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5 reasons name-calling in a relationship is abusive (+ what to do about it)

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Does your partner call you names and lash out in childish ways?

Name-calling might feel like an annoyance at first, but, over time, it can build up and become something much more sinister.

You might start to experience a dip in your self-esteem, or start to question things about yourself.

This is usually the intention behind most name-calling in relationships, and it is abusive and unfair.

You probably already know that name-calling is a form of verbal abuse, but if you want to know the reasons why, here they are:

*Note: attempting to deal with name-calling by yourself is rarely the best approach. It’s wiser and safer to involve a professional. You may want to talk to someone by yourself at first and then get your partner involved later on. This way, you can get some initial advice to improve the situation to the point where you can bring up having sessions as a couple.

Relationship Hero offers this flexibility so that you can start getting help now before involving your partner. The expert you are matched with will provide empathetic, specific, and genuinely insightful relationship advice at its most convenient because it’s all done via phone, video call, or live chat.

1. It makes you feel bad about yourself.

If your partner is saying things that make you feel embarrassed or belittled, it’s abuse. There’s no two ways about it.

They might call you ugly or fat, or make fun of how you look and what you’re wearing.

“You look like a cartoon character in that outfit” might seem funny on the surface, but if it’s said with the intention to make you feel bad about yourself, it’s abusive.

They’re calling you names to make you feel unattractive, which is very unfair and completely unacceptable. 

2. The intention is to make you doubt yourself.

Your partner might call you names like ‘smelly loser’ or ‘gross chubster’ or something along these lines – this will make you question if you smell bad or if you’re unattractive.

This is their intention – they are going out of their way to make you feel inferior and embarrassed.

Your partner wants you to doubt yourself in every way, from your looks and hygiene to your intelligence and popularity.

They might play on insecurities they know you have – for example, if they know you’re feeling lonely lately, they might call you a ‘boring loser.’

This is so horrible and abusive as it will make you doubt yourself and question whether or not anyone likes you – even more than you already were. 

3. It shows a lack of respect.

If your partner is disrespecting you by calling you names, they’re being abusive.

They might pick on certain aspects of your personality or your life choices, and make you feel bad about decisions you’ve made.

They might show a strong disrespect for you by calling you things like ‘no-hoper’ or ‘pathetic runt’ – whatever it is, it’s said to make you feel degraded and disrespected.

If your partner is calling you things like this, it’s a deliberate attempt to undermine your self-respect. 

4. It’s a form of control.

Calling someone names is a form of abuse because it keeps you feeling bad about yourself and, rather perversely, it makes you even more dependent on the person saying those horrible things.

You’ll end up feeling so down about your appearance or job, or whatever else they insult, that you’ll become reliant on them for the times that they are nice to you.

This is a horrible and toxic cycle to be stuck in. The worse they make you feel, the more you need them to make you feel good again – so you can essentially never escape.

They might go as far as saying things like “you’re so ugly nobody will ever love you” or “you’re an unlovable loser.”

They say these things as part of their cycle of control – you’ll feel worthless and like nobody else would ever love you, so you will accept their so-called love despite the awful things they say, purely because you don’t feel like you can find love anywhere else with anyone else.  

5. It’s in place of expressing genuine feelings.

Name-calling in a relationship is a sign of emotional abuse because it denies you a healthy partnership with someone who can openly and honestly communicate with you.

The more they distance themselves from expressing their feelings, the worse the name-calling will get.

Your partner might be saying things like “you’re an idiot” or “you’re rubbish at life” because they’re lashing out at you – and this is because they can’t express how they’re actually feeling and why.

Instead, they get angry at you and call you names to get rid of the rage that’s building up in them from all things they’ve left unsaid. 

What to do if your partner calls you names.

Assuming you feel safe enough to do so, you might want to talk to them directly and honestly.

Maybe avoid this conversation right after they’ve called you a name as things may feel a bit tense or uneasy.

Instead, wait until a good time and bring it up. Try to avoid being confrontational – even if you are in attack-mode, you need to approach this topic in a calm way if you ever want it to be resolved. 

Talk about how the name-calling makes you feel. Explain to your partner that you understand that sometimes they may be frustrated or angry, but that you want to work as a team to solve the issues rather than feel like you’re being put down or embarrassed.

This is a good reminder to them that you want to be with them and you’re not attacking them – instead, you want to work with them to move forwards, which is very positive!

Do your best to stay calm and suggest that they talk about whatever is leading to the emotional buildup that then manifests as name-calling.

Let your partner know you want them to be honest so that you can solve any problems together, and that you understand why they’re behaving the way they are.

