I will give you a scenario and tell me if you can relate to this. No matter how hard you try to please your partner, they somehow manage to find a flaw to demean you. They convince you that you are going downhill with each of your life choices. As this pattern goes on for a long time, there will be a day when you wake up and reanalyze a small decision five times just to be sure. That right there is a classic sign of gaslighting and relationship bullying.
We know how incredibly exhausting it can be. My friend Tania once dated a douchebag who criticized her physical attributes, often in front of our friends. “You will be invisible if you get thinner than this. You keep stuffing your mouth with so many pizzas and burgers. Where do they vanish?” “Don’t stay in the sunlight for long. Your skin will get darker.”
You can only imagine the insecurities such comments can impregnate the mind of an eighteen-year-old. As she tried to confront him, her argument was dismissed because apparently, it was “just a joke”. She should have taken it sportingly. According to a study, a lack of self-esteem in childhood can become the reason for accepting bullying in a relationship.
To clear all your doubts and queries regarding what is relationship bullying, we had a discussion with consultant psychologist Jaseena Backer (MS Psychology), who is a gender and relationship management expert.
Jaseena explains, “Relationship bullying occurs when one partner deliberately bullies the other partner in a relationship. Often the bullying partner will try to pass this off as a joke. This could be a personality trait of the person which continues into your relationship, or it is their attitude exclusively toward your partnership. The bullying partner likes to play the dominating role making the other person feel vulnerable.” Keep reading for a better perspective on the matter with valid guidance on how to stop bullying in a relationship.
What Is Relationship Bullying?
Bullying behavior in a relationship is fundamentally characterized by one partner trying to ascertain their superiority over the other via intimidation, manipulation, and physical assaults. Relationship bullying behaviors appear in diverse shapes and forms – verbal, physical, or even cyberbullying.
In a dysfunctional relationship like this, your partner goes all the way to control every bit of your life – just how they want it. The worst part is, you attempt to mold yourself according to their demands several times. But that never seems to make them happy.
Related Reading: 12 Tips To End A Toxic Relationship With Dignity
Patronizing is a classic example of bullying in a relationship. They will leave no stone unturned to make you feel small about yourself. A bullying partner dissects your mind and brings out each slice of insecurity you are living with to use it as an abusive weapon.
We were trying to detect the root of such appalling attitude. Jaseena believes, “The person who is bullying must have suffered some sort of insecurities in relationships or in life. The vulnerability of that person makes them want to play or take a dominating role and make the other partner be submissive.
“There is a possibility that this person was bullied in childhood by parents or in school, or maybe they have experienced bullying from other partners before. Those traumatic encounters are now getting passed onto the next person.”
Bullying in a relationship isn’t necessarily always about yelling, throwing tantrums, or violence. Sometimes a bully resorts to passive-aggressiveness to get their way. There is no chance to have healthy communication over a cold silent treatment.
Examples Of Relationship Bullying
It can be difficult to recognize bullying behavior in a relationship when you have become used to the actions of your emotional bully. The effects of bullying on you can be long-lasting and it is better to recognize it before it consumes you. Here are some examples of bullying behavior in a relationship that you should not put up with:
- They verbally abuse you all the time: Whether it is the way you dress or what you eat, constantly putting down a partner with words is an example of bullying behavior
- They are selfish: Always putting their needs ahead of your needs is also bullying behavior. They are essentially disregarding your emotions and your needs
- Controlling all the time: From where you go to what you do on weekends, if your partner always wants to control everything, they are portraying a disregard for your opinion. It is bullying and should not be tolerated
- Poking your self-esteem: Telling you that you are not pretty/handsome, or doubting your self-worth is emotional bullying. It can leave deep scars on you and can affect you personally and emotionally
- Always putting the blame on you: No matter what goes wrong, you are the person who takes the blame for it. That is an example of bullying behavior
5 Signs You Are A Victim Of Relationship Bullying
It’s hard to stop once we start talking about the signature signs of relationships and bullying in them. Anyone who has ever gone through this kind of toxicity will vouch for the insidious effects of bullying in a relationship in their life.
Jaseena says, “The basic traits of a bullying partner would be that there will always be a sense or tone of criticism when they talk to you. The communication will be full of criticism making the other person feel not good enough.”
In the early phase, people fall prey to mental and physical abuse without even knowing they are being bullied. “It happened only twice.” “Conflicts are natural in a relationship. We are just trying to know each other well. It will get better with time.”
