Share this with someone who might benefit.

In this article, I’m going to help you recognize the signs that indicate a relationship may be beyond repair.

There comes a point where the damage to a relationship is so deep that the heart closes off, potentially forever, leaving little chance for reconciliation.

I recently heard from someone who deeply cares for their partner despite being subjected to emotional abuse.

Their partner, weighed down by their own emotional turmoil, seems blind to the fact that they are the source of their own and others’ suffering. They are estranged from their children and have a history of failed relationships, yet they fail to see the common denominator: themselves.

Their partner’s difficult childhood, marked by an alcoholic and often angry father, casts a long shadow over their current behavior. Despite their inherently kind nature, their actions are tainted by the unresolved trauma from their past.

The reader who reached out is acutely aware of their partner’s troubled history and the cycle of abuse that continues through their partner’s actions. The real struggle lies in bringing these issues to light and confronting them together.

Standing at a crossroads, the person who wrote to me is considering ending the relationship unless there’s a significant turnaround. They’re thinking about therapy as a possible path forward, but they’re torn, unsure if they can withstand the status quo much longer. They’re all too familiar with the challenge of loving someone who, because of unhealed wounds, finds it hard to love in a healthy way.

I recommend listening to an episode titled Is there an easy way to help someone understand they’re being emotionally abusive? which provides tools and communication strategies for such situations.

It’s critical to distinguish between a partner’s past traumas and their behavior in the present. While it’s important to recognize and validate their experiences, the primary focus should be on how they are acting now.

Many of us carry our own baggage, with its own level of severity. Some might come from backgrounds that allowed them to develop healthy boundaries, but this article is for those whose unresolved trauma is causing harm to others in the present.

It’s a fact of life that there are people in relationships who are dealing with unresolved trauma and suffering. Their PTSD and struggles are real, and while we can offer support and advice, ultimately, their healing journey is their responsibility.

It’s vital to separate their treatment of you from their past to prevent merging the two and ending up in a deadlock where no progress is possible.

Healing from past wounds is a complex process, as current behaviors can be deeply rooted in past experiences and coping strategies. However, when someone fails to see that they are the recurring element in their relational problems, it might be time to seek external help.

Reflecting on my own past, I recognize that I was once emotionally abusive to my partners without realizing that I was the common factor in the failure of those relationships. It took repeated painful endings and a lot of self-reflection for me to heal and change.

My personal growth highlights the need to face destructive patterns head-on and embrace the healing that needs to happen to stop losing meaningful connections.

Sometimes, it’s not until we’re faced with the same issue over and over that we’re able to recognize what’s really going on. For me, the lightbulb moment was understanding that I was the problem in all my failed relationships.

This was a realization I had to arrive at on my own. If those relationships had continued, I might have never come to this understanding.

I’m not saying that separation or divorce is the solution to stopping someone from continuing to hurt you. What I am saying is that sometimes, loss is necessary in order for someone to finally “get it.” If the relationship persists without loss, the person causing the hurt may never grasp the full extent of their actions.

Regular listeners of my podcast will remember me saying something like this: An emotionally abusive person might think, “If what I’m doing was really so bad, you wouldn’t stick around.”

This puts their partner in a difficult position. Is leaving the relationship or taking some other drastic measure the only way to prompt change?

In my opinion, bold steps in the right direction are needed. The person causing the emotional harm needs to realize that their behaviors are chipping away at the love and patience of their partner, which isn’t unlimited. It’s this realization that might drive them to seek help.

It’s imperative to communicate your boundaries clearly. By saying, “I can’t take this anymore. Your actions continue to hurt me,” you’re highlighting the ongoing damage.

This is where it becomes crucial to be specific about behaviors. Instead of using a broad term like ’emotional abuse,’ it’s important to pinpoint the exact behaviors and explain how they affect you.

Don’t label someone with a broad term like ‘abusive’ or ‘narcissistic.’ Instead, point out the specific behaviors that cause you pain or discomfort and communicate how those behaviors affect you

For instance, you might say, “When you do this, it causes me pain. Your words make me feel unloved or disrespected, particularly in front of our friends.” Being specific is the key to clarity. Do you feel hurt by what they did or said? Unloved? Disrespected or embarrassed?

