Your partner is someone who’s supposed to make you feel safe and protected. When they turn into someone who hurts you, your relationship becomes a burden instead of a comfort. Name-calling and other forms of verbal abuse cause a permanent state of dread and make you want to avoid your partner.
Name calling in a relationship can happen during an argument when emotions are turbulent. In those moments, it’s easy for one or both partners to lose their temper and lash out by yelling, calling each other degrading names, and exchanging insults.
Name calling can also take the form of insidious snide remarks, which inevitably result in the deterioration of the victim’s self-esteem over time.
A romantic relationship in which fights regularly devolve into name-calling and shouting or one of the partners feeling like they have to walk on eggshells to avoid making the other person angry isn’t a healthy relationship.
Let’s see what it does to a person, what’s behind it, and how to make it stop.
How To Respond To Name Calling In A Relationship
In a healthy relationship, arguments aren’t fights between partners but a method of solving problems. In a verbally abusive relationship where one or both people don’t know how to handle their feelings or talk through their issues, communication breaks down.
Name calling in a relationship causes the victim to shut down and stop responding. Instead of looking for solutions, the argument is spent with the abusive partner yelling at the other person until they get what they want.
How do you handle a situation where someone is shouting and insulting you?
1. Recognize what’s going on
The first step is to become aware of the situation. If your significant other habitually calls you names, you might be used to it and start thinking that it’s fine. It’s not okay, and it’s not acceptable.
It’s a form of bullying and can open the door to other harmful behaviors in your relationship. Because it‘s destructive and leads to constant fights, name calling often eventually leads to the end of a relationship.
Name-calling is abusive behavior, and it‘s rarely the only thing an abusive partner resorts to. It often overlaps with other forms of verbal abuse, such as:
• Criticizing. “Are you sure you want that piece of cake? Didn’t you already eat?”
• Manipulation. “You’re overreacting!”
• Gaslighting. “What are you talking about? I never said that.”
• Accusations. “You did it on purpose.”
• Blame. “You made me spill my drink.”
• Silent treatment.
It might be surprising to find some of these on the list of abusive behaviors. There’s a chance that you’re guilty of a few of these yourself and that you‘ve done them without any intention of hurting the other person.
In a toxic relationship, name calling and other abusive behaviors usually come from both sides. Most people don’t set out to emotionally and verbally abuse a loved one, but the truth is that it can happen to anyone who doesn’t know how to deal with their emotions.
Don’t look for excuses for the person who’s calling you names, but if you’re interested in saving your relationship, approach them with compassion.
Emotional abuse is often overlooked and not considered serious. Once it’s clear to you that name-calling and yelling aren’t normal and shouldn’t be part of your relationship, you’ll be able to see why it has to stop.
2. Establish communication
Even though your partner might love you, they can still engage in abusive behavior. To deal with it, you should start by opening a channel of communication between the two of you that actually works.
Name calling starts when your partner feels negative emotions, such as anger, disappointment, or hurt, and instead of telling you how they’re feeling, they call you names. A common reaction to this is to shut down and ignore anything after the insult has been said.
Your goal is to restore communication and, through it, regain mutual respect and trust. The first step to achieving this is to keep your head cool and stop yourself from retaliating when they call you names. Stay calm and focus on your goal – don’t react to their abusive behavior, and don’t check out.
• First, calmly tell your partner how you’re feeling and how their behavior is affecting you. This template is the most efficient: “When you ~, I feel ~ because ~.” For example, “When you call me names, I feel unloved because I love you.”
• Ask your partner to rephrase their insult into something constructive using the same template. This is a way to get to the root of the issue and to help them become able to express their feelings without hurting you.
For example, if they called you stupid because you couldn’t remember something they told you yesterday, they might rephrase it as “When you couldn’t remember what I told you yesterday, I felt neglected because I believed that you didn‘t listen to me when I told you about it.“
• Don’t get stuck on the actual topic of your argument – it was just a trigger and not the real cause anyway. Instead of debating whether or not you really did whatever your partner accused you of, focus on how their name-calling affects you and makes you feel and ask them to stop.
• Set boundaries. Having clearly defined and established boundaries is necessary for a healthy relationship. Figure out what’s unacceptable, and let your partner be aware of it. Enforce those boundaries if they forget or if it happens by accident, but if they ignore your boundaries or break them on purpose, it’s a red flag. It means that your partner doesn’t regret their emotionally abusive behavior.
Dealing with name-calling and other forms of verbal abuse isn’t easy to handle on your own, so you might benefit from seeing a relationship expert. A counselor should be able to guide you towards a solution that works for the both of you.
