How to know when you're in an emotionally abusive relationship

In the news and tabloids we’ve recently been exposed to word about the troubled marriage between Tom Brady and Giselle Bundchen. While the couple struggled for years, the situation ended in an unfortunate split when Brady chose to unretire, rather than embrace more time with his family and kids as he had promised. Every marriage experiences inconsistency at times. Partners sometimes renege on their promises, leaving their partner feeling deceived and betrayed.

When someone you love who is normally warm and encouraging becomes cold or harsh, it hurts your feelings and makes you pause and reassess the situation. You may feel overwhelmed with confusion and question whether you really know this person at all. When your most trusted ally suddenly goes back on their word or acts oblivious when you point out their broken promises and the vision for the marriage you thought you shared, trust is eroded, and you begin shutting down. This inconsistency becomes abusive when this behavior occurs with frequency, and the stakes are raised when your life has become defined by the relationship.  When couples no longer confront the issue or seek professional help for resolution, the relationship becomes riddled with inconsistent emotional abuse. 

Are you concerned that your partnership has devolved into an inconsistent abusive relationship? Here are 4 warning signs: 

  1. Inconsistent behavior when it involves you or your pursuits. Your partner makes you feel on top of the world one day but ignores you for the next 4 or 5 days. 
  2. Consistently shuts down during hard times. You need your partner most during the toughest times, but they completely shut down. 
  3. Talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk. This type of partner says what you need to hear but lacks follow through or consistency. 
  4. Does not include you in future plans and fails to think of you when you’re not present. When inconsistency becomes abusive, your partner is no longer excited to see you and keeps you in the dark about their personal plans or future goals. 

If, after reviewing the above warning signs, you feel as though you are married to an inconsistent abusive partner, you’re not a victim. In fact, there are actions you can take to help you feel more in control of your situation. Here are 4 suggestions to consider:

  1. Develop a relationship with yourself. Stop in your tracks and refocus on the needs of yourself and your children. Reflect upon what you’ve allowed to occur. A good place to start is by learning to say "No" and stand up for yourself. Inconsistent partners typically spend a significant amount of time alone. Rather than resenting their alone time, use it to become educated, invest in therapy, and create a plan. 
  2. Speak to your partner face-to-face. Tell your partner exactly what you have observed; inconsistent partners can be blind to their own behavior. If you’d like to see a therapist together, tell them you’d like them to accompany you if they are willing to make changes.
  3. Do not consider yourself as their victim. Suggest they transparently express what they want so that you can plan your way forward together. Sinking into the victim role will destroy your confidence and may create fear in the children, who could feel abandoned and insecure.
  4. Rely on the help of a licensed therapist to guide you. A marriage based on inconsistency leads to fragile trust and resentment. Sometimes it is impossible and/or unhealthy to try to save the marriage. With the support and guidance of a therapist, you can gain clarity and be in a better position to make long-term decisions. 

Each partner is responsible for the consistency of their words matching their actions. When you no longer trust your partner’s words, the marriage ceases to be a healthy, viable entity. Without trust, there is no foundation to build a sustainable relationship.