A review of 'The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize it and How to Respond' by Patricia Evans

Article written by Amanda Melheim

If you have a pulse, you’ve been hit in the face with verbal abuse before.

Talking about statistics is useless because that would only capture the verbal abuse we notice.

As Patricia Evans says,

Verbal abuse is, in a sense, built into our culture. One-upmanship, defeating, putting down, topping, countering, manipulating, criticizing, hard selling, and intimidating are accepted as fair games by many.

Worst of all, when the verbal abuse is coming from someone we love, we think it’s easily forgiven because they’re having a bad day and they love us too.

Patricia Evans explains in The Verbally Abusive Relationship why love and verbal abuse cannot coexist.

Is the Pain You Feel Verbal Abuse?

That’s always the question: we know we hurt and we don’t like it, but is that abuse?

Verbal Abuse Is Deliberate and Recurrent

First of all, verbal abuse is on purpose.

Verbal abuse is a kind of battering which doesn’t leave evidence comparable to the bruises of physical battering. It can be just as painful, and recovery can take much longer. The victim of abuse lives in a gradually more confusing realm.

Verbal abuse is a pattern of attack. It’s meant to hurt you.

If you have been verbally abused, you have been told in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that your perception of reality is wrong and that your feelings are wrong. Consequently, you may doubt your own experience and, at the same time, not realize that you are doing so.

My family told me that my thoughts are wrong and my feelings are wrong, and then I ended up with a husband who told me my thoughts are wrong and my feelings are wrong.

My husband is now my ex-husband of several years because I finally met the person who became my best friend, who could tell I was being abused and I was in danger. They helped me hang onto my reality, and I got away from him.

The problem was, I just didn’t believe until nine years had passed that my ex-husband’s pattern of hurting me was deliberate. We don’t want to believe that. We want to believe “I love you” means “I love you.”

Verbal Abuse Doesn’t Respond to Negotiation

Something about verbal abuse is that it can’t be solved by talking to the person abusing you.

Speaking of the women she counseled, Evans says,

Many had tried every avenue, every approach, to improve their relationship: explaining, overlooking, asking, begging, individual and joint counseling, living their lives as independently as possible, meeting their own needs, not asking “too much,” settling for less and less, being undemanding, being understanding. Nothing seemed to work.

I did all of this except marriage counseling because he wouldn’t agree to it, so I took myself to therapy instead.

Taking Off the Blindfold

I’m going to share Patricia Evans’ checklist verbatim. It uses male pronouns, but you can ignore that if you’re using the checklist for a different relationship you have and want to check out against this evaluation.

1 — He seems irritated or angry with you several times a week or more although you hadn’t meant to upset him. You are surprised each time. (He says he’s not mad when you ask him what he’s mad about, or he tells you in some way that it’s your fault.)

2 — When you feel hurt and try to discuss your upset feelings with him, you don’t feel as if the issue has been fully resolved, so you don’t feel happy and relieved, nor do you have a feeling you’ve “kissed and made up.” (He says, “You’re just trying to start an argument!” or in some other way expresses his refusal to discuss the situation.)

3 — You frequently feel perplexed and frustrated by his responses because you can’t get him to understand your intentions.

4 — You are upset not so much about concrete issues — how much time to spend with each other, where to go on vacation, etc. — as about the communication in the relationship: what he thinks you said and what you heard him say.

5 — You sometimes wonder, “What’s wrong with me? I shouldn’t feel so bad.”

6 — He rarely, if ever, seems to want to share his thoughts or plans with you.

7 — He seems to take the opposite view from you on almost everything you mention, and his view is not qualified by “I think” or “I believe” or “I feel” — as if your view were wrong and his were right.

8 — You sometimes wonder if he perceives you as a separate person.

9 — You can’t recall saying to him, “Cut it out!” or “Stop it!”

10 — He is either angry or “has no idea of what you’re talking about” when you try to discuss an issue with him.

Patricia Evans’ scale is simple: If you agree with or think 2 or more items on this list might apply, there’s a high likelihood you’ve got some verbal abuse issues going on in the relationship.

The Types of Verbal Abuse

Patricia Evans categorizes verbal abuse strategies into types and goes through an overview of each, with examples. I’ve given my own examples here from my experiences with my ex-husband.


Simply put, withholding is a choice to keep virtually all one’s thoughts, feelings, hopes, and dreams to oneself and remain silent and aloof toward one’s partner, to reveal as little as possible, and to maintain an attitude of cool indifference.

