When You Need to End an Emotionally Abusive Relationship
7 signs that it's critical to end your relationship for your health and safety.
Posted May 18, 2021 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan
- People often avoid confronting the consequences of an emotionally abusive relationship.
- Signs that it is critical to end the relationship include physical abuse, abuse toward children, and fantasizing about harming a partner.
- Individual therapy can help people emotionally and logistically prepare to leave their partner.
Even when someone realizes they are being emotionally abused, they aren’t necessarily prepared to end the relationship. This is because most victims suffer from horrible, debilitating shame, shame that robs them of their motivation to take action, shame that prevents them from believing they deserve anything better. But in spite of the fact that you may feel ill-prepared to leave the relationship, there are some circumstances that indicate that you absolutely must become prepared to end it.
Deal Breakers in Relationships
If any of the following circumstances exist in your relationship, it is essential that you end your relationship as soon as possible:
1. Your children are being emotionally, physically or sexually abused by your partner. The truth is that it is rare for emotional abusers to confine their criticism and controlling behavior to their partner. A person who is critical, demanding, rejecting and difficult to please generally treats everyone in his life in a similar way, especially those closest to him. Don’t continue to be blind to the way your partner treats your children, or to make excuses for his or her behavior.
If you can’t walk away from the abuse, get professional help. Therapy will help you continue to heal your shame and build up your self-esteem still further so you can gain the courage to do what you know is right for you and your children. You are probably who you are today primarily because of the way your parents (or other caretakers) treated you. Don’t continue the cycle of abuse by exposing your children to the same unacceptable behavior you grew up with.
If your children are being physically or sexually abused by your partner it is vital that you get the children away from him or her immediately, even if this means your children go to stay with family or friends. Each day your child is exposed to such violence, irreparable harm is being done to your child’s mind, body and spirit.
2. You are witnessing the damage the emotional abuse is doing to your children. Not only are they being damaged in the present by witnessing abusive behavior but you are providing them poor role models and setting them up to be victims or abusers. Many children who become bullies or victims of bullies in school witnessed emotional or physical abuse in their own homes.
If one of your children is exhibiting bullying or abusive behavior toward his or her siblings or classmates, this is a giant red flag that your child is being negatively affected by your relationship with your partner. The same is true if one or more of your children are exhibiting victim-like behavior—being unable to stand up for themselves or becoming more and more passive. Unless you and your partner are actively working on stopping the abuse, such as each of you working with a professional therapist individually, you are sacrificing the emotional health of your children by choosing to stay together.
3. You have become emotionally, physically or sexually abusive toward your children. If, as a result of being emotionally abused by your partner you have begun to take your anger, shame and pain out on your own children, you need to find a way to stop abusing them. The most effective way will be for you to get away from your partner.
If you can’t leave your partner yet, the most loving thing you can do for your children is to separate yourself from them for their protection. You can send your children to live with friends or relatives (as long as it isn’t the same person who abused you as a child) while you get professional help. Believe me, you will earn their respect and gratitude when they learn why you did this.
4. Your partner is physically abusing you or is threatening to do so. You’ve undoubtedly heard this before: Many abusers start out by emotionally abusing their partner and work their way up to physical abuse. The more he or she is allowed to emotionally abuse you, the more permission they have to become physically abusive. If he or she has already hit you, even if it was “just a slap,” you are in danger. The same holds true of behaviors such as pushing, shoving, pinning you down or holding you captive against your will. All of these behaviors indicate that your partner has lost control of himself and are danger signs for you. In some cases, it may indicate that your partner has become mentally unstable.
Don’t fool yourself. If he has become violent with you once, he will do it again and the next time it will be worse. Don’t accept the excuse that he was drunk or high. He hit you because he has a problem. Drinking or using drugs may exacerbate his problem, but it is not an excuse.
Neither should you allow your partner to use the excuse that she has an emotional problem such as Borderline Personality Disorder. While it is true that those with this disorder can become out of control and physically violent, this is still no excuse. She needs to take responsibility for her behavior by seeking the professional help she needs. If your partner refuses to seek professional help I advise you to separate from her until she does so. Otherwise, every day you stay in this relationship you are endangering your emotional and physical well-being, and possibly your very life.
5. You have reached a point where you are becoming physically abusive. If you have become so frustrated and angry that you have begun to act out your anger in a physical way, you could hurt your partner seriously next time or push him into hurting you. Either way, it’s time to leave. Even if you “only slapped or pushed” your partner, unless you get professional help you are putting your partner in more danger as each day goes by.
It is not only important that you end the relationship but that you seek psychotherapy to help you heal the damage you’ve experienced. If you honestly feel that you are not an abusive person by nature but that your partner has pushed you into becoming violent, then the best thing for both of you is for you to end the relationship. Even if your partner suffers from a mental or emotional disorder of some kind, you are not helping either of you by staying.
6. You have begun to fantasize about harming or killing your partner. If you have reached this point, you likely feel trapped and believe there is no way out of your abusive relationship. But the reality is that there is a way out. You may need to get professional help in order to gain the courage and strength to leave, or if you are afraid for your physical safety, you may need to contact the police or go to a domestic violence shelter.
In either case, you need to realize that there is certainly a better way out than risking being in prison for the rest of your life or being overwhelmed with guilt for the rest of your life because of the physical harm you caused your partner.
7. You are seriously questioning your sanity. If your partner is using gaslighting techniques on you and you are beginning to distrust your own perceptions, it is time to end the relationship. The longer you stay the more you will doubt yourself and your sanity, the harder it will be to leave, and the more your mental health will be jeopardized.
Engel, Beverly (2020). Escaping Emotional Abuse: Healing from the Shame You Don't Deserve. New York: NY: Citadel Press