Effects of Name Calling in a Relationship - Couples Therapy Inc.
My husband calls me names and swears at me. I've told him I consider  him verbally abusive when he does it and have asked him to stop. It never becomes physical abuse, but it hurts my feelings and makes me feel bad about myself and our marriage.

He uses such hurtful words that I end up walking on eggshells so as not to make him angry. He says just because my feelings hurt doesn't make it abuse.

When is it abuse when someone resorts to name-calling? What are the effects of name-calling in a relationship, and how damaging is it? I know he's feeling guilty when he upsets me or makes me cry but he doesn't stop. What should I do?

How damaging is name-calling in a relationship?

Verbal abuse is one of many types of abuse in relationships. In a toxic relationship, the words you call your partner often gradually turn from sweet-sounding (but condescending) nicknames ("my little airhead...") to swear words and constant criticism over time. 

That's the danger.

This is not acceptable behavior. You should never tolerate verbal abuse in a relationship from any family member.

Whether you are being insulted or called names or your partner swears at you, emotional abuse includes not only the words that are used but the facial expressions as well. Sneers, eye rolls, and a mocking tone all communicate just as powerfully as words.

Why does my husband call me names?

In some relationships, husbands have learned to show a lack of respect toward others from their family of origin. Other men have a job where insults and abrasive language are the norms.

Some argue this abusive behavior is "affectionate banter." It's not. Resorting to name-calling is an emotionally damaging form of verbal abuse.

Still, other men are chronically exhausted and irritable, causing them to ignite into a litany of curse words at the slightest provocation. Sometimes the long-term deterioration results in physical abuse as well as feeling bad. In healthy relationships, partners feel good about themselves and speak well of each other. Acceptance of vulnerability and weakness in your spouse (and in yourself) is a hallmark of a loving marriage.

But regardless of why your husband insults you, the behavior needs to stop.

What to do when your husband calls you stupid (or other names)

There are three steps to take when you are being called names:

1. Recognize that you are being insulted, criticized, or treated contemptuously.

It sometimes takes reflection to realize that the eye-roll, the insinuating questioning, or the comment followed by "I was only kidding!" is verbal abuse.

If your spouse can point a finger at you when he's talking, it falls into this category. These sentences usually start with "You," as in:

 "You are so stupid!" or "You do such stupid things!"

While the first sentence focuses on your personality or insults your intelligence ("stupid"), the second one is often not thought of as abusive to mental health. But it is. There are ways to ask someone to change their behavior without insulting that very behavior.

When someone's actions are criticized, that is an alternative way to name-call. It's one of the things we teach couples to stop doing in marriage counseling.

2. Label the statement as hurtful using "I" statements.

Don't debate the truth or inaccuracy of the statement. Label it. Tell him how the words made you feel, and ask for it to be re-phrased.

Husband: "That's a really idiotic thing to say!"

Wife: "That's contempt. It hurts my feelings when you say it that way. Can you rephrase that?"

Husband: "Well, it was idiotic!"

Wife: "I'm not debating the facts. I'm saying that calling me names is contemptuous and hurts my feelings. I'm asking you to put it in another way."

3. Don't debate the statement or sentiment. Focus on the harmful impact that the words have on you, and ask for a behavior change.

Husband: "If you don't want me to call you an idiot, stop saying idiotic things!"

Wife: "I want to listen to you, but when you use insulting words, I just get upset and stop being able to hear you. I think calling me names is abusive, and I've asked you nicely to stop. Will you please phrase what you're saying in a way that doesn't insult me?"

How damaging is name-calling in a relationship?

Name-calling or insulting someone's behavior is unacceptable for anyone, whether it is the wife calling her husband names or a husband insulting his wife. No one deserves to be verbally abused.

Attacking a person, putting the "problem" in them, insulting their family, or calling them "crazy" or mentally ill is all called "contempt" in science-based couples therapy. Gottman calls it "throwing acid on love."

Contempt is the one behavior only found in distressed marriages, and changing that behavior is the go-to treatment option when helping couples.

Couples attending our intensive couples retreat often say:

"What saved our marriage was learning how to express our frustrations with the other in a respectful way. We learned that it was okay to be annoyed or even angry. But how we expressed that annoyance really mattered. If we want to be listened to, we have to learn to talk respectfully to each other."

Aim for greater respect.

Men are often as deeply hurt by being spoken to in a disrespectful way as wives, yet they sometimes consider it as their wife's character flaw ("She's just being mean.") They don't necessarily see it as abuse that can stop.

To change around a marriage where one or both partners regularly swear or call each other names takes work.

But it's worth it.

As each partner identifies what annoys them, they then learn to make effective complaints. Making complaints (instead of criticism) changes the overall tone of the marriage.

Partners also learn to fight better. When they make "deposits" in the other's "emotional bank account," it improves the overall atmosphere of the marriage. 

They become better friends by acting kindly and with consideration. Expressing annoyance, even anger can be done while owning your emotions. An example of this, based on the previous conversation, might go like this:

Husband: "That's a really idiotic thing to say!"

Wife: "That's contempt. It hurts my feelings when you talk to me that way. Can you rephrase that?"

Husband: "You're right. That was out of line. I get so angry when I hear you talk about my job. I like to tell you things and want to.

"But when I do, I start to feel like you aren't really listening to me. You are just jumping to conclusions. And it makes me really mad."

Wife: "That's not how I want to come across. I love when you talk to me about your work. Please tell me the next time I do that."

Husband: "Just now, I was talking about the safety inspection, and you laughed like it was a big joke."

Wife: "Ya, that wasn't very respectful. I didn't even hear the whole story. I'm sorry, honey...I didn't mean to upset you."

Keep your cool.

Some spouses never cuss or get insulting unless they are emotionally upset. When their heart rate goes above 100 beats per minute (85 for the physically fit among us), they enter into a state called: "Diffuse Physiological Arousal" or "flooding." We teach couples how to recognize when they are flooded and to separate before they say mean or hurtful things.

If your husband gets verbally abusive after he floods, learn how to recognize the signs of flooding. Take a break from the conversation when that happens. Read a book, take a walk, and get your mind off of the argument for 20 minutes. That break can go a long way toward greater marital happiness.

