We all know that feeling. The pang in your chest when your partner puts you down or ignores your needs once again. You shudder inside but brush it away, making excuses.
If this feeling is something you feel frequently, please know that you deserve better.
This article will empower you to stand up for yourself by showing 8 destructive behaviors that should never be tolerated, according to psychological research.
Get ready to rediscover your self-worth.
This one is non-negotiable. Any form of physical violence has no place in a loving relationship. You know the truth – even a shove or hard pinch should never be tolerated – no matter the circumstance.
Make a commitment to walk away the first time it happens. Your safety comes first. Expecting/hoping for violent people to change is just going to make it harder for you to get away. Most physical abusers are very apologetic and promise the world afterward, only to repeat the cycle.
If you’re experiencing violence in a relationship and are finding it hard to break away, please contact someone you love and/or a domestic violence hotline.
2) Swearing/cussing at you
Sometimes a swear word can be said in jest, but if in the middle of an argument, or your partner shouts at you and calls you a nasty name, or uses any other kind of harsh language, this isn’t acceptable.
According to Daniel Sonkin LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist), name-calling is a form of abuse.
If this happens to you, it’s best to tackle it before it damages your relationship.
Wait until you are both calm and then clearly lay out your boundaries. Let your partner know that you won’t accept being called names or being spoken to like that. If necessary, tell them you will walk away when this happens, until they are ready to be respectful again.
Hopefully, they will respect your boundaries, and if not then it may be time to walk away for good.
3) Putting you down
We all make mistakes sometimes. But put-downs at a time of vulnerability can rupture a relationship. Name-calling doesn’t always involve cuss words.
Like the time my friend, (let’s call her Jill), decided to perform at an open mic comedy night. It was her first night performing and it took a lot of courage for her to put herself out there.
She choked on stage and instead of sympathizing with her, her awful boyfriend told her she was “a talentless hack.” Jill cried for days.
Frequent put-downs can often be a sign of a narcissistic partner, who seeks to make you feel low so that you don’t push them away first. Even if not a narcissist, this is a behavior that feels cruel and unkind to receive. Other put-downs might include:
“You look stupid when you say things like that”
“You’ll never achieve anything”
“Why do you always look such a mess?”
“No one really likes you”
“You’re a boring/selfish/uptight (etc) person”
If you’re hearing a lot of things like this you should walk away.
While it’s ok, helpful even, to offer constructive criticism. What we should seek is a partner who can disagree kindly and offer wisdom, not judgments. Jill’s now-ex could have gently encouraged her to keep practicing comedy without insulting her abilities.
Sure, playful banter with a dash of sarcasm can liven things up. But does your partner consistently talk down to you from a place of superiority? Do they put you down publicly under the guise of “just joking”?
That’s not real humor – it’s humiliation. And you deserve better.
4) Constant criticism
Put-downs are one form of criticism.
According to renowned relationship psychologists Drs. John and Julie Gottman, ongoing criticism is one of the four biggest relationship killers they call ‘The Four Horsemen’. The Gottmans are a married couple, and they say they can almost always predict which relationships will end by noticing these ‘Four Horsemen’.
Criticism focuses on the negative without offering solutions. And constant criticism can chip away at your self-worth.
After a friend of mine gained weight during the pandemic, her husband scolded her daily about her ‘lack of self-control’. It got so bad that she dreaded him coming home from work.
This led to a negative cycle in which she lacked self-esteem, in turn making it harder for her to feel motivated to get back in shape.
And it made her feel that she really disliked her husband, and so she began to criticize him in return. Luckily, the couple went to relationship counseling and the therapist helped them identify this pattern. This ultimately saved their marriage.
Take note, because if a partner becomes the constant critic rather than a caring supporter, contempt can quickly set in. Psychologists Drs. Gottman considers contempt another huge predictive factor in whether couples will divorce.
5) Invalidating your feelings
Invalidating feelings shuts down emotional intimacy faster than almost anything else. When you lay bare an emotional wound, only to have your partner dismiss it outright, it is so painful.
For example, if you share an upsetting incident at work, and instead of empathy, your partner brushes you off.
“You’re overreacting,” they say.
Or “it’s not a big deal, get over it.”
When you open your heart but get an invalidating response, it signals lack of respect. Your feelings are your feelings and they are real, no matter what anyone says.
Healthy relationships involve listening and validating even when partners disagree.
Once during a heated argument, my ex-partner invalidated my lived experience as a person of color.
Though we made up later, I felt shaken that someone close could be so dismissive. We had some tough conversations after that. For anyone going through this, remember that receiving a genuine apology and accepting responsibility, is a good way to mend some of the hurt.
And to be clear, saying “I’m sorry you feel that way” isn’t taking responsibility!
6) Ignoring bids for attention
This is another one of those dreaded ‘Four Horsemen’.
Reaching out to your partner with affection or playfulness and then getting the cold shoulder hurts. It can also look like being proud of an achievement in life, or at work, and then getting no response.
At the heart of it, adults are just big kids. Most of us thrive with adequate praise and attention and wither without it.
The Gottman Institute research shows consistently ignoring these “bids” damages emotional connection and is yet another warning sign that often comes before a breakup.
As part of my well-being counseling practice, I was working with a man whom we’ll call Nathan. He regularly felt that his partner Elena (not her real name) didn’t pay much attention to him.
Sometimes this was about big things, and often it was little things. One thing that sticks in my mind is Nathan telling me about funny memes and cute animal videos he’d find online.
He would attempt to show them to his girlfriend Elena, trying to share a lighthearted moment. But she wouldn’t even glance up from her phone, seeing them as childish and not worth her attention.
“I might as well be alone,” he said to me once, feeling dejected.
What Elena didn’t realize is that Nathan was trying to build a connection with her, through shared moments of humor.
We might not find everything funny or interesting that our partner does, but we can try to realize and acknowledge that they are looking for us to notice them and connect with them. It only takes a moment to look up and give some attention.
Few behaviors feel colder than stonewalling and this is yet another one of the Gottmans’ ‘Four Horsemen’ that signal an upcoming breakup.
Being locked out emotionally through silence, changing the topic when difficult things arise, or leaving the room entirely, is a sign of a big problem. It’s a bit like refusing the bid for attention but on a much more intense scale.
For most of us, being completely stonewalled by our partner can leave us at best frustrated, and at worst, deeply hurt and feeling alone.
Need some alone time to process a disagreement? Totally fair. But refusing all contact about important issues constitutes abuse.
Communication and effort are key in any relationship. Stonewalling is the enemy of these things.
8) Not having your back
Partners who consistently side against you show that they aren’t on your team. It might not be that they side with others, but that they don’t realize when you really need support. It breeds resentment over time and unfortunately, I’ve seen the results in my family.
When my aunt’s mother-in-law pulled her aside to criticize Gina’s parenting, Gina looked hopefully to her husband to defend her. Instead, he sat there mute, nodding in front of his mother.
Gina said she felt utterly betrayed.
Though she tried addressing it with her husband later, he remained defensive. Sadly years of built-up hurt led to their split.
If you feel that your partner doesn’t have your back when it really matters, be sure to let them know once you are calm. Explain how it made you feel, and what kind of response you’d like in the future. Talking these things out can help you avoid what my family went through.
You deserve respect
If any behaviors on this list ring true in your relationship, trust your gut. You deserve a partner who respects you even during disagreements. While counseling can help address communication issues, contempt or cruelty must stop immediately.
You owe it to yourself to be treated with dignity by those closest to you.
Ultimately a healthy bond comes down to the Golden Rule – treating your partner as you want to be treated. Expect and nurture mutual caring, compassion, and kindness above all else.