with it? What early signs of an emotionally abusive relationship would you warn people to be careful of? Share your experiences and thoughts below in the comments.

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110 Comments - Read and share thoughts

  1. clinton

    2018-04-02 at 8:39 pm

    abusive relationship has set some people to emeotional trauma,it is a vice to be tackled.considering the fact if you have kids they will learn to be abusers from your spouse. Do you really want to unleash that chain onto the world? i guess NO

  2. Ariana Mansour

    2018-02-11 at 9:45 pm

    Wow thank you for sharing this. I was in an abusive marriage that I couldn’t leave because of our son and cultural reasons. I wrote a book called, He Never Deserved Me, sharing everything I had to go through and accomplish. I hope that it is able to help someone going through the same thing that I did.

  3. Sue

    2017-06-19 at 5:31 pm

    Hi , I was married for 23 years and he was very abusive and also abused our 2 kids. I am now divorced and I live on my own I actually got away from him. The problem is when I got my own place to live I met a man after being by myself for 2 years. He was abusive also mainly mental and mind controlling . I finally broke it off after 4 years. The problem is we live in the same neighborhood and he’s right across the street. After a month of breaking up with him he moved this new woman in his house , we were supposed to get married and live together. I feel so used and abused, because he lied and used me. I am trying to bring myself back to where I was before I met him and it’s hard. I just don’t understand why I didn’t see all the red flags in the beginning of our relationship. I just know he’s going to abuse this new girl too. Deep down inside it hurts even though I know he wasn’t the person for me. It just hurts and I don’t know why. Could you please respond because I am not sure what it is that I am going through.

  4. Kathy

    2016-05-02 at 5:29 am

    Verbal and emotional abuse are insidious. There is a kind of brain washing that happens in the relationship. It took me any years to figure out what was happening to me in our marriage. I did, however find the courage to leave this man after 15 years of marriage. The sad part is I cannot get my children away from him. If there is no physical violence, you do not have a legal leg to stand on. It seems to not be recognized in the courts. This kind of abuse can leave much larger invisible scars than physical abuse. It is maddening that my children’s still have to endure this!

  5. Kathleen Quinn

    2015-07-11 at 6:48 am

    Hi Hareena
    I left an abusive relationship a year ago.. I stayed in it for 22 years. When I left I was an emotional wreak. I think of all the people like myself that stay and make excuses. 22 years is a lifetime that I wasted on someone who never really loved me. I am glad that you wrote the he above hopefully it is read by the right people, the ones that suffered as i did. Unfortunately I was not allowed to do much, he was my world and as you said he took full advantage of me. 1 year later an he has moved on to another victim and I can’t help but feel for the girl he is now with, of course she much younger and needy, which makes her a perfect target for his abuse. I was not his first victim, I just wish his ex would have warned me, I wouldn’t have wasted so much of my life. My question is “should I be her advocate?” Should I warn her family? I just don’t want to see her waste her life as I did. I know she will be mentally emotionally financially and most of all physically abused. It has taken me a year to get the help and support I needed, I left with the clothes on my back, lost all I worked for most of my life, I just don’t want to see another human being destroyed as I was. I feel It is something I should do. He was a police officer and he has fallen thru the system one to many times. Any advise would be greatly appreciated.

  6. Joseph

    2015-04-18 at 8:34 am

    Wow, this was quite the read. Some of it was actually frightening; I read a lot of it that I feel related to myself. Do you think people who deal with anxiety are more likely to be abusive in their relationships?

  7. sofi

    2015-02-11 at 5:07 am

    I’m in relationship for 6 years and all the signs you talked about are in my partner I wanted to stop this relation many times but i couldn’t do it and every time we break up he bags and sometimes he scared me that he’s gonna hurt me… what i should do knowing that he loves so much and he can’t live without me how can i break a relation with such a person