Strategies like learning to make complaints, talk from your own perspective and separating when either of you is flooded often stop name-calling and cursing. Study tips on effective communication to improve your skills, or reach out to learn more about intensive couples counseling!

Get Help.

Practicing a different way of relating and understanding the reasons why insults are harmful and simply don't work is what we do in marriage counseling retreats. It is money well spent to learn a different and more constructive way to relate to one another.

Want your questions answered?

Send us your questions about relationships, sex, intimacy, and couples therapy. If selected, we will post your question (and Dr. K's response) without identifying information. Simply fill out this form to contact us.

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Dr. Kathy McMahon

Dr. Kathy McMahon (Dr. K) is a clinical psychologist and sex therapist. She is also the founder and president of Couples Therapy Inc. Dr. K feels passionate about couples therapy and sex therapy and holds a deep respect towards those who invest in making their relationship better. She is currently conducting online and in person private couples retreats.

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  1. I found your article to be extremely helpful except for one part. I was looking for much greater detail on why and how name calling, aka verbal abuse is damaging to the relationship and to each person in the relationship. I really would like to learn more on that.

    1. When you love someone, how they speak to you and about you matters. It is easier to internalize these negative messages and harder to distance from them. Gottman found that when couples engage in Criticism and Contempt, their marriages die at a much faster rate than others. Contempt, he says, is like “throwing acid on love.” Words matter. Acceptance of difference matters in a marriage. There are many writers on this topic, but Gottman has done years of research linking verbal abuse with divorce. -Dr. K

  2. Am I crazy for thinking that if my GF calls me a "dyke" and tells me to "shut up" and constantly eye rolls me, that there is nothing wrong with me? I try and tell her it is disrespectful and that I am not happy. She says that I always make her feel not wanted. She tells me often she feels bad for end I up with. I feel bad for her internal suffering and pessimistic views. Been going on for years, I do not want her personality raising my children. Lol she walks around my house calling herself the alpha dog. So many other names, she always blames me and tells me I am always telling her I don't want to be with her, but I am tired of the abuse and how non-self aware she is IMO.

    Worthless, she is always right, she calls me the worst characters from whatever TV shows are on. I know she will miss me and regrets it all, but I am not happy

    She lives under my roof and does not want to leave

    1. No, you aren’t crazy. That’s verbal abuse. Regardless of WHY she says it (not feeling wanted, her suffering, etc) it is unacceptable. If she can’t stop it, she needs to work with a therapist to help her. Finally, if it IS your house, and you want her to leave, there are legal actions you can take to evict her. I’m sure you know that. It’s just deciding to do it. -Dr. K

  3. Dear Dr. K,

    I happened to pass by this article online. I was trying to search for anything that would explain why my husband acted like a monster yesterday and made me feel that we are in a loveless marriage or a one-sided one relationship.
    Let me tell you how it all started.
    My husband and I have been in our relationship for decades but we don't have kids.
    We were supposed to have one about almost a decade ago but I had a miscarriage. Then we stopped having sex. He said, he was scared that it might happen again. We lived our lives happily or so I thought. During the pandemic, I became extremely busy. I started my own business and didn't have time for anything else. But I know and he said that I informed him about it before doing so. I admit and have apologised to him a number of times for lacking time for him and treating him badly. It was only a few months ago when I looked into his eyes and I can no longer see him. That's when I realised our marriage was in danger. I tried to save it but he said it only made things worse. I believe there's another woman involved. I don't have proof. I tried running away from him at first but he didn't want me to leave. There had been a lot of drama between the two of us for the previous months. I believe he's in love with someone else but doesn't want to let me go. He says he loves me but I do not feel it. There are some instances that he goes into fits such as when he was sleeping and my hair brushed against his skin, we were together and I was staring at him, and yesterday too.
    He is working as a chef for one of the stores of a food hub. He went to work two hours before their store opened like he always does. I wanted to surprise him since I am attending an event nearby and went to stay at table right across their store. At first he asked what I was doing there. I said I wanted to see him since the event I'll be attending is just nearby. He said he isn't comfortable with me being there. He said it's ugly and that his workmates would think that I am keeping an eye on him since I was there early. Then he started calling me stupid. My intention when I went there was genuinely good. When he was shouting at me, I kept calm though deep inside I was already hurt. It's like I saw a monster in him. It's like he is protecting something and doesn't care about my feelings at all. I don't know what to do anymore. I have been suffering for several months now. I still can't get an answer to my question or the big puzzle that I have. I need help please.

    1. Loving people don’t scream at one another. In a good marriage, you don’t look into their eyes and see deadness. A happy (sane) spouse doesn’t suspect an affair for no reason. You don’t need to explain your good intentions to me. A loving husband is happy for the surprise visit from his wife. He kisses her and tells her how happy he is for the surprise, and perhaps that he has to go back to work and excuses himself. No one needs “proof” of an affair if they are in an abusive relationship. Happy women don’t look up “name calling in a relationship” on the internet because they have no interest in that topic. You have all of the answers, LonelyWoman. You just don’t like those answers. You keep hoping that they would change and be different answers. Now it is your turn to decide what to do. -Dr. K