Wrong! Let me tell you this loud and clear, IT DOES NOT. As you keep entertaining this person and not utter a single word in protest, the enormity of their actions balloons up. You need to set boundaries to prevent bullying behavior in a relationship.
The relationship between bullying and self-esteem is directly proportional. If you are exposed to bullying in a relationship for a significant amount of time, you will start doubting your own decisions. You would live a half-life trying to fit in the parameters set by your partner.
Questions arise in our mind: “How to know if I am a victim of relationship bullying?” “What are the relationship bullying examples I should look into?” “How to stop bullying in a relationship?”
But it’s really not that difficult to understand the dynamics of abuse in a relationship. Eventually, you will be able to connect the dots and discover a pattern. Before it all comes down to that, let us discuss 5 textbooks signs that you are being bullied by your partner or spouse:
Related Reading: 8 Subtle Signs Of Insecurity In A Relationship
1. Your opinions are invalidated
Do you ever feel like a fading shadow in a relationship? Like you are invisible. Whenever you try to put forward your thoughts on a matter, your partner would blow it off in a second, as if you don’t know what you are talking about. They are the sole decision-maker for both of you.
If you are trying to pinpoint relationship and bullying examples, note this one. It could be as trivial as deciding what to order for dinner or serious issues like how to share expenses as a couple. You seem to have no say in any of these decisions which ideally you should have settled together. Eventually, it makes you feel less and less important about your existence.
2. Your life choices are always under judgment
Another typical example of bullying behavior in a relationship – the judgment. In every step of life, a bullying partner will loom over you to remind you that you are doing it all wrong. No wonder it creates a huge void in the person on the receiving end and forms indecisiveness and a lack of confidence.
Jaseena says, “This act of bullying actually may come from a feeling of inferiority but they try to showcase a superior image. A bully would resort to sarcasm and use gaslighting phrases in the relationship with you. Even if the person is showing appreciation, there will be elements of sarcasm in their sentences. The other partner will remain confused about whether to take their words on a positive or a negative note.”
3. Constant underestimation of your accomplishments
In college, I was dating a guy who was way smarter than me, or at least that’s what he convinced me of. Back then, I was working toward joining a journalism diploma from a great school. When I finally got through the interview, I was super excited to share the news with him. Boy, oh boy! The cold reaction I received, not even a congratulations.
Apparently, I was not qualified enough to date him unless I succeed in hardcore academics. So, that’s how it works when you are dealing with a relationship bully. It is like participating in a never-ending competition where you lose every round. Your success and your accomplishments are never worth celebrating.
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4. You are told what to do
You are not mature enough to take on your own responsibilities, so, let me intervene and tell you how to lead your life. That’s how a relationship bully will slide in and take charge. Before you know it, you are dodging your best friend’s calls because apparently they are a bad influence and you have to cut them off for the sake of this relationship.
Yes, being a control freak is an indication of relationship and bullying behavior in it. An emotional bully will tell you how you should dress, who you should meet, and broadly how to present yourself in a manner that they like. More often than not, the submissive partner gives in to such illogical demands to maintain peace or maybe they are not strong enough to face the consequences.
5. You are physically abused
Last but not the least, the worst example of bullying in a relationship of all – the physical violence. It’s not just women who are victims of physical abuse, although that is the bigger picture. A fact sheet by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence states 1 in 4 men in the USA have gone through physical violence in relationships including slapping, shoving, or pushing.
Jaseena says, “The person who is bullying does not essentially have a sense of regret or remorse. They hold the mentality “I have suffered, now you must also suffer”. They just want to feel superior.” No two people in a healthy relationship will ever experience such a fatal outcome. So, do take your stand from the very first blow, and don’t wait for it to hit rock bottom.
Related Reading: Male Domestic Violence: Men Can Be Victims Too
3 Things You Can Do If You Are In A Relationship With A Bully
Do you want to hear something tragic? Some people are unable to walk out of an abusive relationship. Trauma bonding plays a huge role in this. Even if they want to leave, they can’t gather mental strength. They get manipulated at the last minute. Guilt trips, blame games, and threats to hurt someone very close to you are all common tactics of an emotional bully.
Also, you no longer have a stable support system or a safe place after your bullying partner made you cut everyone out of your life. Lack of resources and awareness, the stigma around abuse, the inaccessibility of trauma support centers, and no backing of the law in many instances (especially for queer couples), make getting out of an abusive relationship a mountainous task.