  8. kika

    2014-11-20 at 5:51 am

    I have a boyfriend I’ve been friends with for 15 years. We’ve been dating for 1.5 years and we live together. We have had a tumultuous relationship. When he gets frustrated sometimes he throws things, breaks things, punches things, or punches himself. It scares me. One time a neighbor called the cops, and his father who was putting us up in an apartment below him evicted us. We eventually found a place together, hopeful we’d get the help and turn it around because we’re both smart and want a healthy relationship. There isn’t jealousy, or isolation, control or many of the signs of abuse otherwise. He’s 6’4” and I’m 5’2” and I’ve been hit in a relationship once and I left right away. It scares me when he does this because he disrespects property and I’m afraid of someone hearing crashing and getting evicted again, and I can’t restrain him or stop him from raging. He’s broken a TV, mirrors, clocks, rips his clothes…
    We have been meaning to go to counseling for most of our relationship now. He went to counseling a bit in 2 different places but was going just him, alone, and either he didn’t go once or twice and was put off the list, or his counselor left, and counseling was in another town. We wanted couples counseling and finally found a place just a couple days ago. Usually things are great and I feel very in love with him and we’ve pictured a happy, HEALTHY life together–a family, married. He’s good to my family and friends. Usually about once a month or so things get bad. But when things are even a little bad I still try to talk with him because I won’t just be quiet and acquiesce to stuffing my feelings down. He takes things personally, tries to talk it out, doesn’t want to fall apart but sometimes does.
    I have finally had enough because his outbursts send me into terrible panic attacks. I am hurt AGAIN and weary of the cycle. I am afraid, though I have been hopeful and he left a message for a counseling center yesterday, this morning he had an outburst, broke a bookshelf, threw things around and broke a special bowl my mother gave me. I can’t just go back and forgive!!!
    My phone (for an unrelated reason) is broken and won’t charge. So I am writing to share.
    I love him but I can’t keep doing this. I know he needs help but I wish we had gotten help sooner. I feel alone in this new town now, and have been afraid of talking to friends, because I was on the verge of ending it before and didn’t want them to be against him so that he could get help and we could get better. I am tired of my own emotions in relationships. I am tired of moving on and cutting people out of my life.

    He wants to go to counseling. I am having a hard time today. Today could be the day I give up. I am very sad.

  9. liz

    2014-06-10 at 9:19 pm

    Went through every single one of these from age 18 to 21 (still 21 now), and yet still feel guilty for getting out of the relationship before it was too late, before kids came along, etc., because I was raised that divorce is immoral. Something of a relief to see that “it’s not just me” and these are valid issues.

  10. Arelis Cintron

    2014-01-07 at 11:24 pm

    The other day I was in a supermarket parking lot. I was searching for something in my purse before I got out. There was a man who pulled in to the spot next to me. As he walked over to get a cart he was scream loudly and saying profanities. I wasn’t sure if he was yelling to himself or the woman that was in the car. She didn’t get out. When I came out of the store, she was still in it. I wanted to ask her if she was ok. I don’t know why but his behavior put me on alert. I never know how someone is going to react or their background situation so I didn’t say anything. :/

  11. Linda Ursin

    2014-01-06 at 6:04 pm

    #5 is the only one I’ve experienced. I’ve been with my husband for going on 23 years. He’s never been physically abusive… Can’t say I like where it’s going though

  12. Maggie

    2014-01-06 at 8:03 am

    I’ve heard that if someone “sweeps you off your feet” in a whirlwind courtship, that’s an early danger sign of a controlling relationship. The abuser wants to control everything and especially you. I’ve read that there is no cure for an abusing person, so they will NOT change no matter how loving you are to them. Another warning sign is if someone in their family is abusive, especially a parent. The example is too strong. Plus if you have kids they will learn to be abusers from your spouse. Do you really want to unleash that chain onto the world?

  13. nick catricala

    2014-01-05 at 6:27 am

    I seen your picture (gravatar) many times on blogs I read within the B3 group, but never stopped to read any of your article, well, I do not remember doing it any way.

    This topic got my attention since I know a couple who is having some challenges and I come here to read what this is all about.

    WOWOW… your “Early Signs of an Abusive Relationship” are all present in this couple and from what I observed and know so far, the female is the one who have shown all of them right from number one…. she pushed into the serious relationship within a month after they first meet… She pushed to get married in a similar fashion (she did not get pregnant in 10 years and out of the blue she got pregnant and used that fact to push and get married on the spot) and the rest continued to manifest all the other signs as time went on. Now after 9 years into a rough relationship, she turn around got into a fight, and went to the police charging the husband for assault, when she actually was the one who always pick a fight for a reason or another..
    few years a go, I probably could help this couple a lot… now I am not sure any help will be useful to save the marriage… a lot of damage has been done in 9 years.

    Thanks so much for your support in this issues.. very useful and hope it will help others as well.


  14. Nicole

    2014-01-04 at 5:30 am

    You hit a home run!

    Abusive relationships are something most people don’t like to talk about or simply sweep under the rug. It affects everyone! Knowing the signs early are most important. Sometimes women (and men) may ignore the tell-tell signs of an abusive partner thinking it’s normal when it’s not and often escalates to something way more scary.

    Thanks for posting!

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