  4. Thank you for this article: I needed this today. may I explain?

    Prior to Christmas, My husband seemed upset for days about a lot of things. Sometimes work, people in the store, etc. Christmas day was lovely, later in the evening, his mood seemed to change. He asked if his mother, his aunt, or anyone had attempted to wish the family Merry Christmas? At the time, no one had. Realizing that I too had not reached out to others, I sat down and began to send Merry Christmas messages to those I had not heard from. Shortly after, amd while others were still calling and texting, he began to complain about his mother again, she refused to answer the phone when he called which seemed to make his mood significantly worse. I finally sat down and noticed he was acting strange, he was angry? Then he says something about a conversation and how he can't trust anyone in his life (not uncommon, he often feels the world is out to manipulate him) the proceeded to call me a liar and manipulator in front of our daughter, he got very loud, he said I was a liar because I didn't tell him immediately that his aunt wished us a Merry Christmas. I wasn't thinking! 1. I was tired and it truly slipped my mind, it was a non issue to me. 2. When he was, again, complaining about everyone being mad and "talking about him" I had tuned out- he had been complaining for days about different people not applauding things he had done- the neighbors didn't complement the house, nobody noticed the new decoration he added to the porch. Ok, so he storms out and returns screaming about things, yet again, I was not allowed to explain anything without being called names. I said fine, I would limit my interaction with his family then, as he previously asked because my conversations with his mothers sister was upsetting to her. He flew into a complete rage, he again called me a liar? It seemed, nothing I said would calm him! I went upstairs to find our daughter crying amd shaking – it angered me he could be so horrible about something so miniscule at Christmas of all days! I appologized to our daughter and calmed her then, to try and stop the behavior, I ended up apologizing, although I don't know why? He then proceeded to tell me if I talked to anyone about the interaction or my family about it, he would know, and be angrier? That "he doesn't have anyone to talk to, so I shouldn't either"
    That seemed to be the end of it, I thought. We are now almost 2 days past Christmas, he is still giving me this silent treatment. Refusing to talk, only short yes/no answers. Just sour and rude! I am so exhausted with being the liar, the manipulator, the dumb one, the bad driver. I am the calm one, yet, the one who is always wrong! I am not allowed to see our accounts, I have a job, but my check is direct deposited and I see nothing. I have been with this man since I was 15 years old. (Even longer story there) he just seems to go through these weird fits. I find it selfish and disrespectful. Although I have no idea how to change this behavior. I keep reminding myself, I am not responsible for his happiness. But then try to make him happy. I don't know how I got here?

    1. What you are describing is a man who is both immature and abusive toward you. If he has never been violent toward you physically, you might consider this: Emotional or verbal abuse doesn’t get better with time. It often gets worse. In a quieter moment, your ability to set limits and restructure things like your access to finances, may be an important step. You might also talk to him about finding a therapist to talk to, since he has no one else. Point out that not only is his behavior hurtful and abusive to you, it also is impacting his daughter as well. Anger is just an emotion, like any other. However, the way you express that anger is also important. Screaming and blaming others isn’t a mature way to express anger. The silent treatment is also abusive, unless he explains to you that he needs time to calm down, and asks for your forbearance. Otherwise, it is designed to be punishing and it is controlling. I want to stress this: You are already apologizing for something you didn’t do. This is not a good sign. If you feel it is unwise to directly talk to him and tell him he needs to change the way he handles his anger, fine. Then you need to go to a therapist, religious leader, or wise friend and talk out what are your next steps. You need concrete ways to deal with his behavior, and not ignore it.

      To answer your question, You cannot change his behavior, only he can. And if you simply accept it, he has no reason to change. If he loves you, and respects you, you have power in this relationship, if you are willing to take concrete actions to respond to this abuse and demand that it stop. If he doesn’t actually care for you, he is likely to flair up and punish you for even bringing the problem to his attention. If this has worked in the past, he may try it again. What is important is your capacity to stay calm, but steadfast. Steel Magnolia. Tolerating this behavior is condoning it, which you clearly do not want to do.

  5. I really think we need to come out of the mentality when we write articles about "My husband calls me this" "my husband disrespects me" etc. On one side we keep talking about equality in gender and on the other side when it comes victims we always think of women. Women are not always the victims. Men are victims too.

  6. We get in this cycle about once every week. It goes like this: I ask my husband to do something and he gets so annoyed for me asking for the simplest little things. I stopped asking him to help with projects that would take actual work but I still need his help with small things (like putting his clothes away). So literally the rest of the day he will purposefully ignore me, spend most of the day in the basement, leave the house without saying a word, come home and not communicate with me at all. Finally I will approach him and ask what is wrong and why he hasn’t talked to me in hours, and his response is: “you bitched at me for xyz” and my response is: I simply asked you for help with something. And he will say again I was bitching and tell me to not fucking say anything. When he curses at me like that I lose my cool and name call him. Today I called him a “loser” and “basement dweller” for the first time and I feel awful. But at the same time I actually really feel that way about him. He spends most days in the basement and doesn’t make an effort to date me anymore. I feel guilty that I think so low of him. I find myself thinking what’s the point of having a husband when he doesn’t really contribute to much, not financially, not sexually, and not emotionally. I can’t stand being ignored all day and a grown man acting like a teenage boy.

    1. The interactions you are describing are manipulative and abusive. Outlining that your husband doesn’t engage with you affectionately, emotionally, or sexually, doesn’t contribute to the house financially or with chores, and punishes you when you ask for his assistance are all examples of this. You do not have a husband, you have an abusive roommate.

      Refusing to talk to your wife, because she’s asked something of you, and when you are not flooded (when you are it would be called “stonewalling”) is manipulative and punishing. Demanding someone stop talking, when they are trying to resolve a conflict with you, is also abusive.

      While I don’t say you are not responsible for your actions, clearly you are, I would also tell you that partners in your situation are often provoked to the point where they react as you do. They then feel guilty for acting in this way, which leaves them feeling “equally responsible” for the “miscommunication” or “problems” in the relationship. This keeps them locked into continuing to engage with the manipulative spouse in toxic ways. Do you think that your husband “feels guilty” for is immature and abusive behavior?

      Let me ask you, “What would you do if this man was a roommate, instead of your spouse?”

      He does not show, according to your account, the simplest of kindness or consideration to you. He doesn’t engage with you, date, engage with you, or help you. Perhaps he is depressed, and needs to seek out psychiatric help. In a calmer moment, you can ask him about that. However, regardless of whether he is depressed, had a terrible childhood, is angry over not having a good job, hates doing chores, is just immature or is no longer in love with you but is unmotivated to seek divorce, his behavior is unacceptable.

      You know why he has stopped talking to you. He is punishing you for asking for his help. He is implying that you can somehow ask him in a way that is not “bitching.” There is, of course, and this is soften start-ups. You can use that link to listen to the post. You should definitely practice speaking to him this way when you ask him to change his behavior. However, you may find that there is NO way you can ask him for his help that will suit him. He has already conditioned you not to ask big requests of him. That you have taken as a “fact of life.”

      If that is the case, you have decisions to make about how YOU want to proceed.

