Home > Abusive relationships, Borderline Personality Disorder, Marriage, relationships > 10 Signs Your Girlfriend or Wife is an Emotional Bully

10 Signs Your Girlfriend or Wife is an Emotional Bully

mood-swingsDoes your girlfriend or wife yell, scream, and swear at you? Do you feel like you can’t talk to anyone about your relationship because they just wouldn’t understand? Is your relationship making you feel like you’re slowly going crazy?

If so, you’re probably involved with a woman who is an emotionally abusive bully. Most men don’t want to admit that they’re in an abusive relationship. They describe the relationship and their girlfriend/wife using other terms like crazy, emotional, controlling, bossy, domineering, constant conflict, or volatile. If you use words like this to describe your relationship, odds are you’re being emotionally abused.

Do you recognize any of the following behaviors?

1) Bullying. If she doesn’t get her way, there’s hell to pay. She wants to control you and resorts to emotional intimidation to do it. She uses verbal assaults and threats in order to get you to do what she wants. It makes her feel powerful to make you feel bad. People with a Narcissistic personality are often bullies.

Result: You lose your self-respect and feel outnumbered, sad, and alone. You develop a case of Stockholm Syndrome, in which you identify with the aggressor and actually defend her behavior to others.

2) Unreasonable expectations. No matter how hard you try and how much you give, it’s never enough. She expects you to drop whatever you’re doing and attend to her needs. No matter the inconvenience, she comes first. She has an endless list of demands that no one mere mortal could ever fulfill.

Common complaints include: You’re not romantic enough, you don’t spend enough time with me, you’re not sensitive enough, you’re not smart enough to figure out my needs, you’re not making enough money, you’re not FILL IN THE BLANK enough. Basically, you’re not enough, because there’s no pleasing this woman. No one will ever be enough for her, so don’t take it to heart.

Result: You’re constantly criticized because you’re not able to meet her needs and experience a sense of learned helplessness. You feel powerless and defeated because she puts you in no-win situations.

3) Verbal attacks.This is self-explanatory. She employs schoolyard name calling, pathologizing (e.g., armed with a superficial knowledge of psychology she uses diagnostic terms like labile, paranoid, narcissistic, etc. for a 50-cent version of name calling), criticizing, threatening, screaming, yelling, swearing, sarcasm, humiliation, exaggerating your flaws, and making fun of you in front of others, including your children and other people she’s not intimidated by. Verbal assault is another form of bullying, and bullies only act like this in front of those whom they don’t fear or people who let them get away with their bad behavior.

Result: Your self-confidence and sense of self-worth all but disappear. You may even begin to believe the horrible things she says to you.

4) Gaslighting. “I didn’t do that. I didn’t say that. I don’t know what you’re talking about. It wasn’t that bad. You’re imagining things. Stop making things up.” If the woman you’re involved with is prone to Borderline or Narcissistic rage episodes, in which she spirals into outer orbit, she may very well not remember things she’s said and done. However, don’t doubt your perception and memory of events. They happened and they are that bad.

Result: Her gaslighting behavior may cause you to doubt your own sanity. It’s crazy-making behavior that leaves you feeling confused, bewildered, and helpless.

5) Unpredictable responses. Round and round and round she goes. Where she’ll stop, nobody knows. She reacts differently to you on different days or at different times. For example, on Monday, it’s ok for you to Blackberry work email in front of her. On Wednesday, the same behavior is “disrespectful, insensitive, you don’t love me, you’re a self-important jerk, you’re a workaholic.” By Friday, it could be okay for you to Blackberry again.

Telling you one day that something’s alright and the next day that it’s not is emotionally abusive behavior. It’s like walking through a landmine in which the mines shift location.

Result: You’re constantly on edge, walking on eggshells, and waiting for the other shoe to drop. This is a trauma response. You’re being traumatized by her behavior. Because you can’t predict her responses, you become hypervigilant to any change in her mood or potential outburst, which leaves you in a perpetual state of anxiety and possibly fear. It’s a healthy sign to be afraid of this behavior. It’s scary. Don’t feel ashamed to admit it.

6) Constant Chaos. She’s addicted to conflict. She gets a charge from the adrenaline and drama. She may deliberately start arguments and conflict as a way to avoid intimacy, to avoid being called on her bullshit, to avoid feeling inferior or, bewilderingly, as an attempt to avoid being abandoned. She may also pick fights to keep you engaged or as a way to get you to react to her with hostility, so that she can accuse you of being abusive and she can play the victim. This maneuver is a defense mechanism called projective identification.