3. Get relationship counseling
When you’re determined to stay together but can’t seem to get a grasp on how to do it, getting professional help can help you save your relationship.
If you’re struggling to establish the best way to communicate, or if your partner resists change, a therapist can help you figure out where it’s coming from and how to deal with it. Using methods and tools that aren’t available to you, they might be able to guide you towards a solution.
End the relationship?
Verbal abuse, and name-calling in particular, often leads to a breakup if not dealt with. If your partner is unwilling to admit to their verbal abuse and work towards changing, they might not be open to counseling either.
A relationship goes two ways, and one person can’t fix it on their own. If the abuse is more than you’re prepared to deal with, and if the thought of being with someone who makes you feel bad about yourself is horrible, leaving the relationship might be the only solution.
If you still want to try to save your relationship, your best bet is trying to reach your partner through counseling, so insist on it.
Verbal abusers whose aim is to damage and hurt their victims can turn to physical abuse when they’re faced with resistance and their partner doesn’t react in the way they imagined. If you feel unsafe or if your partner has shown signs that their behavior might escalate, don’t hesitate to contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
How To Stop Name-Calling In A Relationship
Calling your partner bad names and belittling them won’t resolve your problems. It’ll only damage their psychological and emotional wellness. If you’re the abusive partner, there are steps you can take to stop doing it.
Most people don’t actively want to hurt their partners. Name-calling can start as something that at first seems harmless – a silly nickname that pokes fun at a small flaw and escalates into problematic behavior once name-calling becomes a habit.
1. Acknowledge your behavior
Accept that what you’ve been doing is hurtful and damaging to your partner. Understand your behavior: what causes it and how it affects your partner and accept responsibility.
People often don’t realize that what they’re doing is abusive, and once they do, they feel guilty and regret it. Calling someone names doesn’t seem so bad in the heat of the moment during a fight, but afterward, you might be ashamed of your behavior.
If you’re in the middle of an argument and can tell that you’re about to start saying mean things to your partner, take a moment to calm down. Consciously stop yourself from calling your partner names.
Apologize immediately when you insult your partner. You can’t take back what you said, but you can show your partner that you regret it. Be sincere and remorseful in your apology. Explain to your partner that you’re working on stopping your behavior once and for all.
An effective apology is one where you accept blame, express genuine regret, and make a firm promise that you’ll try to change.
Don’t skimp on the apology by making it just a formality. The inability to accept that your behavior is the problem is not worth losing a long-term relationship over. Forgive your partner and understand if they have a certain level of wariness when it comes to you.
3. Stop shifting the blame
Verbally abusive behavior is often caused by shifting the blame. Blaming the victim for your behavior seemingly justifies your actions and absolves you of the blame. To stop doing this, take responsibility for your actions.
Once you’re able to accept that it’s only you and not your partner who’s responsible for your behavior, you won’t place expectations on them that are impossible to meet.
Try to see things from your partner’s perspective and understand how much your words hurt them. You must stop expecting your partner to act a certain way and accept them for who they are. Stopping yourself from calling them names will become easier.
4. Face your feelings
Talking to your partner about how you feel will become easier with practice. At first, you might have to force yourself to open up, and as you practice it, you’ll be both more capable of recognizing your emotions, contextualizing them, and talking about them.
Be conscious of your own thoughts. Figure out where your behavior is coming from. Are you holding back some negative emotions towards your partner or your life? Are you feeling resentment, anger, jealousy, disappointment, etc.?
Understand why you’re attacking your partner and how much it hurts them. People who are emotionally abusive may not be fully aware that this is what they’re doing, or they might be used to doing it without being aware of how damaging it is to their partner.
5. Learn to communicate
Learn to actually own and express your emotions so you can let your partner know how you’re feeling instead of taking the negativity out on them. During an argument when you’re emotional and not thinking straight, name-calling may feel deserved and rational, but you might regret it the moment it comes out of your mouth.
Emotionally abusive behavior is toxic for both people. Name-calling fuels more anger, and the argument escalates, leaving you feeling exhausted and guilty. Pride and anger often won’t let you immediately go back on what you said and apologize, and it causes damage to both you and your partner and your relationship.
Learn to really listen to your partner. Don’t just wait for them to finish so you can talk and prove your point. Practice talking to your partner openly. Let them know how you feel instead of allowing your feelings to cloud your judgment.