      Often once you understand that you are being punished by silence after you ask for help, people calm down. They take this interaction as an opportunity to learn about themselves and their own reactivity. They watch themselves more carefully at each interaction, so as to notice what, exactly, causes them to flood. Then, they try to readjust their expectations or emotional reactions, so as not to get activated by his provocations. Notice I didn’t say that they stop asking for help or they stop expecting to be treated kindly. However, your reactivity creates the cyclical pattern that he then uses to justify his abusive and avoidant behavior. If it happens once a month it is too often. It’s happening to you once a week.

      My suggestion is to get yourself a therapist, who can help you to clarify both your situation and what you might want to do about it. You will NOT be able to change his behavior. You can only control your reaction to this manipulation and abuse.

      Finally, let me suggest that you get enraged at him because you believe his actions are blatantly unfair to you (which they are) and you expect more from him. He has repeatedly demonstrated to you that is behavior is dependable. Your expectations that he should act like a mature adult, while understandable, are overly optimistic. He has told you who he is over and over. You still expect more from him. Ask yourself: “If this is what is going to be the rest of my life, is this acceptable to me?” If the answer is no, begin to change your expectations and decide how you want to live, given this fact.

      To believe you are “both guilty” keeps you stuck in an abusive cycle. My best to you. -Dr.K

  7. I have been married for 14 years. Within the last two years I noticed my spouse has forgotten an anniversary and has taken on close relationships with single women of the opposite sex. Several boundaries have been crossed, although nothing sexual. When we fight as of late, he has started calling me out of my name , which he has never done before. If he apologizes, it’s through text. What concerns me is that the name calling is in front of our children. I have asked him not to do this as I don’t want our kids to think name calling is okay. The disrespect is getting worse on boundaries and name calling. What should I do? He does not want to go to marital counseling.

    1. Of course he doesn’t want to go to marriage counseling, Renne’. I suspect that he knows that his behavior is bad, and he is attempting to justify his inappropriate relationships with single women. If you are somehow to blame, he then can feel more at ease with this behavior. Typically, name calling happens when the offending is flooded, another word for being highly emotionally disregulated. You can take a look if this is the pattern, and notice what causes either one or both of you to get to this point, and back away before it happens.

      But I also think it is time for you to sit down with him, at a calmer moment, and be clear with him that you know how much he loves his children, and you believe he loves you as well. His name calling during arguments is harmful on many levels to the children. It is also harmful to you. Tell him that this has to stop and stop now, for you to continue to remain open to him. You then have to share with him that his relationships with single women are also unacceptable to you. He can decide, as an adult, what he wants to do: Does he want to remain in this marriage and family, being respectful and demonstrating fondness and admiration for you? Or does he want to keep up his current destructive behaviors. You do not need to explain to him what appropriate adult behavior is. He has been conducting himself that way for the last 12 years. What he must do is to talk to you, directly and in person, from his heart about what is going on with him, and what his plan of action is.

      Be aware that you have no control over his choice or his behavior. Only he does. However, if he blames you, changes the topic, refuses to talk to you, or otherwise simply denies that he is doing anything wrong, you have your answer. To continue to be vulnerable to this man at this point in time is against your best interest. It is also harmful for you to attempt to make him “come clean” in arguments that escalate into name-calling. You may choose to put your own needs and those of the children first at this point. Recognize that he may or may not come around.

      Can you support yourself? Do you need to go back to school, get a job promotion, or otherwise create a more desirable situation for yourself? Now is the time to consider this.

      While I do hope that your husband decides to reinvest in his family, that is his decision alone. Be civil and cheerful, but not intimate with him. If he feels the distance, let him know that you also feel a wall between you both that you would like to take down. But you have told him the conditions under which this will happen.

      It isn’t manipulative on your part, it is self-protective. You can “hope” he comes around, but as the Marines say: “Hope is not a method.” Your “method” is a logical consequence of the conditions he has created and maintained. Now it is his move.

      My best wishes to you. -Dr. K

  8. Wife and I are separated in our home currently. We had come back from a vacation that we take during the time of our wedding anniversary. We were gone for about a week, had a good time and she even stated on the way home she had a good time. A week later being home she needs to return her leased vehicle that is the only thing that she has to pay for out of her pocket besides the family food. Any way there's been issues with lack of sex or it being withheld from me. I was helping her with getting things off her Jeep to turn in and did a handful of other things to help her. I got tired of helping her and went off on her and how there's no appreciation for what I do for her. In the argument I called her a name "W" and I believe I said it again during the argument and in return I was called a "POS". She constantly calls me names in arguments, crazy, dumb, lil B, and abusive when she does more of the name calling. I'm far from most of those, people that know me know that I help everyone that I can with whatever the project. The name calling I know is wrong on both parts I know. I have let her have her space but have no idea when I should apologize or do I even. She did during the argument state that she wants a divorce which is normally me saying that honestly. I am seeing a counselor for myself and know that I can't make her do anything that she doesn't want to do. I'm mentally strong and have went through counseling prior to our relationship starting and am much better with knowledge of how to deal with things. Sorry for rambling on but wanting to learn how to handle things going further. I'm the one that doesn't want a divorce and I have a great deal of patients to work on things, but the lack of communication has me struggling of what to do.

    1. So, Ben, there are a few things that jump out at me in your story. The first is that you two can have a good time together. That’s wonderful! The second it that the larger issue is that you don’t feel appreciated for the things you do. I can guess, based upon my years as a couples therapist, that your wife doesn’t either. So Sharing Fondness and Admiration is a place to start. It isn’t enough to feel affectionate and fond of her. You need to find a hundred small ways to say and show it. The second thing is that your fights escalate and that escalation turns into name-calling. Of course you can stop the name-calling and should. But it is also better if both of you can stop the fight from escalating. When that happens, you flood. To stop it, you can learn about repair attempts. But if I were to give you a suggestion, it is to learn how to stay calm and not escalate the fight, even if your wife does. In fact, phrases like “That’s a good point” or “I can see why that would aggravate you when I say that…” stops the argument from getting more heated. If either of you flood, have an agreement to separate, instead of keeping the fight going. THAT is usually when all of the bad behavior appears.

      You are writing, and I do believe one person can improve a marriage or at least take a leadership role. Learn how to fight well. Learn what the four horsemen are, like defensiveness, and practice avoiding the behavior. You can do it ‘hit or miss’ but you can do it on your own, by educating yourself. If you need help, find someone who has at least advanced training in the Gottman Method (Level 3) if not certified, and tell them “We need to fight better.” That’s all a Gottman therapist needs to hear. They are “marching orders.” If you are in a hurry, we can help you over a weekend. Just reach out.

