Even if He Doesn’t Hit You, Emotional Abuse Is Just as Bad

Ask Demetria: Staying in an abusive relationship for the good of the family isn’t good for you or your family.


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Dear Demetria:

My boyfriend's best friend died last month, and my boyfriend has been threatening me like s--t ever since. I know he's going through hard times and he's in pain, but it's getting really humiliating for me in front of our son and friends.

I would have moved ages ago if my son's safety was endangered, but it's not. It's more about the way my boyfriend acts and talk to me, weakening my mental strength but not hurting me physically. I just love my family and I care so much about them. I cannot be OK if my boyfriend is not. He is really down and I am trying to help him out. My mental strength will be fine. Don't worry about it. What can I do for him? —Anonymous

One of the most challenging aspects of what I do as a coach and an adviser is working with women who don’t believe they deserve to come first. Putting everyone else first is an affliction most of us have, and occasionally it even happens with me.

We mean well. Some of us are people pleasers who don’t want to rock the boat and will stay in line to feel loved. Then again, some of us were taught that the needs of our men and our children are supposed to come before ours. Then there are some of us who are the only reliable person present. We’d love to focus on ourselves sometimes, but we believe that whatever is being held together by our seemingly endless resources of time and energy will swiftly fall apart if we focus on ourselves. So we put our needs on the back burner and wait for a more convenient time, which never comes. 

But who helps us?

I need you to know that what you’re describing is emotional abuse. You’re in a bad situation even though your boyfriend is not physically hitting you ... yet. I understand he is grieving, but pain or not, it's never OK for your partner to threaten you.

Your son’s safety is important and I’m glad to hear he’s not bearing the brunt of your boyfriend’s anger. But you’re deluding yourself if you think your son is OK when he sees and hears Daddy threatening Mommy and sees the fear on Mommy’s face when it happens. You and your boyfriend are your son’s first example of what a relationship looks like—how men and women treat one another. And what he’s seeing is a terrible example.

I also need you to know that your safety is important, too. When your man is threatening you in front of your son and other people, you are not doing well and you will not “be fine.”

I know you want to be there for your man and you’re worried about his pain. But when are you going to worry about the harm you and your son are in?