Consider the consequences of your actions and choose to speak only out of kindness. Communicate with your partner in a way you want to be communicated with: with respect and understanding. If you make an effort to be open and kind, you can learn to talk to your partner in a way that will lead to more intimacy and closeness.
What Does Name-Calling Do To A Person?
Hearing anyone say hurtful words is damaging, but it’s especially cruel from a loved one. The emotional damage it causes goes beyond hurt feelings. When an emotional abuser repeatedly throws insults, criticism, and put downs on their victim, those words don’t just disappear.
Eventually, they take root, and both of them start believing in those ideas. Emotional abuse changes the victim and causes them to question themselves and their own worth. This can permanently hurt the victim’s self-esteem and ruin their self-confidence, causing depression and anxiety.
Continuous verbal abuse becomes a regular form of communication in a relationship. Using hurtful words tells the victim that they don’t matter and that their feelings don’t count. It creates a toxic relationship where partners become enemies at war.
• It feeds the victim’s insecurities. Verbal abuse reinforces the victim’s insecurities and attacks them where they already feel vulnerable, causing them to feel even more insecure. Also, it’s isolating and makes it difficult for the victim to reach out for help, leaving them feeling unloved and hopeless.
• It destroys the victim’s self-worth. When your partner calls you degrading names, it doesn’t only make you feel horrible, it makes you lose self-confidence and manipulates how you feel and what you think about yourself.
• It makes the victim feel degraded and inferior. Name-calling makes the victim feel like their potential and abilities are insignificant. They start to perceive themselves through the lens of the insult, making them feel like they’re less than the person they are.
• It makes the victim withdraw and shut down. Constant attacks make the victim want to give up the argument. Instead of fighting back, they feel resigned and stop caring about the outcome and reaching a solution.
• It creates self-doubt. The victim begins to wonder if they’re overreacting and if the abuse isn’t as bad as it seems. They might also begin to blame themselves and start to believe that they deserve it.
• It destroys trust. The lack of respect and care evident in abusive behavior leads to the victim losing faith not only in themselves but in their partner as well. The person they should be able to rely on is causing them pain, so it becomes impossible to trust them, causing damage to the relationship.
Often, the victim wants to retaliate or becomes timid and withdrawn. The abusive partner feels guilty for their actions, but even if they stop for a while unless they learn how to deal with their feelings, they eventually do it again. The victim’s hurt feelings matter for a moment, then they forget about it.
What Is The Psychology Behind Name Calling?
Name calling in a relationship is caused by frustration, insecurity, or a need to control your partner. Feeling upset with a situation or person is normal, but how you react to these feelings is what makes all the difference.
When you express your feelings in a way that makes them clear to your partner, the effect on the relationship is positive. When your reaction is to attack your partner and make them feel bad, too, you hurt your relationship.
• Frustration. This is often caused when one partner feels like the other person is ignoring their feelings. Frustrated with their inability to communicate with their partner, they believe they don’t listen to them and don’t care.
• Insecurity. Someone who name-calls is plagued by insecurities. Something in their life isn’t working, and they’re afraid of their feelings. They use the other person as a scapegoat and take it out on them. To get past this, they must get to the root of their insecurities and learn how to cope with their feelings in a productive way.
• Control. Verbal abuse is a power play. It’s a means of controlling your partner. It makes the victim feel bad about themselves, inferior, shamed, and embarrassed. It makes them doubt themselves and emphasizes their insecurities.
This, in turn, makes them even more dependent on the person who’s telling them those things. Because they feel so bad about themselves, they begin to rely on those moments when their partner acts kindly and makes them feel good. They start to feel worthless and believe that their partner is the only person willing to accept them.
Name calling in a relationship is often a learned behavior and the only way someone knows how to react to their feelings. Perhaps their parents communicated in the same way with each other or with them, or they learned it throughout life. Their inability to express and cope with their negative feelings makes them lash out and take them out on another person.
When they learn how to express these emotions in a productive way, it leads to a healthier relationship. Being able to share how you feel with your partner increases intimacy and trust and brings you closer.
Where To Go From Here
Name calling in a relationship can have a devastating effect on the victim’s emotional and mental health and self-esteem. It’s more often caused by the inability of the abusive partner to deal with their emotions than any intention to truly hurt their significant other.
To reestablish respect, trust, and communication, compassion and understanding are necessary on both sides, as well as a mutual desire to work on the relationship.
You’ll become able to stop calling your partner names once you stop shifting blame to your significant other and rationalizing your behavior.
Learning how to express your feelings calmly and efficiently, then making it a habit will result in a healthier relationship overall.