      And yes, always apologize for bad behavior, even if “she did it too!”

      Finally, you sound like a reasonable guy who wants to do the right thing. If you can figure out how to fight better, express your affection for your wife, and become better friends, the sex will (often) follow. Read more on the blog or pick up a book by John Gottman. It will be an education in love. Good luck! -Dr.K

  9. My husband consistently complains and names calls 24/7 There’s no break from the behavior! I get run to my bare ends EVERY time because the non stop insults just won’t quit. If I confront it’s a “joke” told to shut up, I’m sorry I get it daily I’m all but ready to run, what can I do? It’s not fun to argue everyday and be denied space or opportunities to see things work.

    1. You don’t argue. You don’t start a fight. But when it is calm, you say that you don’t find his jokes funny and you will not tolerate being told to “shut up.” Then if he protests, you walk away after you say “You’ve been put on notice.” The next time he insults you, you label it “That’s an insult and it’s inappropriate to talk to me that way.” Then you leave the room, no matter what you were doing. If it was making dinner, shut off the burners. Go take a walk, a shower, or go for a ride. Make it something you look forward to. Make it short, the first time, but each time he does it, make the break longer and longer. Ten minutes, twenty minutes, 45 minutes, an hour 15. If he wants your company, he must talk to you with respect. If he isn’t interested in your company, make sure you find useful things to do when you step away. Like take a course, or job hunt for a better employer. Men often don’t take talk seriously. They take actions seriously. If he apologizes and stops the behavior, you stay. Respect isn’t earned. You are human and so you deserve respect. Perhaps it was his bad training from his family of origin. Perhaps he’s depressed. But whatever his reasons might be, if you stay in the room and argue, he is rewarded to keep it up.

      Don’t run. Walk. And keep walking, making plans, crafting a life without him, until he decides he wants you on your terms (which by the way are civilized terms…) -Dr. K

  10. This article was extremely sexist and biased towards men. Not once did it mention the female side of an abusive relationship towards men. From my experience women can be just as verbally and/or physically abusive in relationships then men, if not more.

    1. You are absolutely right that this response to a letter is all about men and doesn’t talk about women. However, the writer was a woman talking about her verbally abusive husband. This is the reason. Of course women can be verbally abusive. The rate of violence between intimate partners differs significantly between men and women, according to government statistics. However, this might just be under-reporting by men, given gender bias. Submit a letter and I’m happy to address that topic as well. Just one note: Thanks for your comment -Dr. K

  11. My husband admits he has an anger issue and tells me if he's angry at something to not do things to bother him or the anger bleeds over at me. I asked him what I should do when that happens so i don't get his anger, and he said to just say nothing. He also tells me I make stupid facial expressions and I do things on purpose to piss him off & don't listen to him. He refuses to apologize for swearing at me since I said he was 'yelling and swearing' and he hadn't raised his voice so I'm a liar and play the victim card. I apologized for leaving the house and not texting him I was ok and getting a ride home. He refused to take any responsibility saying I always make it his fault. I don't know what to do – he refuses to talk to any counselors. I haven't pushed on the idea very much because he gets angry saying he's changed so much and I haven't done anything or near as much as him for the marriage.

  12. Abuse is a gendered crime and I always discount articles like this that include other examples. Being politically correct isn’t helping the victims.
    There's no such thing as mutual abuse. There are victim responses and stress responses brought as a result of abuse.
    Please obtain more education before posting such harmful information. Read Lundy Bancroft's Why Does He Do That? He is truly an expert. He found from his 3+ decades of work with male offenders that the vast majority of them are skilled liars and try to make it look like it's her.

    1. You are correct about characterlogical violence, but that doesn’t cover all verbal aggression we see. To your point, Neil Jacobson and John Gottman spent 9 years studying extremely violent men and their wives, and at the end of our research interviewed 61 women who were in these very violent relationships. The men were perpetrators and the women were victims. They did a sequence analysis and found that in these relationships absolutely nothing the woman did set off the abuse, and nothing they did terminated the violent sequence. We now call this “characterological” domestic violence. It isn’t an argument that goes out of control, where both people have a responsibility for the violence.

      Characterological Domestic Violence is rooted in the abuser’s personality and deeply ingrained attitudes. It often involves a pattern of controlling, coercive, and manipulative behaviors. Characterological abusers may have a sense of entitlement and a need for power and control over their partners. They might exhibit traits associated with narcissism, sociopathy, or other personality disorders.

      Situational Domestic Violence is different. This type of violence is not rooted in the abuser’s character but rather arises in response to specific situations or stressors. Situational domestic violence can be a reaction to external factors such as financial stress, substance abuse, or acute emotional distress. In this type, the abuser may not have a history of abusive behavior and may not exhibit controlling behaviors in non-violent situations. “Situational couple violence,” is defined as “an intermittent response to the occasional conflicts of everyday life, motivated by a need to control in the specific situation but not a more general need to be in charge of the relationship” (Johnson, 1995, p. 286). “In these relationships, violence usually does not escalate and is typically confined to a particular conflictual incident. It seems to be equally initiated by men and women.” (Swan et al, 2008)..

      While Gottman did find gendered behavior among his “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” the most corrosive one, contempt, was not. Criticism was seen 80% in women, while stonewalling was seen 85% in men. When discussing average couples, criticism can be a result of escalation, but not always. It is also a learned behavior. Contempt can also be a learned behavior, and, again, isn’t gender linked but is linked to escalation. Contempt is the only one of the four behaviors linked to divorce when any of it is present.

      In any case, to be thorough, I want to point out that anger isn’t problematic in relationships, and neither is it a gendered emotion. While characterlogical abuse is gender-linked behavior, researchers have also discovered domestic violence in lesbian relationships as well as gay and heterosexual unions.

      Part of our jobs as couples therapists is to confront emotional or verbal abuse when we see it in our clinical offices. We attempt to exclude couples with physical abuse, but we aren’t always successful. In these cases, our job is to determine whether we are looking at characterological or situational aggression. Our responses to each are quite different.

