dr Caroline West answers another reader’s problem.
Q: My partner and I have been together for almost three years and everything was fine until recently. We started fighting a lot and he calls me horrible names, too horrible to even get me to write here. He’s usually drunk when he does this, so it didn’t bother me that much, but now he’s started doing it even when he’s not drunk.
He blames me for stupid little things, and then it can take a day or so for things to get back to normal. I don’t understand why he’s doing this, everything was fine before. None of his friends act like that as far as I can tell, and he doesn’t do it in front of them.
I hate that and he just doesn’t listen when I try to explain that it makes me feel bad. He says I’m making a big deal because it’s harmless. It’s not like he’s mean in any other way, but I just hate it. What should I do?
dr West replies: We must call this what it is – verbal and emotional abuse. One of my bugbears about media portrayals of domestic violence is that they can show a black eye or a closed fist, and yet there are so many different types of abuse, from coercive control, physical abuse, financial abuse, or verbal abuse.
People often think that if there is no physical violence, there is no such thing as an abusive relationship, but the sad fact is that there are far too many people who experience abuse in many ways, even when there is no physical violence. The lack of education we receive about abuse means that it can be difficult for many people to recognize the signs, and of course, when we’re in the midst of it, it’s also difficult to name abuse.
Verbal abuse includes name calling and being put down. You’ve noticed that he doesn’t do this in front of his friends, and that’s quite significant. This shows you that he has full control over when he does this. It’s not something to be dismissed for drinking – this man knows exactly what he’s doing and chooses to do it in private where there are no witnesses or people to speak up for you.
Alcohol isn’t an excuse either, and even if alcohol was the only reason he abused you, it would be up to him to stop drinking and change his behavior, and that doesn’t seem like an option he’s suggested. There is no excuse for treating a person like this and you don’t deserve to be treated that badly.
It’s okay to discuss our partner’s behavior when they’ve done something wrong, but blaming and calling names isn’t healthy. Blaming yourself for small things makes you feel anxious and walk on eggshells. It’s another tactic used by abusers as it can make the victim feel like they can’t do anything right and can affect a person’s self-esteem.
Waiting for the next incident is not a way of life and has no place in a healthy, loving, and kind relationship. This feeling will affect both your mental and physical health the longer it lasts. There are several studies showing that abuse such as verbal abuse can lead to anxiety, depression or other mental health issues and stress can also take a physical toll on the body. Abuse can also cause PTSD, complex PTSD, low self-esteem, and lead to trust issues in future relationships.
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He also sets you on fire. Gaslighting is when a person minimizes or denies their abusive behavior with the goal of making the victim doubt the reality of what is going on. It can mean saying things like “I didn’t do that,” “You’re not upset about anything,” “It’s no big deal,” or calling yourself sensitive or dramatic. The focus is on your response to the abuse, not the abuse itself. In a healthy relationship, when we’ve done something that upset our partner, we talk about it, apologize, and work to change our behavior. In an abusive relationship, the transgression is denied, trivialized, ignored, or blamed on the victim. This makes the victim think that the problem is really theirs and they spend time and energy trying to figure out what is really going on.
You don’t have to endure this abuse, and you don’t owe it anything. There is no guarantee that this man will change and the fact that he has ignored your attempts to talk about his behavior shows that he sees nothing wrong in treating you this way and feels no remorse. This is a big red flag and a warning sign for the future of this relationship. If he doesn’t feel sorry for harming you, then he may not care if that damage increases.
He acts like he can treat you as badly as he wants since he chooses to keep doing it. Your letter makes it sound like this happens regularly once you’ve identified the pattern of build-up, excuses, behavior, and recovery time. This pattern indicates a regular behavior from that person, and with no regrets, it seems to be a pattern they are comfortable with. If it’s no longer hidden behind the pretext of alcohol, I’m worried that there will be an escalation.
You can find support if you would like to speak to a trained professional by calling your local women’s shelter or women’s support on 1800 341 900. They will not judge you, but will listen to you and advise you on interesting options. You will support whatever you choose and there is no pressure to make decisions immediately. Your next steps may be difficult, but you are not alone and you deserve to have a partner who will support you rather than abuse you.
dr West is a sex educator and host of the Glow West podcast, which focuses on sex. Send your questions to email@example.com. dr West regrets that she cannot answer questions privately
https://www.independent.ie/style/sex-relationships/asking-for-a-friend-my-partner-calls-me-awful-names-when-hes-drunk-and-blames-me-for-stupid-stuff-he-says-its-harmless-but-it-is-making-me-feel-terrible-41596764.html Asking for a friend: “My partner calls me names when he’s drunk and accuses me of stupid things. He says it’s harmless, but I feel terrible.