Many of us are aware of the more obvious signs of domestic abuse, but when you’re in an abusive situation, you might not be able to recognise some of the day-to-day behaviours that are still emotionally abusive. Domestic abusers might make their partners feel sad, hurt, helpless and alone through the things that they say, or try to get their partners to do things that they don’t want to do.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the common red flags in terms of what a domestic abuser might say, so you can recognise the behaviour and get the help you need.
“If you loved me, you’d do this for me.”
Domestic abusers will try to force their partners to do things that they don’t want to do. Some will do this by manipulating the way their partners feel about them. In using their partner's love, domestic abusers make them feel guilty for not doing what they want. Saying something along these lines forces the victim to think “well, I do love you, so I guess I have to do this, even if I don’t want to”.
Regardless of your love for your partner, you should never feel as though you have to do something you don’t want to do.
“You misheard me, I didn’t say that.”
Gaslighting is where an abuser will repeatedly lie to make someone question their thoughts, memories and even their sanity. In some cases, you might remember exactly what your partner said or did, just for them to completely deny it ever happened. Usually, this is when you’re trying to get them to apologise or take ownership of something they did.
“I know what’s best for you.”
As they try to get their partner to rely on them more and more, domestic abusers may say things like “I know what’s best for you” to make their partner doubt their own abilities. If someone you trust is telling you that they know the best things for you, it’s natural that you would want to trust them. Sometimes, however, the domestic abuser isn’t acting with your best interests at heart.
“If only you’d do what I told you to do, I wouldn’t have to get angry.”
Domestic abusers can show very controlling behaviour; dictating what their partners wear, where they can go, and sometimes what they’re allowed to do. If you disobey their orders, even accidentally, abusers can get incredibly angry and aggressive. Following this overreaction, they might blame their partner for their violent behaviour when it is not their fault.
Name-calling lets abusers gradually chip away at their partner’s self-esteem and confidence. It might not seem like a huge problem: some couples will playfully call each other names or tease each other all the time. However, when the tone is less playful and more serious, it’s constant, and you don’t enjoy the names you’re being called, it’s likely that something is wrong.
“No one else will love you like I do.”
Whether they’re saying it to isolate you from your friends and family members, or to stop you from leaving them, abusers might try to make themselves the most important person in your life by saying this. They might make you feel unloveable, and as though they’re doing you a favour by being with you.
These confidence knocks can feel devastating, but it’s important to remember there are other people that love you and will love you in the future.
“I will hurt myself if you leave me.”
Domestic abusers want to make sure their partner stays with them, so they can continue to exert their controlling behaviour over another person. By threatening to harm themselves, they are relying on their partner's feelings for them outweighing their desire to leave. Of course, despite this threatening behaviour, it is unlikely that the domestic abuser will harm themselves.
As hard as it is to experience, this is an empty threat and your safety is more important. If you are ready to leave an abusive relationship, you should feel able and empowered to do so.
“When you start being nice to me, then I will give you….”
Withholding things, especially things you care about or need, is a tactic that domestic abusers use to force their partners to conform to the behaviour they want to see. From their partner’s perspective, it might have been a normal day and they were being nice. However, if it’s not the behaviour the abuser demands, then they have to find a way to get it.
“I do this because I love you.”
After hurting their partners - physically or emotionally - abusers may need to “justify” their behaviour. They want to convince their partner that they still care about them and that everything they did was for a reason. Using their “love” as an excuse for the harm they cause rewires their partner’s brains into thinking that this treatment is what love looks like.
If they do something that you don’t like or that hurts you, that’s the end of the story. It doesn’t matter if they say it’s because they love you; you should never be made to feel hurt or uncomfortable.
“I only hurt you because you hurt me first.”
This is another justification for their actions, but again, this is designed to manipulate their partner into feeling guilty. The blame for their bad behaviour is placed on the victim. If your partner feels hurt by your actions, they should communicate with you so you can come to a healthy resolution together. They shouldn’t be retaliating, and trying to cause you harm to “get back at you”.
More than likely, domestic abusers are saying this kind of thing to hide the fact that their partner disobeyed them, rather than actually hurt them.
When it comes down to verbal abuse and domestic abuse, sometimes you just have to trust your gut. If your partner is saying things to you that are hurtful or that make you question yourself, then it might be time to take a step back and have a look at your relationship.If you do think there’s something that isn’t quite right, there are things you can do. With the help of trained counsellors, you can either join couples counselling to work on your issues with your partner, or you can go to private counselling to get advice on your next steps. It’s always important to know that you are never alone and that there is help available if you need it.