As we were talking about the relationship between bullying and self-esteem, the adverse effects of bullying in a relationship force you to believe there’s something wrong with you. You are not good enough for anyone. So, you try to settle for abusive love or the emotional bully, thinking this is the best you can do.
Jaseena says, “An abused partner would defend their bullying partner because they are in a vulnerable and confused state. They might start to think that there is some element of truth in what their partner said or did. The trauma bonding makes you say things like, “They may be a bully sometimes. But otherwise, they’re very nice and loving. They take care of me and meet all my needs.” So bullying is one thing the bullied partner is willing to let go of.”
Let me tell you about my cousin’s girlfriend, a pretty high-maintenance lady. She has been trying to manipulate Brian with her economic advantages. Basically, she needs someone at her constant beck and call to brush off her loneliness.
Even after a series of attempts to get out of the unhealthy relationship, Brian was not able to. She would stop him from leaving with some sort of emotional blackmail every time. Yet, Brian tells me, “She doesn’t mean to hurt me. We have spent such a lovely time together. I believe she is inherently a good person. How will I ever go on in life without her?”
Do you see where the problem is? I won’t sugarcoat, you have to give a tough fight against your deep-seated insecurities. Only then you can expect to liberate yourself from this endless torture. We suggest 3 things to deal with relationship bullying behavior:
1. Communicate with your partner
It’s better not to hold your hopes high that this terrible person will ever change their nature. Yes, they can reform with trauma-centered and consistent therapy, but you don’t have to be the collateral damage on their healing journey. If you still want to give it a last shot before blowing off the relationship, the only way to do that is by being vocal and firm about your concerns.
You can try to make them see the flaws in their way of treating you and set boundaries. If they are willing to work on the relationship, professional interference might be the best solution here. For effective couple’s therapy, you are more than welcome to visit our Bono counseling panel, a team of talented counselors and psychologists always willing to help you out.
2. Put an end to it once and for all
Okay, now it’s time to put the final nail in the coffin. You have been noticing a pattern in the relationship and bullying by your partner. There is absolutely no sign of a silver lining anywhere around the corner.
As a victim yourself, you know how the effects of relationship bullying and verbal abuse take a toll on your physical and mental health. Can you give me one good reason to put up with this nonsense for a long time? If you say they still love you, then NO, they don’t! Let them play their tricks. You pack your bags and slam the door hard in their face.
Related Reading: 13 Tell-Tale Signs Of Manipulation In A Relationship
3. Seek legal help and support groups
You should not make peace with physical violence in any situation. How to stop relationship bullying? We suggest you create a full-proof escape plan from your house as the situation demands. Memorize the emergency numbers of family and friends who will come to your rescue.
Take proper legal steps before it goes out of hand. There are multiple helplines and support groups to help you cope with domestic violence. Get in touch with the local services and programs especially if you are concerned about your child’s safety.
Let’s hear what Jaseena suggests. “You have to ensure that the person is aware of their bullying acts. When there is abusive dominance, you have to call it out. Make your stand clear, “This is abusive and the sarcasm is not something I am going to accept.”
“If your partner continues with their abusive pattern, it’s a matter of serious concern. The only way to be equal in this is if you can abuse back. But that is not a probable or healthy choice. You need to take a call if you are feeling safe in this relationship, or if you are willing to get away from the toxicity,” she says.
Related Reading: 8 Expert Tips To Let Go Of The Past And Be Happy
- Romantic relationships can experience physical, emotional, or verbal bullying
- The partner feels that they can push you around and crumble your self-worth
- Because you might be used to the behavior, you might not notice that you are being bullied. Keep an open mind and see how your partner is treating you
- If you constantly feel blamed, belittled, and insulted in a relationship, you are being bullied
- Do not indulge the bullying. Take action and stand up for yourself, whether it means ending the relationship or taking legal action
All said, we sincerely hope your relationship graph does not plunge into this gutter. You cannot stick around without mutual respect in a relationship; you are worthy of unconditional love. Don’t let a bully convince you that you have no life beyond this emotional hell.
Do you remember that quote by Benjamin Mee from We Bought a Zoo? “You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”
Repeat this like a mantra. Recognize that you need help and then please ask for it. Because unfortunately, unless you’re ready to take the first step, nobody will know how to help you. It’s a wonderful world out here and you deserve to break free to get a taste of it.
This article was updated in November 2022