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  • Writer's picturePhebe Brako-Owusu, LMFT

Marriage Monday: The Cycle of Emotional Abuse


Domestic abuse is a very touchy subject for most people, men, and women alike. However, in honor of Domestic Violence awareness month - October, we will be discussing The Cycle of Emotional Abuse and how to spot signs of an abusive relationship. According to data from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), about 20 people are physically abused by a partner. About one in four women and one in nine men have experienced physical violence, sexual violence or stalking by an intimate partner. That is more than 10 million people a year. These relationships don't usually start out as abusive. During the early stages of a relationship, abusers tend to “mask their abusive tendencies,” so by the time many people notice the obvious red flags, they are already attached to their abuser, making it much more difficult. for them to leave the relationship." Or as an anonymous survivor of domestic violence wrote, "domestic abuse is not something victims are necessarily aware of until it's pointed out to them."

Emotional abuse is a form of abuse that can be very difficult to recognize. This type of abuse is characterized using emotional manipulation and verbal attacks against the victim. Emotional abusers are often charming and charismatic people who know how to make their victims feel loved and cared for in the beginning of a relationship. They might say all the right things to get their victims to trust them, but then they start manipulating them with subtle comments that make them doubt themselves and believe that they deserve to be abused.

If you think your relationship might be abusive or headed in that directions, here are a few warning signs to heed. Always remember, every relationship is unique under different circumstances, so not all abusive tendencies will look the same. In today’s post we will delve into 8 unmistakable signs you might be in an abusive relationship.

Isolating partner from their family and friends

Preventing a partner form seeing or communicating with loved ones or threatening to harm their loved ones or prevent partners from participating in activities that they enjoy or feel safe in. Once the abuser can isolate the victim from his/her support system and safe space, it is easier for them to manipulate the victim. Isolation happens over time and can happen slowly and subtly without the victim realizing. The abusive partner might use phrases like “I like to spend time with you alone”. The victim in trying to please the abuser, gradually isolates and eventually finds it difficult to seek support when he/she is being abused.


This is one of the most common signs of emotional abuse. This is when the abuser skews your reality and makes the victim doubt their reality and even call them crazy. The abusive partner pretends to misunderstand the victim, refuses to listen and questions the victim’s recollection of events, while trivializing their needs and feelings. They might sometimes deny previous statements and promises they have made as a form of manipulation.


As part of misrepresenting the victim’s reality, the abuser sometimes blames their abusive and unhealthy behavior on the victim. One way abusive partners normally do this is by pointing to actions they claim their partner did wrong that forced them to abuse their partner. They blame victims with “you made me do this to you”

Forced sex

Abusers have the tendency to make their victims feel guilty and immature when they refuse and don’t consent to sex. Sexual coercion is very common in abusive relationships. Abusive partners make victims feels like their abuser deserves to have sex with them, or that the abuser is doing them a favor by having sex with them. They might use phrases like “having sex with me proves that you love me” or “I’ll go get some somewhere else”. Other times, abusive partners will send unsolicited explicit images to their partner and demand the ‘favor’ in return.

Being overprotective and over possessive

There is a thin line between being protective of your partner and asserting your control with being overprotective and overly possessive. This is done sometimes through incessant calls and texts in a bid to keep tabs on their partner. However, this is done so often that there is a subtle force of power and control. Sometimes abusers go to great lengths to make sure that their partners location and who they hang out with are known at every point in time.


This is a tell-tale sign that someone is in an abusive relationship. When the abusive partner can publicly and privately shame their partner by insulting them in front of their kids, calling them derogatory names, intentionally embarrass them in front of strangers and sometimes start rumors about them. Some go to the extent of using online communities and platforms to intimidate and humiliate their partners.

False accusations

Excessive jealousy is never a sign of a healthy relationship. Abusive partners under the guise of healthy jealousy can accuse their partners of infidelity and disloyalty. Sometimes this is a clever way to justify their abusive behavior because they suspect their partner of cheating. Other times, it is a way to distract their partner from knowing that they are being cheated on.

Financial control

This form of abuse can take several forms, from being given a specific amount of money as an allowance to their partner to limiting their access to their credit card, in a bid to monitor and control how much money their partner is able to spend. Sometimes abusive partners can rack up credit card debt, or limit the number of hours their partners can work or preventing them from working or earning a salary altogether. This strategy gives full financial control to the abusive partner and hold this over the head of the victim.

If any of the above are relatable, please reach out for support. Remember you are not alone. A qualified mental health professional can support and empower you in whatever ways you need them to. Here are some resources for your consideration also:

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