      Johnson MP. Conflict and control: Gender symmetry and asymmetry in domestic violence. Violence Against Women. 2006;12:1003–1018. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
      Johnson MP. Patriarchal terrorism and common couple violence: Two forms of violence against women. Journal of Marriage and the Family. 1995;57:283–294. [Google Scholar]
      Stark E, Flitcraft A. Women at risk: Domestic violence and women’s health. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Press; 1996. [Google Scholar]
      Swan SC, Gambone LJ, Caldwell JE, Sullivan TP, Snow DL. A review of research on women’s use of violence with male intimate partners. Violence Vict. 2008;23(3):301-14. doi: 10.1891/0886-6708.23.3.301. PMID: 18624096; PMCID: PMC2968709.

  13. I'm really disappointed in this article. The husband is insinuated as the abuser. My wife curses, calls me by my deceased mother's name, and "lists" all the things I do wrong. Spousal verbal abuse is not a one way street.

  14. Dont know why in all context its the "man" who is the abuser.
    In my real life problems its my female partner who is the name calling, abuser who likes to throw things at me.
    Just curious.

    1. No one should be name calling, Ric. No one should have to tolerate being called names, either. Name calling isn’t gendered behavior. Thanks for your comment. -Dr K

  15. We are in deep trouble. My wife and I have been in therapy before. All of our major issues are with the way I was raised. I came from an abusive home , (verbal abuse) . She thinks I am a two faced liar and a narcissist. I want this to last . We have both had issues in the past. Both 1st marriages ended in divorce. She refuses to see that I have tried to fix myself. I know she means well but we can’t get over the hurt . I have recently had. Bad illness , so has she; mine was cancer and hers was “R.A. “. I feel like I am the only one fighting for this relationship to work . If we are selected I know we have room to grow. I am on my last straw. Thank you for listening.

  16. I called my husband an imbecile today. He was driving reckless with me and our son in the car and I got really loud. I've never called him that before. He replied with an obnoxious names calling. I told him I was annoyed at him taking risks but at that point in the car we were at a new low. I'm disappointed, but the personal insults he replied it were so hurtful and unexpected, I'm really hurt. I'm not sure how to approach this. I would apologise, if he hadn't retaliated with a body shaming insult. Where do I go, as I was the disrespectful one in the first place. Emma

    1. Begin with your own apology. Make sure he hears it and let him know you let yourself down by insulting him that way. Assuming he accepts your apology, wait a few moments to see if he reciprocates. If he says nothing, tell him that you value what he thinks of you and that you felt hurt and shamed my his comment about your body. Hopefully, he softens to your admitting mode and vulnerability. Good luck, Emma.

  17. My husband does not do anything inside or outside of home to help me. I have spina bifida and nerves are being pinched. Not supposed to do much physically. He knew I needed bushes removed and saw me digging them out. He asked if I minded him going golfing (he goes 3 days per week already). I said “are you kidding me!!” I was angry. To say the least. He said well what do you need me to do? I told him just go play with your friends I will do it myself again. He replied by saying “ you are so lazy all you do is sit on your ass and bitch about everything you’re a fucking bitch “. I have been called so many names from him I had finally had it. I had a small shovel in my hand and said I want to hit you so hard right now I am sick and tired of you calling me names and telling me I am crazy , lazy etc. was this my fault. My neurosurgeon. Wants to do another decompression of my spinal cord fluid that is not fully going through again. But he will not do any of the physical work and when I ask him he will ask what I want done. Then he puts it off form months or even years. So I end up doing it myself. I am a mess and so angry. Do men not see things that need done ? I did want to hit him after he started calling me names again which he does any time we argue. Or he will tell me my family hates me and how I bitch all the time. However, I truly don’t “bitch” at all. I am afraid to even ask him to help. Because he will get mad and say I am lazy or stupid. He will sit and watch his cell phone or tv all day or golf while I truly do it all. He has never cleaned a bathroom and does not even know how or what to use. I don’t know what to do at this point because so much needs to be done with our house. Such as painting, doors need new fixtures, outlets need to be changed. He was supposed to do that when we moved in 2.5 years ago and rolls his eyes when I ask him to please start on it as we are missing all of the plates and the outlets have begun to spark and are very loose. When we moved in I had just had brain and spine surgery so I could not do the work for a year. He let it go. I am just a mess and have so much more to add but I don’t want to waste your time.

    Thank you in advance

    1. You have gotten into a very destructive interactional dynamic that should stop ASAP. It’s harming your health. If he won’t attend couples therapy, find a good individual therapist to assist you. Do it today. -Dr.K

  18. I've been married to my husband for 21 year's. This is my second marriage. My first husband passed away suddenly. My current husband was never married before. We married in our early 40's, after my husband's death.
    My husband retired just recently and since that has become extremely verbally abusive to me. He call's me vulgar names, which are very hurtful, like stupid bitch, etc…Some much worse than that. We have been through marriage counseling. Nothing seems to help. I am ready to leave him. I have told him a number of times not to talk to me the way he does. He still continues to do so. What can I do??? I believe this is the way my husband's parent's talked to each other. My husband came from an abusive home, emotionally and physically. His parent's divorced after 14 year's of marriage. In my whole life I have never heard of such terrible language. I walk on eggshells everyday not knowing what will happen with my husband.

    1. I would try to talk seriously to him when things are calm. Tell him that you consider his behavior abusive and ask him if he is willing to change. If he tells you flat out “No.” understand that he chooses to be abusive. You can’t change him. Your walking on eggshells is also a serious sign. It will negatively impact your health over time. I would seek counseling for yourself, if he won’t go. You need guidance. -Dr. K

  19. I came from and still part of a 10 year abusive relationship. At first, my way of getting out of an argument was to leave for a soda or drive around. Then she would hold onto my legs, or jump on my back. Then it got into breaking things, and one upping the stuff broken to family memories, and total sadness. Eventually it got into physical intimate partner violence, to just threats, affairs. And eventually it led to separation. Grant it, my step son was into drugs and drug sales, so I didn't want my daughter, from a blended family around that.

    We ended up moving out and now for 4 years, we tried to live 15 mins apart amd still see each other. It wasn't physical, but not emotional abuse constantly, name calling back and forth. I filed for divorce last year, and let service lapse. And recently she contemplated filing after a summer of just brokenness, loneliness, and just abadonment. I just couldn't have her in my house yelling and screaming in front of my kid, and her now adult son just instigating things in her house.