They’ll feel understood and like you want to help them communicate, as opposed to getting defensive and feeling guilty. 

You can explain why the name-calling upsets you – maybe let them know it makes you feel bad about yourself, or it makes you question how much they love you.

This will be a bit of a wake-up call to your partner, and will help them understand the impact of their actions.

They may not be fully aware they’re even doing it, or might be so used to doing it and getting away with it (if you’ve never brought it up before) that they don’t know how much it’s upsetting you.

By calmly pointing out how it makes you feel, you’re letting your partner know that you know your worth, and that there are certain expectations in your relationship that they need to meet if they want to stay with you. 

If this isn’t working, you could suggest speaking to a relationship counselor. A counselor will be able to mediate conversations between you and your partner so that a healthy resolution can form, and you can both feel heard and valued.

The counselor will also be able to suggest exercises you can do to strengthen your relationship, and will help you both communicate in ways that avoid name-calling or anything emotionally abusive in the future. 

What to do if you’re the name-caller in your relationship.

Realizing that your behavior is abusive is never a nice feeling. Of course, some people will realize and not care – but the majority of us who realize that what we’re doing is abusive or manipulative will feel very guilty.

Most of us would never actively want to hurt our partner, but some of us will form habits over time that will have a negative impact on them.

If you’ve read this article and picked up on a few habits that sound too close to home, you might be unconsciously hurting your partner.

Name-calling can start in such a subtle way that many of us don’t realize we’re doing it – it’s banter, or it’s silly fun, or it’s a fun way to show affection, right?

Sure, until it goes too far and starts to affect how our loved one feels about themselves. 

The first step is to acknowledge your behavior – this article may have opened your eyes in some way, and you may start to become more aware of how you’re acting over the next few days.

It’s important to understand how you’re behaving, and to start noticing how your partner responds. 

Apologizing is also key – now that you’re aware of what you’re doing, you’ll either be able to stop yourself from calling them a name, or you’ll realize very quickly after speaking that you’ve just done it.

This is the time to apologize, explain that you didn’t mean it, and make it clear you’re aware and are making the effort to stop.

This in itself will show your partner that you do genuinely care about them – which they may be questioning if you keep calling them mean things! 

Finally, you need to stop – we know it’s not easy to break a habit, but it’s important that you make the effort to stop.

You also need to try to figure out where this behavior is coming from. Is it pent-up frustration or resentment that you’re holding back, which is then manifesting as petty name-calling or childish behavior?

A lot of us find it hard to communicate openly, which is why some feelings come through in different ways (like name-calling or bickering).

You should consider talking to your partner about your feelings, or finding ways to communicate that work for you both.

If you can express how hurt you are about something, you’re less likely to ‘need’ to resort to name-calling or lashing out.

Try to work on talking about how you feel openly and you’ll notice that your reliance on name-calling as an expression of your anger or hurt will fade away rapidly.

If talking face-to-face feels too difficult for you because you don’t know whether you’ll be able to contain you feelings or frustrations, try writing them down on paper or in an email.

This way, you can think more carefully about the language you use and what exactly it is you are trying to say.

Remember that there are options in your relationship, whatever side of the name-calling you are on.

You are worth more than someone who calls you horrible things – and you are worth someone who can change their behavior to make you feel safe and loved.

There are ways to move past this kind of behavior with your partner, but remember that you can always walk away from something that is no longer serving you…

Still not sure what to do about the name-calling in your relationship? It’s not an easy situation to be in, and it might be all the more difficult if you don’t have anyone to talk to about it. Talking to someone is a great way to get your thoughts and your worries out of your head so you can work through them.

Speak to an experienced relationship expert about it. Why? Because they are trained to help people in situations like yours. They can listen to you and offer tailored advice to help you rid your relationship of the name-calling and foster healthy and respectful communication.

Relationship Hero is a website where you can connect with a relationship counselor via phone, video, or instant message.

While you can try to work through this situation yourself or as a couple, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can fix. And if it is affecting your relationship and mental well-being, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.

Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to solve problems that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, speaking to a relationship expert is 100% the best way forward.

Here’s that link again if you’d like to learn more about the service Relationship Hero provide and the process of getting started.

You’ve already taken the first step just by searching for and reading this article. The worst thing you can do right now is nothing. The best thing is to speak to an expert. The next best thing is to implement everything you’ve learned in this article by yourself. The choice is yours.

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About The Author

Lucy is a travel and wellness writer currently based in Gili Air, a tiny Indonesian island. After over a year of traveling, she’s settled in paradise and spends her days wandering around barefoot, practicing yoga and exploring new ways to work on her wellbeing.