What he says: “I just want you to be the best you can be.”
Sounds perfectly reasonable, and we all like encouragement, advice, support, right? For the verbal abuser, this is only the beginning.
What he really means: “You are not Good Enough the way you are. I will direct you and give you a list of things that you must change about yourself to bring yourself up to standards that are high enough to earn my love. If there is some “flaw” that you are particularly sensitive about we will spend long hours discussing it in detail to make you feel as shitty as possible. Along the path of your self-improvement I will belittle, criticize, nag, harrass, and do everything in my power to make you feel small and flawed and damaged. In the end, you will never be Good Enough to earn my love.”
And that is the whole picture, isn’t it? The verbal abuser must be superior in every way and if the only way to gain the upper hand is to knock you down, you can bet that is exactly what they will do. I’m not talking about “normal” nagging – every relationship can handle things like, “I really hate that shirt – don’t you have anything else to wear?” What I’m talking about are long-running discourses about personal appearance*, clothing choice, music/TV/movie/book/magazine preferences, speech patterns, gestures and mannerisms, your friends, your family and the list goes on and on. It is impossible to feel good about yourself when you hear negative, judgemental statements from the person who is supposed to love you every. damned. day.
This is not what a healthy relationship looks like.
* M believes that any physical change in a negative direction (defined as “getting fat” which is be defined as anything more than a 5-pound weight gain) after the start of a relationship shows disrespect for oneself and even more disrespect for one’s partner – if you fall in love with someone, they should never change physically because then they would be different from the person you fell in love with. Is that insane?