Living with Emotionally Abusive Men

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    Relationships are complicated, especially abusive ones. Although unhealthy, feelings of love, dependency and self-esteem are all wrapped up in the relationship too. For women living with emotionally abusive men it can be difficult to separate these and see what’s really going on.

    Women can be abusive as well, particularly emotionally, but in this article we’re focusing on men. And while there is outward evidence with physical abuse, emotional abuse can be much harder to see. Especially for those living with emotionally abusive men every day.

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    Real-Life Example Of An Emotionally Abusive Man

    Wondering what it’s like to live with emotionally abusive men? Let’s ask Emily.

    In many ways Emily and Jason’s relationship looks picture perfect. In fact, she says that it’s better than any relationship she’s ever had.

    But there’s a problem. Even though from the outside Jason looks like a great guy, Emily wonders if he’s really just another version of am emotional abuser like she’s dealt with before in previous relationships.

    Jason has this habit of denying Emily’s experience of events. Recently they had a fight over going out with friends. Since then every time they talk about that night Jason insists that Emily is not remembering correctly what happened, specifically what he said and did nor, in his opinion, does she remember correctly what she said and did.

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    There is a name for this kind of behavior, it’s called gaslighting, and it’s a very cruel and sneaky form of emotional abuse.

    Jason can be very persuasive and convincing too. He has the ability to describe events in such a way that make it look like he’s done everything possible to resolve a problem and is just the victim of another person’s wrong behavior – i.e. Emily. As a result, Emily frequently questions herself about her recall of the facts and if in fact Jason is really right and she is wrong (Tip – when you find yourself routinely thinking this way this can be a sign of a relationship with emotionally abusive men).

    What makes this such a problem for their relationship is that this happens all the time, over big things and little things.

    • Jason is right – Emily is wrong.
    • Jason acted correctly –Emily acted wrongly.
    • Jason doesn’t have anything to change –Emily needs to change.

    See the pattern? Abusive relationships have patterns like this. Additionally, it’s always Emily who considers that maybe she doesn’t remember things correctly and was in the wrong – never Jason.

    How To Identify Emotional Abuse

    One way to spot abusive men is that they don’t take responsibility for their actions. But they don’t believe they have to because in their mind they’re never wrong. Abusive men also don’t use self-reflection to evaluate their behavior like Emily does above. They blame instead.

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    Unfortunately, relationships with emotionally abusive men are difficult to see. Abusive men are extremely skilled at controlling the relationship in very subtle ways. In couples counseling Jason has refused to continue to talk to Emily because she wouldn’t accept HIS version of the truth, and has even ended the meeting to further make his point.

    This has left Emily in a tough spot. She still loves Jason, but is now beginning to see now that his behavior is damaging and unhealthy.

    Through couples counseling Emily has learned more about abusive relationships and realizes she’s in another one again. Now we’re working together to help her learn how to change it. If you’ve got an emotionally abusive man in your life, you should too.

    Other Signs You May Be In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

    Controlling behavior and gaslighting aren’t the only ways someone can be emotionally abusive. Below are a few other examples of behaviors that are common in men who are emotionally abusive:

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    • Isolation. Emotionally abusive men often try to isolate their partners. They may become hyper-critical of their partner’s friends, convincing them that the friends are harmful in some way. Eventually the abuser can cause their partner to cut all ties with friends and family and making them wholly dependent upon them.
    • Manipulation of your emotions. Many emotional abusers are also master manipulators. They leverage your love and affection to get you to do what they want. Statements like, “If you loved, me you would…” ,“When you love someone this is what you do", or even, “If you leave me, I will die” are all examples of what you might hear from a manipulator and abuser. These are not statements that occur in a healthy relationship.

    If you, like Emily, feel like there may be something not quite right about your relationship, it’s time to listen to your instincts. Your emotional well-being, as well as the emotional health of your partner, need to be a priority.

    Sometimes emotionally abusive men don’t realize what they’re doing. That doesn’t mean they get a pass - it means they need to change their behavior if they want to be in a relationship. But it’s up to you, like it was up to Emily, to set and hold that boundary.

    Editor's Note: This post was originally published December 31, 2011 and has been updated with new information for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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