    So now she's moving to Texas next week for 4 months for work. It's like I'm happy, so I can start therapy again, and let God work on us. But I choose to stand for our marriage and hope I can get broken and destroy the old marriage and come back with her with a different idea of true marriage, love, compassion, and encouragement. God is in the business of miracles.

  20. I have never been able to enjoy sex with my husband. After 17 years I finally found out about pelvic floor therapist and I’m going every other week and doing daily exercises for it. I started having flash backs and realized i was molested as a child. Hence my years of complicated sex with my husband. I made huge progress yesterday and while on a date with my husband I tried to tell him about it and he told me that it turns him off when I talk about the medical side of our sex life. He wants me to come to him when I’m healed. I told him how healing for me requires trusting him to be with me and talking about these things. I need intimacy before the sex is back on the table. He told me I was insensitive to his needs bc it causes him pain to discuss it. I told him I’m in pain and doing work every day to overcome this we have to go through some discomfort to overcome this. He told me I was such a manipulative bitch bc I was trying to make him feel guilty about not wanting to talk to me. Then I tried to talk and he told me to shut up. I got up and left the restaurant. He finally texted that the food had come and he wouldn’t talk to me. So here we are the next day and neither of us have talked to each other. I think he is being extremely mean and not trying to understand how this will help us both for me to be able to talk about this. Especially bc my pelvic floor therapist told me how I will eventually have my husband do the same exercises to me. I 100% won’t feel comfortable letting him do them when I cannot even discuss me doing them to myself right now. I feel hopeless and wonder if this is gaslighting? I don’t know how to talk to him. Bc when I brought up my need to talk to him about it he turned it all around how he doesn’t need to talk to me Ans it is damaging our relationship if I try and make him.

  21. Just to clarify something for all of the readers, Steve: “You made me do it!” or the more modern version, “You triggered me!” as an excuse for bad behavior, is never acceptable. One can request behavior change, of course. “Please don’t do X. I’d really appreciate it.” But it’s a request, not a demand. On the other hand, doing things you know will upset your partner after repeatedly being asked not to is marital sadism sometimes or just plain inattention. That’s not acceptable behavior, either. As a general rule of thumb, if you’d treat a friend that way, and they’d still be a friend after a year of that behavior, you’re on the right track, assuming that friend has good boundaries.

    Also, just for clarification, Steve, if you have to be “extremely careful with everything” you say or do, that’s not a marriage, that’s a prison and you married your prison guard. And keeping track of slights and tossing them out whenever you need to demonstrate how “in the right” you are is poor fighting skills.

    Get help.

  22. We have been married for 19 years, have 2 boys 16,11. My husband got so angry decorating for the holidays and while he blames us for causing it, he snapped at us, shut down the Christmas music etc. my teenager called him a d***. Today after we all lay low we tried to speak about it and he told me I was a c***. He still denies behaving that way yesterday and is saying we exaggerated it all. I grew up in an emotionally and verbally abusive family so I am familiar with the “snap” and change of behaviors. It to this day tenses me up. I just feel awful when he snaps and I always remember it and within a few days we move on. He gets mad when I say this has happened before. He says I’m not allowing him to grow and change. I told him it’s so hurtful that I see a pattern and that he calls me that. I asked if you won’t call me that in front of our children, should you be at all? It’s so messy sometimes. He can be so supportive and also so destructive.

    1. It’s pretty clear to me, Lynn. You have asked your husband for behavior change, and he has said no. That’s now the issue: His behavior is destructive, and he’s going to cling to that bad behavior or change it. Pretty simple.

      I’d write it down all the specific words he says that you want to be taken off the table, even “when he’s angry.” If he can’t control himself when he is angry with you, does he control his anger when a police officer pulls him over for a traffic violation or when his boss makes him angry,? If he can in those situations he has control of himself. He just refuses in other circumstances or with other people (like you.)

      If you write out the unacceptable behavior, he can’t say he “didn’t know.” You wrote it down for him. Any behaviorally-regressive, verbally abusive language he’s using isn’t the “growing and changing” he says he’s doing. It’s just destructive.

      Also, the teen is getting into the action. Neither of you should tolerate verbal abuse from anyone, including your children. Bad, bad modeling.

  23. My Husband calls me horrible degrading names and I beg him to stop yelling, cursing, calling me names and breaking things and he won't and says I deserve it. Please help, where are you located?

  24. My husband calls me stupid a lot and I feel like he belittles me.
    He is always yelling about something because he is frustrated about selling his stores.
    I can't say anything about his two youngest children as he gets mad at me.
    So much more to tell!
    He does not abuse me physically but mentally.
    He says he loves me and I think he really does.
    I just feel like my self esteem has left the building! Sometimes I feel worthless and hopeless (NOT SUICIDAL)

  25. I've told my husband of not even two years to stop being abusive to me I'm the focus on everything that is wrong. He doesn't listen to my feelings so I often send him these articles last night he said the article was exactly what I do to him lol he's in such denial of his behavior towards me that he tells me I make his behavior up and that I'm nuts and I'm the abuser. By doing that it justifies the nasty things he calls me or he'll flat out lie and insist he never called me A bitch cunt whore that's the newest one. I've been called a niggar ( I'm white) a thief crazy , a drug addict, a user , I'm a widow so he told me I'm such a bitch my husband died to get away from me. He's called my 10 year old grandson a loser he's won't come to my house anymore because he's scared of him he started sleeping on the couch two days after we got married. He prides himself on his 6 figure salary I don't work he told me I don't have to. But he screams at me I don't contribute to the house hold. He accused me of trying to sell my car so I could take his truck that he needed because his work truck was being taken away. That was a lie his work was never going to take his work truck. He recently choked me because he thinks his behavior towards me is ok because I make him mad. He still refuses to answer my question that if daughters partner called her a bitch cunt whore. If he told you she made him mad would it be acceptable for him . since make him mad it's totally except able for him. That made him livid but he would give me a answer. Im filing for a annulment. I just want him out of my life and I don't want him to trash my character because that's he does when woman leave him. .

