Signs of a Verbally Abusive Wife or Girlfriend

Signs of a Verbally Abusive Wife or Girlfriend

“What she did was take all the pain she’s ever felt in her whole life and aim it at me.”

--One man's description of his ex's verbal abuse 

If you have a verbally abusive girlfriend or wife, you aren't alone. Verbal abuse of men by women is probably as common as verbal abuse of women by men.

Verbal abuse may not leave physical bruise but it can leave deep emotional and psychological wounds. It can damage the self-worth and well-being of the person on the receiving end of these verbal blows.

Every relationship is different, and signs of verbal abuse may not be obvious from the start of a relationship. Verbally abusive behaviors may emerge slowly or begin suddenly.


What's in This Post

What is Verbal Abuse?
Is it Normal or Abusive?
The Partner Abuse Continuum
Verbally Abusive Tone and Body Language
13 Signs of a Verbally Abusive Wife or Girlfriend
Examples of Women Verbally Abusing Men
The Effects of Verbal Abuse
Book About Abusive Women and Abused Men


Verbal abuse books 


What is Verbal Partner Abuse?

Verbal abuse might more properly be called communication abuse. 

Verbal abuse is the abusive use of words, tone, and/or body language to control, demean, or punish another person. It ranges from rageful yelling to passive-aggressive silence. It can be in-your-face bullying or performed in a more backdoor subversive way.


Is it Normal or Abusive?

A confusing aspect of partner abuse is deciphering when behavior is “abusive” and when it is “normal.” 

Disagreements, and even arguing, are normal in relationships as we maneuver through each person getting their opinions voiced and considered, and getting their wants and needs met.

In healthy relationships, these disagreements are handled with respect, without manipulation or meanness (at least most of the time). If disagreements do venture into abusive territory, there is genuine regret and a curtailing of that behavior. (We can all slip up occasionally.)

Verbal abuse, on the other hand, is driven by any of the these goals: control, demean, and/or punish.


Partner Abuse Continuum

Each potentially abusive behavior can be placed on a continuum that spans from non-abusive (totally healthy) to very abusive. 

verbal abuse continuum


The difference between abusive and healthy behaviors is often found in motivation. Abusive behaviors have the motivation to demean, control, or punish.

A woman may cry, pout, or turn away simply because she is sad. She may also cry to control, pout to manipulate, or turn away to punish.

Repetition is also an element that moves behavior from less abusive to more abusive on the continuum. 

Everyone gets irritable occasionally. Being abrupt and raising your voice once in a while doesn’t meet the criteria for being called abusive. That behavior lands toward the non-abusive end of the continuum. On the other hand, repeatedly being abrupt and yelling demeaning threatening words in an effort to extract control is abusive--unless it is in response to true danger. (This example shows how tricky it is to decipher where something belongs on the continuum. There are multiple aspects of the situation to consider.)


Verbally Abusive Tone and Body Language

verbally abused husband boyfriend man


It isn’t just words that are the mechanism for verbal abuse. Tone and body language can also be abusive tools.

Verbally abusive women can achieve their goal to demean, control, or punish loudly or quietly. Abusive tone and body language can range from coy to aggressive.

A particular woman may use many different forms of tone and body language to demean, control, or punish, or she may have methods of choice that she has honed the art of performing.

Abusive body language has a variety of forms:

  • pouting
  • seducing 
  • looking or turning away
  • walking away
  • aggressively moving towards
  • finger-pointing
  • withdrawing
  • showing a fist
  • smirking
  • temper tantrums
  • crying
  • glaring
  • menacing
  • towering or physically looming over
  • eye-rolling
  • a demeaning, controlling, or punishing glance

An abusive glance can send a message that the target of the glance has been trained to understand through previous experience. The message may be “You’re stupid” or “You better not do that” or “I’m mad at you.”

