Verbally Abusive Relationships

How can you tell if you are in a verbally abusive relationship?

That’s in part the goal of author Patricia Evans’ book, “The Verbally Abusive Relationship,” originally published in the 1990s but updated more recently. According to the author, “Verbal abuse is the kind of battering which doesn’t leave evidence comparable to the bruises of physical battering.” Evans continues: “It can be just as painful, and recovery can take much longer.”

Being in a verbally abusive relationship doesn’t just include yelling, either. Behaviors such as angry outbursts, manipulative coercion, and subtle or nuanced insults or manipulation are all part of verbal abuse. What’s more, Evans points out the following four aspects of a verbally abusive relationship:

  1. Verbal abuse is secretive. Usually only the partner of the abuser hears it.
  2. Verbal abuse becomes more intense over time.
  3. Verbal abuse takes many forms and disguises.
  4. Verbal abuse consistently discounts the partner’s perception of the abuse.

What’s more, verbal abuse “may be overt, such as an angry outburst directed at the partner or an attack,” Evans writes.

A verbal abuser may also be: irritable, angry, intense, jealous, critical, explosive, manipulative, or overly competitive.

Being in a relationship with a verbally abusive partner can wear a person down and is essentially toxic. As pointed out by Evans, verbal abuse can sometimes be difficult to detect, and sometimes individuals may not even know that they are a part of the verbal abuse cycle.

“Verbal abuse closes the door to true communication and intimacy,” the author writes. “Intimacy in a relationship requires mutuality. Mutuality requires goodwill, openness, and a willingness to share oneself . . . [and] usually the partners of verbal abusers do not know what is going on the relationship. They do not recognize verbal abuse.”

Another thing about verbal abuse is that it may be unpredictable. In other words, one day everything may be normal in a relationship and the next day, suddenly, the verbal abuse may begin all over again. Moreover, the verbal abuse may take the form of sarcasm, angry jabs, and put-downs. And it’s important to remember that verbal abuse may take place in any kind of relationship, whether it be romantic, or in a family or a friendship, although Evans’ work focuses mostly on verbal abuse taking place within a romantic partnership such as a marriage.

Finally, according to the author, all verbal abuse is not equal. In other words, there are different levels of verbal abuse. This can range on the low end from denial or avoidance to more moderate orders or put-downs all the way to threats.

Verbally abusive relationships are destructive, and if you find yourself in one, please seek out help from a certified professional.


Evans, P. (2010). The verbally abusive relationship. Adams Media. New York, NY.

Brooke Lamberti

Brooke Lamberti is a content writer based out of Scranton, Pennsylvania. She received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Marywood University, and has prior career experience working in social work and domestic violence advocacy. She has a passion for writing and helping others.

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