    1. Does he act this way towards you in front of others or just when you two are alone? I am dealing with a very similar situation and I believe with my whole heart that he suffers from Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It has taken me more than 10 years to finally understand why he acts the way he does….all of the behavior that didn't make sense now I am starting to understand. I would have left him years ago had his behavior been the same in public as it is in private but in public and around friends, he is the "nice guy"…the guy who can talk with anyone and charm anyone. But behind closed doors, he is so mean and cruel and manipulating and is constantly gaslighting me and even his own children. He NEVER apologizes for anything…ever. He will never takes responsibility for his actions and is never accountable unless of course it is to pull the wool over someone's eyes in public. It's insidious. Anyway, I hope the best for you…GET AWAY FROM THAT GUY!

  26. We need this type of help.
    Can we attend one of your workshops either online or in person?

    When I sense I'm losing my cool I try and separate to calm down but more often than not, my wife will follow me and press the issue when I need some time to calm down.
    Then I end up saying the wrong thing and swearing out of frustration.

    It normally happens when I can't believe she doesn't understand how I'm feeling.

  27. My husband calls me dumb we live in upscale neighborhood he thinks everyone here is dumb including me. He doesn’t get it people do not want to talk politics. He told me to shut my mouth and never stop him I dumb. I have no ide how to handle this situation.

  28. I was in a physically abusive relationship before my current partner. He and I have been together for almost 9 years. Whener we disagree or argue, he said the most hurtful things, disrespectful things. Name calling, just really hurtful, go for the jugular hurtful. When I try to talk yo him about this he tells me I’m too sensitive, or he was just upset and wanted to hurt my feelings. The eorst is he gets all defensive and begins to tell me that I act like his name calling and hurtful comments are as bad as my ex who physically abused me. I feel like he thinks just because he doesn’t hit me its not abuse and makes me think I’m crazy for thinking and feeling this way.

    1. Well, clearly you now know differently. Regulating affect (keeping calm when you get upset so you can control your actions) is an essential skill of adult development.

  29. My husband drinking a lot and he can say some mean things about me that hurt. I try to let it hurt me he been doing it for years. I can do something he sometimes say hurtful word and the way he says them. I can't do anything right. you are stupide. you a lie. I never thought that someone call say the things he says to me about me. He said it my fault he drinks and do other things. We been married for over 20 years now. He told me he right about everything that he says. I am quiet and he don't like that. I know that God is inside of me just the way that I am. I can't let him take my joy. I know I am special and not what he said about me.

  30. Dr k I need help.my husband and I have been married for 19 years we have two daughters.He is abusing me emotionally and verbally.He says he wants to slap me and he is gonna hit me . He constantly finds faults on me.He screams out bad things about me for my neighbours to hear. He say and call me a whole lot of things n the next minute act normal I don't know what's happening with him. I'm from Durban South Africa .

    1. Forget what’s happening to HIM, Anne. Pay attention to what’s happening to YOU. This is emotional abuse and he’s often threatening you with physical abuse. If you can’t set boundaries safely, seek out a therapist to help you figure out what to do. This isn’t a situation you should be tolerating. Dr. K

  31. Our adult children were coming over on Saturday to celebrate a birthday. I cleaned and did all my stuff that Friday. My husband was in charge of the carpets. Later that night, I was coughing and sneezing so much so I took a Covid home test. It was neg. However, the next day, Saturday, as I was laying down, my husband came in to our bedroom and sprinkled deodorizer to soak in despite having the entire rest of the house to vacuum. It was so strong! I was pretty incensed. He quickly apologized but not really. Later, the whole house was sooo full of the stuff, I could taste it. I got mad and my husband mumbled under his breath something about me overreacting and I got really upset. Through tears and yelling, I said it was a stupid thing to do considering I wasn’t feeling well and that I had done my share yesterday and was trying to rest. He said I belittled him. So how do you handle a situation like this when ur not feeling good to start with? I don’t want to belittle him but I really do feel it was insensitive and thoughtless. I had no problem w him vacuuming as I wear ear plugs. But to dump that horrible stuff first before doing anything else in the one room I was resting in upset me. Thanks for any guidance.

    1. People lose it for all sorts of reasons, and feeling ill, being exhausted, griefing the loss of a loved one, work pressures, etc are just some examples. The question is: “Now what will you do?” Will you just it because of your current state, or will you apologize? Apologizing doesn’t mean you approve of what your husband did. Clearly, it was horribly distressing to you and you don’t feel like he appreciated just how upset you were. That’s an appropriate topic of conversation. But two wrongs don’t make a right. After heads cool down, you can apologize for how you spoke to him, sincerely, and ask for his forgiveness. Talk to him about what he did and why it was so distressful, but not as a way of justifying your reaction, but so he can understand you better.

      And boy, it is really hard to be married to humans. They can be pretty infuriating at times. And their behavior is inexplicable.

      Sorry that happened to you and I hope you got over the condition that made you ill.

      Dr. K

  32. This all seems to be directed toward men who call their wife names. In my observation, this is at least equally common going the other direction. And it is equally damaging to the relationship (in some cases it is more damaging, such as in families with children, since the children learn to disrespect the father, which can cause the father to disengage from parenting). Interestingly, if you search the internet, most articles like this are written in the same way as this one (focused on relationships where men abuse their wives), which fits the stereotype that couples therapy as practiced is predominately female-oriented, couples therapists downplay or ignore toxicity and abuse when it comes from women, and for this reason is very often destructive to the very marriages it intends to help.

    1. It was an answer to a reader-wife who was called names by her husband. That’s why the bias.

      However, you are clearly correct that name-calling is a bad behavior both genders engage in equally.

      You are also right that in much of psychotherapy, women seem to have the advantage as the focus is often on feelings, while many men have been trained to be a bit alexithymic. However, keep in mind that there are about 400 Gottman Method Couples Therapists and under 20% of therapists who have any formalized training in working with couple (and even among those, it’s typically one survey course…)

      Fortunately, this isn’t the case with Gottman Method Couples Therapy (GMCT). The focus of GMCT is as much on behavior as it is on feelings, and the more “logically-driven” professions of engineers really take to it. It talks about all toxic behaviors, regardless of who is doing it, and challenges them to stop and learn better responses.

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