Are you living in a situation that is unreal to you? Did you think you would have a good life with your partner, but instead, you suffer emotional pain? Does your relationship, which looked so attractive at first, turn out to make you miserable? Even while other people might look on your lifestyle with envy?

Living with a verbally abusive partner can happen to anyone. It crosses all boundaries—social and economic. Often it happens behind closed doors, where a clever abuser will have no witnesses. Later the abuser can claim you are the one who is misperceiving the situation. You are the crazy one.

Sometimes the abuse begins slowly, and escalates with every victory for the abusive partner. Every time s/he bullies you, s/he becomes bolder. Your partner may berate you with no warning and no reason. This keeps you off balance and in a constant state of anxiety, never knowing if you\’ll be yelled at or charmed. Then you are grateful when a crumb of kindness is offered.

Your abusive partner behaves that way because s/he must have power and control over you. And once s/he achieves it, you spiral downward into a state of constant anxiety, fear, low self-esteem and the feeling that nothing you do is right. If you exist in this toxic environment long enough, you can feel helpless and hopeless and sink into severe depression. It\’s a terrible way to live.

You will not be able to change your partner, but you can change the way you respond to the abuse. And with support from friends and professional help, you can find your way out of your situation. You need to plan in advance to have a conversation with your abuser. Here are three steps you will want to take.

1)    Set boundaries. Clearly state that you are no longer willing to listen to name calling, profanity, cruel accusations. Think about how your partner mistreats you and be specific in stating what you will no longer accept.

2)    State the consequences. Your partner will probably violate the boundaries you have set. Tell him or her that the moment this happens, you will hang up the phone, you will leave the room, leave the house, or leave the relationship. You cannot bluff—you must follow through. It\’s helpful when you are hanging up or leaving the room to say clearly that you are not going to listen to abuse, therefore you are leaving.

3)    Stay strong. Your abuser will test you, probably repeatedly. You will have to say, over and over, “I am no longer willing to listen to this kind of language, and am now leaving the room as a consequence.” Find a safe place to go where your partner can\’t follow—a spare room with a lock on the door, a friend\’s house nearby, or a car you can drive away in as long as you are emotionally stable to drive safely. Be prepared to be followed. A friend\’s abusive husband followed her to the guest room, and when he couldn\’t get in, he jammed his fist through the wall. Stay strong. Do not give in. Do not negotiate. Do not accept anything less than a complete end to the abusive behavior.

If the abuse continues, you may have to sever the relationship. Even if it doesn\’t, your relationship may be too broken to maintain. You will need trusted friends and professional counselors to help you through this difficult time.

Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional.  If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch.  You can reach her here: