Ask Dr. J. Archives

Dear Dr. J.

How can you tell if you are in an emotionally abusive relationship? What if the male is severely depressed --I can’t separate the two and don’t know what to do.


Dear Sonja

I’m not sure what you mean exactly by “emotionally abusive”. This can mean anything from short-tempered and irritable, grumpy and quiet, to loud angry outbursts with threatening gestures, name-calling, put-downs and other behaviors that create scared feelings in you. Let’s use your internal guide to help with this. I’m assuming that any behavior from your partner that creates fear in you, or feelings of being degraded or humiliated or verbally “beat up on” is emotional abuse. These behaviors can either be infrequent or can be repetitive and establish a pattern over time. Please refer to the website page on domestic violence to help you identify abusive behaviors.

Abusive-Relationship-Help: Domestic Violence

Now, once you know what behaviors are abusive, it really doesn’t matter why your partner is behaving this way. He will have to STOP behaving this way in order for you to stay with him. This is the bottom line.

Here’s what you can do. Talk to him when things are comfortable between the two of you. He is very likely to get defensive, so be prepared for that. Let him know what behaviors of his create fear and intimidation in you. Stick to an objective description of the behavior. For example, say “When you called me a sickening slob”, instead of “when you put me down”…..I feel degraded. For help with this, see the section on site on communication and use the “I MESSAGE”. Then set a boundary. Let him know that you are not going to stay in the relationship if he doesn’t change certain behaviors. If he doesn’t hear you, gets defensive, or tries to put it back on you, discontinue the discussion and let him know you would like to continue when he isn’t so angry.

See Communication Techniques

If you are able to have a productive conversation, ask him if he is depressed and if he thinks the depression contributes to his abusive behaviors. No matter what, he needs to see a psychologist or psychiatrist to get to the bottom of this problem. If he refuses to do anything about it, you must take care of yourself and make arrangements to leave the relationship. As long as he owns responsibility for his behavior and starts to address the problem, you could stay and support him. But this is only if you see some changes very soon and know that he is heading in the right direction. If you stay with him and he is making no effort to change, you are enabling him to continue to avoid his problem. You are not helping him. More importantly, you are sacrificing your own well-being and emotional health to stay with a person who is abusive and won’t help himself. I have over 20 years working with this type of person. Some change, but most do not.

Dr. J

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