When you open up to someone who has hurt you, you’re giving them a chance to see the impact of their actions and, perhaps, make a change. They might not actually change, but it’s crucial for them to understand your emotional state.

And, of course, pick your battles wisely. If you are with someone who may be potentially dangerous, expressing yourself might not be easy—or even possible.

Addressing specific behaviors rather than hurling broad accusations tends to be more effective. Accusing someone of being abusive might lead them to turn the tables on you, telling you that you are abusing them. Listen to an episode on that here.

If you’ve communicated the pain their actions cause and they persist unchanged, it might be time to face the possibility that they know the harm they’re causing and choose to continue doing so regardless of how you feel.

As I talk about in the Healed Being program for emotionally abusive people who want to change, stopping the behavior is a critical first step in transforming an emotionally abusive relationship. Whether it’s yelling, giving the silent treatment, or something else, these harmful actions need to stop.

For someone who’s been entrenched in these patterns for a lifetime, change can be tough, but as you know, it’s absolutely necessary if the relationship is going to survive. Often, the motivation to seek help arises when the survival of a relationship depends on change.

If they don’t change, it might suggest they aren’t committed to the relationship or don’t think you’ll hold them accountable.

Unfortunately, it’s common for individuals not to take responsibility for their actions, which perpetuates the cycle of emotional abuse. Even when you take steps to honor and respect yourself, which is inherently healthy, an emotionally abusive person may criticize and blame you for these supposedly negative actions.

Yet, by establishing boundaries and prioritizing your needs, you’re teaching the abuser how to treat you with respect and love. Setting boundaries and requiring respect is a gift to both yourself and the abuser, as it shows them what makes you happy. And someone who loves you should want you to be happy.

They need to understand your boundaries and what you value. While they should be consistently aware, reminders can be helpful. By clearly communicating your boundaries and what you expect, you’re giving them a chance to stop their harmful behavior.

Someone who truly loves you will work to cease actions that cause you pain and violate your values. If the hurtful behavior continues, it’s a deliberate choice to cause pain.

When you’ve made your feelings clear and pinpointed the abusive behavior, yet nothing changes, you’re at a crossroads about your next move.

It’s crucial to distinguish their actions towards you from their own traumas, which they may need to work through with a professional who isn’t caught up in the relationship’s abusive dynamics.

Self-help methods like reading books, watching videos, reflecting, meditating, and journaling can also be beneficial. Nonetheless, if these self-directed efforts fall short, seeking professional help might be the necessary next step.

There are resources for those responsible for emotional abuse, so there’s no excuse. I myself offer a comprehensive program to help those who are emotionally abusive, but I don’t push it on anyone or suggest that victims nudge abusers towards it. It’s there for the taking when the abuser is ready to make a change.

The decision to end abusive behavior has to come from the abuser themselves. They must tackle their issues and cease their harmful actions. This decision must be self-driven. If they’re told to seek help, they might not fully commit or take it to heart.

The first step for an abusive person is to stop inflicting pain on those they love and to show their love and support in a healthy way.

Emotional abuse is often rooted in selfishness and control. It often stems from past trauma and poor coping strategies developed in childhood. As adults, they need to process these experiences from a mature perspective, not through the eyes of their younger selves.

Abusive individuals often fall back on childhood coping mechanisms that are no longer effective or appropriate. These strategies were meant for self-protection and don’t translate well into adult relationships.

For growth and healthier interactions, it’s essential for individuals to reassess and move beyond these outdated coping methods. If an abuser wants to avoid vulnerability, tears, or diving into anything too deep or painful, they might default to these old habits when faced with stress.

If they continue to hurt you despite your efforts to point out the pain they cause, it’s time to face this painful reality. It’s tough to accept, especially when you’ve invested so much into the relationship.

We commit deeply to those we care about, trying to fix the relationship when it struggles. We strive to overcome difficulties and remember the good times, but if our efforts are one-sided, the person before us now is who they are today.

This might be who they have been all along, but they chose to hold back, knowing that any overt emotional abuse from the start could doom the relationship.