Result: You become emotionally punch drunk. You’re left feeling dazed and confused, not knowing which end is up. This is highly stressful because it also requires you to be hypervigilant and in a constant state of defense for incoming attacks.

7) Emotional Blackmail. She threatens to abandon you, to end the relationship, or give you the cold shoulder if you don’t play by her rules. She plays on your fears, vulnerabilities, weaknesses, shame, values, sympathy, compassion, and other “buttons” to control you and get what she wants.

Result: You feel manipulated, used, and controlled.

8 Rejection. She ignores you, won’t look at you when you’re in the same room, gives you the cold shoulder, withholds affection, withholds sex, declines or puts down your ideas, invitations, suggestions, and pushes you away when you try to be close. After she pushes you as hard and as far away as she can, she’ll try to be affectionate with you. You’re still hurting from her previous rebuff or attack and don’t respond. Then she accuses you of being cold and rejecting, which she’ll use as an excuse to push you away again in the future.

Result: You feel undesirable, unwanted, and unlovable. You believe no one else would want you and cling to this abusive woman, grateful for whatever scraps of infrequent affection she shows you.

9) Withholding affection and sex. This is another form of rejection and emotional blackmail. It’s not just about sex, it’s about withholding physical, psychological, and emotional nurturing. It includes a lack of interest in what’s important to you–your job, family, friends, hobbies, activities–and being uninvolved, emotionally detached or shut down with you.

Result: You have a transactional relationship in which you have to perform tasks, buy her things, “be nice to her,” or give into her demands in order to receive love and affection from her. You don’t feel loved and appreciated for who you are, but for what you do for her or buy her.

10) Isolating. She demands or acts in ways that cause you to distance yourself from your family, friends, or anyone that would be concerned for your well-being or a source of support. This typically involves verbally trashing your friends and family, being overtly hostile to your family and friends, or acting out and starting arguments in front of others to make it as unpleasant as possible for them to be around the two of you.

Result: This makes you completely dependent upon her. She takes away your outside sources of support and/or controls the amount of interaction you have with them. You’re left feeling trapped and alone, afraid to tell anyone what really goes on in your relationship because you don’t think they’ll believe you.

You don’t have to accept emotional abuse in your relationship. You can get help or you can end it. Most emotionally abusive women don’t want help. They don’t think they need it. They are the professional victims, bullies, narcissists, and borderlines. They’re abusive personality types and don’t know any other way to act in relationships.

Life is too short to spend one more second in this kind of relationship. If your partner won’t admit she has a problem and agree to get help, real help, then it’s in your best interest to get support, get out, and stay out.

by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD

Private Consultation and Coaching

I provide confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. My practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit Services and Products for professional inquiries.


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Photo credits:

Mood swings on ccmbuzz.

  1. jk
    March 26, 2017 at 3:56 am

    This article identified and described my life with my fiancee, perfectly. It gives me a kind of relief that not only am not the only one experiencing this, but that it’s been documented and understood elsewhere with great detail.

    Eventhough I read this, I am clueless on how to leave my fiancee. She has two boys from her first marriage that I’ve raised for ten years. They are ‘my sons’ now and leaving them is a situation I don’t know how to process. It does not fit who I want to be for them.

    This article incredibly described my relationship with my fiancee.

    My endless thank you.

    • Ed Ba
      March 26, 2017 at 6:37 pm

      JK – thanks for posting, you are certainly among friends here who are in the same situation. I once got out of a bad relationship but loved the kids. Years later I was able to connect with them, and they asked if they were to blame for the divorce. I was able to assure them that it was not them, that it was their mother (who was a closet addict). Now, I am in a 7 year marriage that is even worse because I married a narcissist. Part of my reason for staying and taking this abuse (no kids) is that I don’t want to hurt her feelings. How crazy is that? In any event, you are not alone and your sons will be with you for life – with or without her. Just my opinion.

    • Kevin
      March 26, 2017 at 7:00 pm

      I truly feel for you. It’s the nice guys like us that find ourselves in relationships with women who treat us as objects. For them it’s a sickness, but for us staying in these relationships is also a manifestation of our own sickness. For me, my sickness is that I will do for others before doing for me, in other words I look at my own strength and compassion and feel sorry for other people so I help them before I help me. But this will take its toll on you. I have been broken-physically, mentally, emotionally, and most of all……spiritually. O honestly thought I could outlast this and rise above it but it has taken its toll. I am trying to recover from stress induced autoimmune issues that make it hard to do anything.

