Unlike many kinds of physical abuse, emotional abuse is unseen. Some people who experience it don’t even know they are being manipulated. Particularly if the relationship has always been unhealthy, it can be hard to tell you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship until it’s too late: You’re entangled in a manipulative relationship, afraid to walk away. But that’s exactly what you need to do.
Though harder to detect, emotional abuse can still be spotted early if you look for the following things.
1. He plays mind games.
One day he tells you he wants a future with you; the next day he acts like it was all your idea. He makes remarks about your past or your dress size or that insecurity you shared with him in a vulnerable moment, using it as leverage against you. He’s a master at mind games, and you’re his victim.
Don’t waste your time with a guy like this. Don’t wait around for him to improve. If every conversation leaves you confused, or your relationship is a roller coaster of uncertainties, don’t wait another day. Even if what he’s doing doesn’t classify as emotional abuse, he’s not mature enough for a relationship.
2. Jealousy and insecurity characterize your interactions.
Jealousy will destroy a relationship. Jealousy is based on two things: personal insecurity and lack of trust. If your boyfriend can’t trust you to talk to other guys—your friends or strangers—and you’ve done nothing to warrant that distrust, his jealousy needs to be dealt with for the spiritual issue that it is. He does not get to take his personal insecurities out on you.
If your relationship is characterized by arguments about his jealousy, or his constant need for affirmation because of personal insecurities he refuses to submit to the Lord, encourage him first to find counseling. Then prayerfully decide whether this relationship is headed in a healthy emotional and spiritual direction. If he isn’t willing to address his emotional issues, it’s probably time to get out.
3. He doesn’t respect your boundaries and uses guilt to manipulate.
Perhaps you’ve set a physical boundary that is important to you—waiting until engagement to kiss, or not hanging out at your apartment. Physical boundaries help us honor God with our bodies while dating, and everyone needs to do what is necessary to maintain the purity Christ has given us. But if your boyfriend tells you he’ll respect your boundaries—and chooses to date you KNOWING your physical standards—then pushes you to compromise, he is NOT the guy for you.
A man who uses guilt or “love” to manipulate a woman into giving more of herself physically is simply using her for his own pleasure. Even if you enjoy it, too, if he’s the one pressuring you to go past your boundaries, he’s manipulating you, not honoring you. It doesn’t matter if he says he’s a Christian. He needs time to assess his priorities and understand what it means to honor his sisters in Christ, including the ones he dates.
4. He only “tries” when he’s afraid of losing you.
Lastly, if he only makes an effort when you threaten to break up with him, he’s probably manipulating you once again. Emotionally abusive men are often hyperaware of the empathetic nature of women. He might make promises to change, promises to respect you, promises to stop being jealous or insecure. But the reality is that he needs to make those changes on his OWN time, not at your expense. And if he gets accountability, and repents and changes—who knows? Maybe one day you’ll end up back together. But he can’t make those changes unless you let him go.
Emotional abuse happens on many different levels, and some of these things, taken individually, aren’t necessarily abuse at all. But they ARE signs of spiritual immaturity that need to be dealt with personally by the guy you’re dating. Don’t sacrifice your own walk with God or emotional well being to “save” a weak man. Show Him how to go to Christ with his problems, encourage him to get counseling and set yourself free to have more positive relationships.