When abusive behavior surfaces right away, it’s a clear sign to leave. Recognizing such behavior and finding it unbearable makes the choice to leave clear. However, many abusers don’t show their true colors at first. They put their best foot forward, which indicates that their behavior is a choice.

There are exceptions, of course. I distinguish between those who manipulate knowingly and those who do so without awareness. The former deliberately cause harm, while the latter might act out of impulse, not intent.

This doesn’t mean they’re inherently “evil.” What starts as a promising relationship with positive interactions can deteriorate as one person becomes more comfortable, letting down their guard and reacting in harmful ways.

In a romantic relationship, you might fall for someone who initially appears wonderful, but as negative behaviors surface, they become hard to overlook.

Yet, because they’ve treated you well in the past, you might wonder if you’re the problem. You take on guilt and watch as their behavior deteriorates. Because you’ve invested a lot into the relationship, you stay, hoping for a change, or you might think it’s necessary for you to change to improve the relationship.

But you can’t change them; they are who they are, and perhaps they’ve always been this way, just choosing to act differently in the beginning. They may have hidden their true nature, presenting an illusion that fades after the initial excitement wears off.

When troubling behaviors emerge post-honeymoon phase, you must realize that if these traits are within them, they will eventually show.

Regarding the person who wrote the email, you need to come to terms with how he treats you and decide if you’ll continue to tolerate it. It’s not about blaming the victim or implying fault for staying in such conditions. We all have our reasons for staying, and sometimes, due to resources or life situations, we have to endure until we can move to a better place.

It’s important to acknowledge that once the emotionally abusive person knows the pain they cause but refuses to change that behavior, they will probably never change.

With this acceptance, you can make the best decision for yourself, which may involve planning an exit, setting boundaries, or taking steps like sleeping separately or staying with a relative. If you don’t come to terms with the improbability of change, you risk staying in a stagnant, harmful situation, waiting for a transformation that likely won’t happen.

I understand that this may be hard to read for the person who wrote the message or anyone else in a similar situation. If you’re in a relationship like this, please know I recognize the difficulty you’re experiencing. Also, remember the most critical point that I’ll emphasize once again:

Make sure you distinguish his pain, trauma, and suffering from your own.

You have your own unique challenges to face and heal from, just as he must deal with his own internal battles. Your focus should be on how his treatment affects you, as that is where your attention is needed.

It’s important to remember that you are not his therapist, coach, or mentor. You can provide a support system, offering emotional support, care, and help through tough times. But when it comes to dealing with emotional trauma, PTSD, and emotional triggers, that’s not your role to fill.

With respect and care, I want to emphasize that it’s not your responsibility, nor should you be weighed down by it, as you have your own issues to manage.

Even if you were completely healed and were an actual therapist capable of separating your emotional baggage from his, and could be fully present with him—ready to listen and accept judgmental statements about yourself, allowing him to express himself openly without facing your objections or rejections—only then might it be feasible for you to take on a therapeutic role. Yet, this is a demanding task that requires a special skill set.

Some individuals have the ability to offer this kind of support. I’ve managed to do this in my partnership at times. However, in an emotionally abusive relationship, when one person attempts to support the other, the dynamic can quickly deteriorate, potentially worsening the issues because both parties are dealing with their own struggles.

It’s extremely difficult to support someone else while you’re dealing with your own issues.

This isn’t to say it’s impossible, but it’s incredibly challenging, particularly within the dynamics of a romantic or close relationship, where personal issues can become intertwined.

When you mix your challenges with the other person’s, it can create a toxic blend that may not only damage the relationship but also cause lasting harm to both individuals, as it’s impossible to be enough for yourself and someone else at the same time.

The individual who wrote in is clearly facing a tough situation, as are many others. This article aims to present the stark truth. While that’s always my approach, it’s crucial to understand what it might take to overcome such challenges.

If you don’t have the means to make significant changes right away but want to do so, you might need to take time to gather your resources and carefully plan your next move.

There are times when you have to accept that there’s nothing more you can do, which is a form of acceptance in itself. Once you come to this realization, you might find that different decisions need to be made for your own well-being and for those you care about.

Share this with someone who might benefit.

Paul Colaianni

Host of Love and Abuse and The Overwhelmed Brain

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