      I am engaged to someone just like you are and we have had to postpone the wedding more than once. I love this person and I feel so bad for her…mostly because she doesn’t get it nor will she understand or have real joy in her life and I tried so hard to bring it to her. I don’t think I can give any advice but offer my sincere condolences.

      If I could find the strength to get out of the relationship I would. Unfortunately for me I have been sapped of all strength and can only rely on God at this point to help sustain me. It might sound harsh or extreme but having the kind of depression I have now is debilitating.

      Best of luck to you.

  2. James Edward bess
    March 23, 2017 at 9:07 pm

    Thank you for this because I feel like nothing in on my current relationship I think I love and care for her more then I do she ignores me, argue about what her kids and dogs are doin should I leave ??I tried but I can’t let but she gon be the down fall of me I just knowww it

  3. Sim
    March 23, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    Hi Not Proud
    Mate your dilemma of not leaving is very similar to mine. I feel i am getting closer to making the final break. Everytime i think of it my heart races with excitement but then the thought of not seeing my son everyday brings me down to earth.

  4. March 22, 2017 at 1:11 am

    I found this article very helpful. My son married his first girlfriend 20 months ago at age 26. She announced to the minister during pre-marital counseling that she would “drive a wedge between him & his family.” She had a mental health history which included hospitalizations. His sisters & I encouraged him to delay the wedding & seek expert advice. He married her as scheduled, 2 days later. She had already established that he could not communicate with us except by going through her. She began posting insulting, angry things about his family online. He called me 2 months ago to say that he had to “take a break” from us. I don’t contact him because she makes it so hard on him. I fear the repercussions.
    Am I right to stay out of it? I fear for his mental & physical safety.

  5. Sim
    March 21, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    Hi guys and Dr T
    I have been reading many comments on this website and is indeed Godsend for people like me who i think have been abused, verbally and physically beaten, bullied and belittled.
    I can relate to many traits in my wife of 25 years and also to the experiences many of youz have had.
    I stayed because of my kids. I left many times but came back because i always left in a huff i.e. without a plan hence the gentleman who said plan your escape is a genius.
    I also came back because my son was very very young when i left the first time. And i am glad on one hand because i spent such wonderful wonderful time with him which i will cherish all my life.
    on the other hand sometimes i canot help but think would i have been better off without her.
    My wife belittles me, verbally abuses me, calls me a liar, a bully, non-considerate, someone who mocks her, someone who is happy inside at her misery, someone who cannot communicate with her, dont understand her feelings, dont know how to talk to others etc etc etc.
    I cannot invite anyone at home, i am alleged to make plans with my family to plan out ways to make her feel miserable.
    And I know for sure that there is absolute no truth in any of these absurd allegations.

    Dr T, if you may suggest, how do i make her understand its not me but its her! I have great relationship with my friends, parents, children but not her. She on the other hand has no friends, is estranged with her sister and mother. All the time its about her feelings. Once she starts to ‘talk’ it can go for ages, I am not allowed to speak and if I do somehow manage to convince her that i should also get a go on airing my views, she goes silent but once i finish, its like ….whoa..here we go again..

    I am seriously so tired mentally. my work is very demanding and requires time to ponder and analyse and the days she is not arguing (there are some such days when she is over sweet) i do so well at work. But the day i start thinking….okay its all behind us…it starts all over again.

    Dr T, Is there a way out with her? Should i now make a plan and get out? My son is now 19 and am sure thinking of moving out bcos who would want to see their parents argue regularly.

    • shrink4men
      March 22, 2017 at 4:05 am

      You shouldn’t have to convince your mate that you’re a good person. And if she truly thinks you’re such a jerk, why would she want to be with you? Why do you want to stay with someone who tells you that you’re crap and treats you as if you are? By keeping you in a down position, she retains control over you and the relationship. Abusers don’t willingly give that up. Stop trying to figure out how to convince her of anything and start focusing on what is keeping you in an abusive relationship. Do you want your son to think your marriage is acceptable and normal?

