Verbal Abuse Isn’t Just Shouting and Screaming

Verbal Abuse Isn’t Just Shouting and Screaming

When things heat up between you and your partner, or you and your children, how do you bring yourself back down?  Are you intentional with your words when big emotions rise?  Verbal abuse might not seem as harmful as physical abuse on the surface, but cutting words can dig deep emotional wounds.

But verbal abuse isn’t just shouting and screaming and name calling.  Here’s a few examples of things that are also verbal abuse:

Telling someone what they are:

  • You’re…
    • Making a big deal out of nothing
    • Crazy
    • High maintenance
    • Too sensitive
    • Trying to piss me off
    • A liar


Telling someone what they feel:

  • You feel…
    • Sorry for yourself
    • Guilty
    • Desperate


Telling someone what they think:

  • You think…
    • That you know everything
    • That I don’t know what you’re up to


Telling someone what they need to do:

  • You should…
    • Get a hold of yourself
    • Get off my back
    • Go see a therapist
    • Fix yourself
    • Have known better


Telling someone what they have:

  • You have…
    • Nothing to complain about
    • Issues
    • No sense of humour
    • To always be right


Do you and your partner, or you and your kids, often get into shouting matches and throw some of these around?  If so, it might be a sign that learning how to cut out verbal abuse from your go-to fighting style would benefit you and your relationship.

What to do?

You can start by making a contract with your partner or your children – a Contract Against Verbal Abuse.  Sit down together and write down a list of all the hurtful things you sometimes say to each other.  At the bottom, write a statement agreeing to steer clear of these kinds of fiery words, something like:

“In order to have a better relationship, both of us, with a good and open heart, agree that neither will speak to each other in the above ways.”

Then, both sign and date the Contract.  This gesture might seem simple, but when couples come together to be united against the problem of verbal abuse, it’s really powerful.

To pivot towards respectful communication, try:

  • Looking at your partner while they are speaking
  • Asking open-ended questions, like ‘How are you feeling?’
  • Empathy by putting yourself in their shoes and trying to see the problem from their perspective
  • Asking for a time out if feeling overwhelmed
  • Asking with a please and accepting with a thank you
  • Communicating needs/desires clearly and directly, as in ‘I am feeling overwhelmed, and I would like some help around the house. Do you have some time you could help me later on?’ (as opposed to ‘You never help me with the house, you’re such a lazy slob.’)
  • Taking turns speaking and being mindful not to speak over each other


All couples experience tough emotions and stressful situations.  It’s how we cope with them together that either pushes us further away from each other or brings us closer in.


By: Dr. Elizabeth Landau