Abusive tone may be any of the following:

  • seductive
  • fragile
  • helpless
  • intimidating
  • condescending
  • loud
  • aggressive
  • threatening
  • silent
  • whiny
  • coy
  • teasing
  • charming
  • cajoling*

*Cajoling is a great word. The twisting, manipulative intent seems to even come through in the sound of the word.’s definition of cajoling: “To elicit or obtain by flattery, gentle pleading, or insincere language.”


13 Signs of a Verbally Abusive Wife or Girlfriend

Partner verbal abuse instruments cover a broad range:

  1. threatening
  2. controlling
  3. demanding
  4. histrionics
  5. fault-finding
  6. berating
  7. humiliating
  8. mocking
  9. biting sarcasm
  10. name-calling
  11. pushing her agenda until he gives in
  12. circular arguing
  13. the silent treatment


    13 Signs of Verbal Abuse, verbally and emotionally abusive wife, girlfriend, husband, or boyfriend, women abusing men, women who abuse men, a controlling and abusive wife 


    Examples of Women Verbally Abusing Men

     #4 from the list: Histrionics

    Histrionics are behaviors that are overly emotional and melodramatic. Women who are histrionic keep their partners busy trying to put out fires or preempt them in order to avoid the overreactions.

    Super-crying is an example of histrionics. Its over-the-top crying that serves to get a woman what she wants. It’s often used to end a conversation about a subject she wants to avoid or to divert attention. It can be used to punish her partner for having even tried to have a conversation about something important to him.

    Several men have recounted stories of being met with super-crying when they tried to talk to their wives about finances. In each case, the women controlled the money, and in each case it was eventually exposed that bills weren’t paid or money was missing. The crying achieved the goal of shutting down the husband’s ability to discover the financial manipulations.


    #7 from the list: Humiliating 

    A man described his abusive wife’s propensity to publicly humiliate him in this way:

    “No event seemed safe when attending as a couple. With time, I despised showing up at social functions, parties, and family gatherings. Being a very bright lady, the Ex would artfully manage to introduce her distorted stories about me into conversations with friends, acquaintances, or even complete strangers.

    If a woman was caught bragging about her husband's good deeds, often with misty eyes and deep sighs, the Ex would complement the spouse and then tell her how lucky a woman she was in comparison to her. In front of friends and relatives, I was a constant target and openly accused of never doing or saying anything right. If cold looks and mistrust could kill, I would have died a long time ago.”


    Example of a Verbally Abusive Wife: Amber Heard

    The 2-hour conversation between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard that was consensually recorded the day after one of the times Amber hit Johnny is a great example of what a verbally abusive wife sounds like and what an abused man sounds like. I transcribed and analyzed the recording: 

    Amber Heard Johnny Depp verbal abuse




    The Effects of Verbal Abuse

    Verbal abuse can have a devastating impact on an individual’s life. It has the potential to negatively effect every aspect of their life, from their sense of self to relationships to success at work. In the short-term, verbal abuse can lead to feelings of anxiety, changes in mood, and chronic stress.

    Over time, these effects can become more severe and lead to decreased self-esteem and difficulty trusting others. They may become conditioned to give in to the abuser, and begin to make choices that go against their own best interests or judgement in attempts to avoid being abused. Men who endure long-term verbal abuse may find it difficult to form healthy relationships or maintain meaningful friendships due to their lack of trust in others. 

    A verbally abused man may develop depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He may also struggle with substance abuse as a way to cope with the pain caused by the verbal abuse.


    Additional Resource has a good extensive article about verbal abuse that stays true to being relevant for any gender configuration that might be the source and target of the abuse. Verbal Abuse: Definition, Signs, Examples, & What to Do


    Book About Abusive Women and Abused Men

    For further explanation of each of the ways women verbally abuse their male partners check out my book:


    Abuse OF Men BY Women: It Happens, It Hurts, and It's Time to Get Real About It

     Abuse OF Men BY Women: It Happens, It Hurts, and It's Time to Get Real About It




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    • Ann Silvers
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