The Telltale Signs of Verbal Abuse

How to tell if you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship.

Woman looks worried with her husband in the background
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Isolation is the first strategy of an abuser, Southworth says. And jealousy isn't far behind. A strong social network will protect you and tip you off to his ugly behavior. And if he derides you in front of friends by saying something like, "Wow, you're a clutz," he's "going to get called on it," she says.

[Read: How to Cope With an Emotional Affair.]

4. Sometimes you feel like you're dating Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Acting one way in public and another in private makes your abuser feel powerful and keeps you on edge, Ray-Jones explains. "I am breaking you down, and I am picking you up," goes the abuser's thinking. But in reality, it's the victims who find the courage to recover. "That's your strength pulling you back together," she tells victims. "That's your courage, not his."

5. He says that he'll kill himself or you or the pet if you leave.

Nearly every abuser uses this line as a last-ditch attempt to hold on to someone because it's so effective, Southworth says. As in any abusive relationships, the victim is at a greater risk when attempting to leave. Ray-Jones advises anyone doing so to create an exit plan. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can connect callers with local programs to chart that course.

After leaving, you'll need time to heal and a non-judgmental support network. "Be around people who you feel good around and realize that it is possible to have a healthy relationship," Ray-Jones says. "It is possible to be with someone who can treat you with kindness."

[Read: What Do Happy Families Know That You Don't?]

Corrected on 10/04/2013: A previous version of this story misstated Cindy Southworth’s affiliation. She is vice president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence.