Signs That Your Teen Is in an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

teen girl leaning on wall and looking away from boyfriend

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If you are like most teenagers, you may not realize how common teen dating abuse really is. You might believe that it only happens to someone else in a school far away from where you live. You may also think that girlfriends can't be abusive, that it's only the boys, or that physical abuse is the only one that counts. The reality is that teen dating abuse happens everywhere, even in your school.

Statistics say that 23 percent of teenage girls and 14 percent of boys have experienced dating violence before their 18th birthday. Meanwhile, one in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped, or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend. The odds are that it could happen to you or your friend.

Signs of Emotional Abusive

The first step in preventing dating abuse in your life is being aware of the warning signs of emotional abuse. If your significant other does even one of these things, you need to seriously think about getting out of the relationship. 

Disrespects You

If your intimate partner makes fun of you and calls you disrespectful names, you're in a relationship with a bully and an abuser. Other disrespectful bullying behaviors to look out for include:

  • Accusing you of being too sensitive or emotional when you try to discuss the bad behavior
  • Criticizing you and undermining your perceptions
  • Telling you how you should feel rather than accepting your true feelings

Acts Superior and Entitled

Bullies talk down to others and they are condescending and rude. You might hear him say that your opinions (and the opinions of others) are stupid or do not make sense.

In general, bullies and abusers communicate that you or others are inferior in some way.

Simply put, these actions are part of a strategy to maintain power and control over you or others.

Relies on Intimidation

Intimidating behavior is a psychological and/or physical method of trying to establish and maintain power and control over you. Your intimate partner might:

  • Become physically threatening with gestures like punching walls, abusing your pets, or throwing furniture around
  • Demonstrate psychological abuse with threats to embarrass you by revealing private information
  • Use words that make you feel so unworthy that you think you don't deserve better treatment

Lacks Empathy

Empathy is a sensitivity to other people's feelings and it's a quality that emotionally abusive people often lack.

Emotionally abusive people do not show genuine emotion or concern for other people. They may show feelings, but they are not truly sincere about them.

Instead, it seems more like they're putting on an act of what is accepted in given situations. They also lack genuine remorse for any wrongdoing.

Struggles With Envy and Jealousy

A display of jealousy and envy is a red flag. It is also often one of the first things you will notice. Do not mistake jealousy for love.

This insecure behavior leads to control issues and represents a bully's fear of losing the relationship. If your intimate partner is extremely jealous, it is time to move on before things escalate.

Makes Unreasonable Demands

Bullies are often very unreasonable with others, especially those they consider to be lesser than them, like a waiter or other service employees. Eventually, your partner will place unreasonable demands on you, too. For example, your partner may:

  • Accuse you of not being committed to the relationship if you don’t meet his demands or follow his rules
  • Demand you spend all your time together
  • Try to control what you wear

Ostracizes and Isolates You

Bullying and abuse are all about control. These intimidators have rigid expectations and ostracize anyone who doesn't make the grade. As they turn their abuse on you, they may try to take control of your life by:

  • Criticizing your friends and family members
  • Manipulating you into spending all your time with them and getting angry at your other friends
  • Taking your cell phone to check your texts, call logs, and voicemail messages

Verbally Abuses Others

Bullies and abusers often humiliate people in front of others.

Their goal is to make someone else feel small and worthless while inflating their own power in the situation.

If your boyfriend or girlfriend frequently engages in name-calling, it is time to get out of the relationship.

A Word From Verywell

Remember, abuse of any type is not part of a healthy relationship. What's more, your partner's bullying and abusiveness are not your fault. These inappropriate behaviors are choices the bully makes and that person alone is responsible for the behavior.

If you think your sweetheart might be bullying you, find outside support and look for options on how to terminate the relationship. Talk to your parents or another trusted adult and take precautions before calling it quits. This is the one time when breaking up via text message or in public is appropriate. Abuse often escalates when a relationship is about to end. Make sure you stay safe when you make the final break.

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance: United States, 2015. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2016.

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teen Dating Violence. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2018.

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.