This is starving someone of mental and emotional closeness.

My ex-husband began our courtship by spending several hours each time with me bonding. But when the mask dropped, he shut me out with video games and TV.


Some people might call this toxic debating.

How dare she have a different view from his? If she sees things differently, he may feel he is losing control and dominance of her. Consequently, he may choose to argue against her thoughts, her perceptions, or her experience of life itself.

This is similar to gaslighting, but without telling someone else their feelings. It’s not that…it’s just that you’re suddenly always wrong.

An abuser who counters seems only to think the opposite of his partner.

At the extreme, they’ll be the Devil’s Advocate who keeps switching sides as soon as you try to agree with them. When my ex-husband did this, I thought he was indecisive! But actually he was messing with me.

Nothing ever got done, because as long as I was trying to do it, he was going to jam it up with countering.


Discounting denies and distorts the partner’s actual perception of the abuse and is, therefore, one of the most insidious forms of verbal abuse.

Now we get to the gaslighting. Discounting is about telling you that there is no conflict and no problem.

Every time I tried to bring up a concerning verbal fight and my own upset feelings, my ex-husband would tell me, “It’s not a big deal.”

Other examples from my ex-husband are, “You didn’t understand me,” and “That’s not what I meant.”

These would be his claims in response to unambiguous statements from him such as, “You’re self-centered. Can’t you shut up for a minute? I’m trying to think,” and “I’m not attracted to you anymore because you’re fat and you need to lose at least fifteen pounds.”

Verbal Abuse Disguised As Jokes

This kind of abuse is not done in jest. It cuts to the quick, touches the most sensitive areas, and leaves the abuser with a look of triumph. The abuse never seems funny because it isn’t funny.

My ex-husband once “joked” at his family’s Thanksgiving that I was his “rescue dog”. His aunt and uncle looked horrified. I wore a frozen smile, completely freaking out and humiliated.

He was referring to me revealing to him my highly abusive family and my need for him to possibly physically protect me.

Blocking and Diverting

The verbal abuser refuses to communicate, establishes what can be discussed, or withholds information.

Blocking may also be accusatory; however, its primary purpose is to prevent discussion, end communication, or withhold information.

An example Patricia Evans uses that I also experienced frequently from my ex-husband is, “You know what I meant!” Usually yelled right in my face.

Another from him was, “Do we have to talk about this now?”

Hmm, well, no, I guess not, but “now” two weeks ago and “now” two weeks from now will also magically not be the correct time. There is no correct time. It was always Nuh-Uh O’clock.

This included paying hospital bills or buying food for an empty refrigerator!

Accusing and Blaming

A verbal abuser will accuse his partner of some wrongdoing, or of some breach of the basic agreement of the relationship, blaming his partner for his anger, irritation, or insecurity.

One of my ex-husband’s was, “Talking to me about this as soon as I come home from work makes me not want to come home.”

Never mind that all of his withholding and countering and blocking meant I couldn’t get a straight answer from him about the issue over the phone.

Judging and Criticizing

The verbal abuser may judge his partner and then express his judgment in a critical way. If she objects, he may tell her that he is just pointing something out to be helpful, but in reality he may be expressing his lack of acceptance of her.

My ex-husband interrupted an important conversation to tell me that I had a stray hair growing on the underside of my chin. The topic he interrupted? Me talking about my PTSD therapy!

Critical statements made about you to others are abusive.

For instance, my ex-husband out of the blue claimed to his father that I’m messier than he is and that I never keep the house clean. I was horrified.


Trivializing says, in so many words, that what you have done or expressed is insignificant. When trivializing is done in a frank and sincere tone of voice, it can be difficult to detect.

My ex-husband’s favorite trivialization, for instance in response to me finishing a paper for a college course or doing a painting that took 60 hours to complete, was, “That’s cool.”

Spoken in the blandest tone ever. Like he was talking to a dog. Or a four-year-old child.


A verbal abuser waits to do this until they’ve done other things to hack at your confidence.

Undermining not only withholds emotional support, but also erodes confidence and determination.

It can look like cynicism. My ex-husband said, “I don’t see how we’re going to do that,” and “I don’t think your therapy is working,” when I brought up needing to do something to keep paying for bi-weekly sessions of EMDR.

I did gig work over the internet to pay for my sessions because he, with a full-time job, couldn’t “find” the money in the budget.

Another kind of undermining is sabotaging attempts to do something with interruptions.