      • Sim
        March 22, 2017 at 11:21 am

        Thank you Dr T. What is keeping me in this highly charged and abusive relationship:
        1. Shame of marriage failure in the eyes of others
        2. Will not be able to see my son every day
        3. Being alone at least to start with, I have no family in this country and practically no friends
        4. I will have to pay her half my financial assets
        5. Anxiety about organising a place to stay, moving my things from family home
        6. Actual fear of moving out
        7. Comfort of home cooked dinner

        Why I want to leave:
        1. Constant belittling me, yelling, swearing and constant arguing, arguing, lecturing over something I have not even thought of let alone doing it.
        2. Nothing I ever do is good enough. Reminders that how much she helps/helped me and All help that i do is either not really done, or done to further my own sinister hidden agenda or show for others because I suspect most others dont share her view of me
        3. Blaming her own shortcomings, inadequacies on me
        4. Always focused on what i am ‘really saying’ rather what i say. As a result i open my mouth after much consideration or dont speak at all which is also a problem for her
        5. God forbid if i share my opinion and it happens to be different to hers. She on the other hand has God given right to air her views because she is ‘standing up to me – the bully’
        6. She is totally convinced i am Lucifer incarnate and is not reticent to share it with others.
        7. Complain complain complain…on anything that happens to her even if that is physically impossible for me to do.
        8. Bad mouthing my parents, my family, my friends who are not welcome in my house. If i somehow invite someone, oh no, i will have to listen how ‘disrespectful’ mine or their actions were.
        9. If we do go out for a dinner where we are invited, how I sat motionless when others were ‘flirting’ with her. Which is pure figment of her twisted imagination.
        10. All this happens in the ear shot of our son and I think neighbours as well.

      • Sim
        March 23, 2017 at 12:08 pm

        Thanks doc

  6. John
    March 16, 2017 at 9:14 pm

    I’m finding it hard.
    She is so good, compassionate and caring to everyone but seems to save her frustration up for me.
    It’s normally my fault.
    I told her about my being bullied when I was in school, but her opinion is that I must have been doing something to egg them on.
    When we got together I was neglected, forgotten at times when we were to meet, leaving me for two hours while the people she was with reminded her I was waiting.
    I should have got the message then.
    But some 23 years later we are married, have a fantastic son, but the abuse continues.
    She has threatened me, threatened to leave, says she hates me most days, says I’m stupid, says I’m a shit and a bastard. She has shoved me, just tried to hit me with a door on the way out to an event she didn’t want to go to, but rather than tell the person she made the commitment to, she took it out on me, calling me names.
    I went to counselling about 5 years ago, as a condition for staying married, and I mostly ended up talking about her, I’m tearful now just thinking of it.
    I’ve an important role in work, I have a lot of responsibility and I’m not long in the post, but my wife has threatened me on a number of times that unless I meet her standards at home I’ll have to leave it. She has accused me of “managing” her, but I just want the shouting and swearing to stop. She really hates me, hates me touching her, but calls me cold and dead when I can’t respond when she wants intimacy, how can I be intimate with a nightmare?

  7. March 13, 2017 at 6:15 am

    Wow!!! That is literally an autobiography of my relationship. But yet she has EVERYONE around her convinced I’m the bad guy. And I’m one of them.. But it was very nice to hear that I may not be as bad a person as I think I am. On the flip side, she can be SOOO sweet and wonderful. Sincerely.

  8. John
    March 11, 2017 at 9:03 pm

    Great info. Thanks for this. That describes to the T what my relationship is like right now. Now all i have to do is learn from my mistakes. More than 10 people that know us have told me to get out of it, but it is true what was in this read. i try to make excuses for her because she is the mother of my daughter. And i think she will change one day. But she will not. Not after 8 years of it……. the good thing about it though is not one single person in my family has not been there for me if i needed them through all of it. I just need to learn how to listen to the people that care about me.

  9. Vince
    March 6, 2017 at 11:37 pm

    I saw this a few years too late. I am in this right now its painful. I love her but I love myself also. I cant seem do enough for her, there is litterally no end to HER nèeds and wants. She can watch me pay alot of money on her and the next day ask gor something more. If I refuse its maybe we should breakup. Constantly critical of anything I do or say. Extremely jealous of any woman she thinks is cute, I do not have to interact with them at all. So certain restaraunts, stores, friends and other places are banned or we breakup. She puts pictures of us on my facebook wall we look like a happy couple. If you look at her wall Im barely there. I just closed my account so no one can post but me. Almost everything on your list she does, so when I saw it I could believe it. The only bright spot is she has agreed to getting counseling. Im not sure if that will work in this case but its worth a try.

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