For example, the abuser may sabotage his partner’s conversations with others by causing some disturbance such as breaking into uproarious laughter or walking into the room and pounding on the piano, as did one abuser.

He may also simply interrupt her by finishing her story, opposing her, or negating her.

My ex-husband did the second one, interrupting me, at every social gathering the two of us were at. Unless I could get away from his side, I was never allowed to speak for myself.

Also, at home, he would randomly and unpredictably interrupt my phone conversations with my best friend by coming into the room or demanding my attention over a minor thing.


Threatening manipulates the partner by bringing up her greatest fears.

Patricia Evans says these are usually ultimatums. Ultimatums are sort of like negotiating with terrorists. It’s a “Do what I want or…” format or an “If you, then I’ll” format.

My ex-husband said once, “If you don’t shut up, I’m going to hit you.”

I fell silent out of shock, but he didn’t care why I complied, only that I did. He was satisfied that he’d put me in my place.

Name Calling

Name calling is one of the most overt categories of verbal abuse. All name calling is verbally abusive.

This is often the only category any of us can spot with near 100% accuracy when we hear it.

I drew a line very early with my ex-husband that I did not tolerate swearing. My mother swore at me and hit me as a toddler. I was not going to cope.

So when my ex-husband finally said, “I think you’re being a little bit of a bitch,” after eight years of respecting my boundary, I interpreted that to mean that he wanted our marriage over.

What Patricia Evans taught me is that he probably didn’t. It was simply that after eight years, he thought I would let my boundary slide. How little he knew or respected my trauma. All he actually did was press the self-destruct button on our marriage.


Everyone forgets what happened now and then. However, consistently forgetting interactions with have a great impact on another person is verbally abusive denial.

I would also add that it’s rarely ever believable. So it just comes across as stonewalling. No, you did not forget the screaming argument we had three hours ago. Not without a head injury.

Some abusers seem to consistently forget the promises which are most important to their partners.

For instance, my ex-husband’s response to my, “You did buy the floor cleaner from the store, didn’t you?” was “I’m sorry. I forgot. Can you wait for it until tomorrow?”

He once “forgot” that I wanted to see a movie with him alone and invited his cousin and his cousin’s best friend. This was extremely painful. I wanted a date. And I literally had to fight so hard for it that I couldn’t enjoy it once I won.

By the way, I won by telling his cousin that my husband had promised me a date. My husband was furious.


When the abuser gives orders instead of asking respectfully for what he wants, he is treating his partner as if she were the glove on his hand, automatically available to fulfill his wishes.

Out of nowhere in a conversation in the car, my ex-husband snapped, “Just shut up for a second!”

“What?” I said, startled.

“I’m trying to think!” he yelled.

There was no reason to be unkind about request my silence. His behavior would only make sense if I had been talking over his attempts to ask for quiet, which I had not been.

What Is Love?

Loving relationships are based on mutuality.

Mutuality is a way of being with another person which promotes the growth and well-being of one’s self and the other person by means of clear communication and empathetic understanding.

Patricia Evans calls this mindset Personal Power.

The opposite mindset she calls Power Over.

Someone who believes in Power Over expects to get what he or she wants through the use of Power Over another.

Abusers of all kinds view the world through a Power Over mindset and their motivation is to get that power over you. If you model your world on Personal Power, then Power Over makes no sense to you.

Patricia Evans explains these are incompatible realities. Each thinks the other understands the reality they are using. That is why it can be so tough to understand when someone with a Power Over model of life comes along.

The soul-sucking Power Over model is the antithesis of love and in fact ensures that when people realize what you’ve done, they’ll hate you. I certainly hate my ex-husband.

Personal Power works by mutuality and co-creation. Personal Power comes from one’s connection to his or her own feelings and increased through cooperation with, and participation in, life.

Cooperation and participation with another person who is also grounded in his or her own feelings generate or bring into being a shared reality. This creation is the relationship itself.

People using Power Over don’t have relationships. They don’t relate. So there’s no relation-ship. This is why verbal abuse and love are mutually exclusive. They cannot coexist. Verbal abuse presumes a lack of coexistence.

 We would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to Amanda Melheim for kindly providing Smiley Blue with this article.

Amanda Melbeim is a grad student, ulcerative colitis survivor, happily divorced, nerd in EMDR therepy for CPTSD. She writes to entertain and to raise awareness. You can follow Amanda’s work here 👉 Amanda Melheim

Photo of Amanda Melheim with permission

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