Is It Abuse When My Partner Calls Me Names?


I don’t think my relationship with my boyfriend is that bad, but some of my friends beg to differ. Mainly, they are concerned about some of the language he uses with me. He can be crass at times, for sure, but I don’t think he usually means to make me feel bad. I tend to look at it like he’s just “being a guy” since it’s how I hear guys talking to each other sometimes. Maybe he just looks at me as “one of the guys” and it’s a comfort thing?

For as long as we’ve been together (going on two years now), he has called me “b—-,” “c—,” and “w—-” pretty often. Like, at least one of those at least once a day, and usually way more. Sometimes he says these things when I make him mad, but more often than not it’s like he uses these terms in place of my real name, almost like a playful nickname? I have asked him once or twice why he does it and he says I shouldn’t overthink it and they’re just “terms of endearment.”

Obviously, I’m used to it after all this time, but whenever he does this when my friends are around they gasp or come to my defense. Privately, a couple of friends have told me my boyfriend is being emotionally abusive when he calls me names, and that I should not tolerate it. I made the mistake of telling my boyfriend that my friends considered what he was doing emotional abuse, and he just got defensive and actually did it more, as if to make a point. I don’t see him stopping. I can’t decide if it bothers me (or should bother me) or not. Do you think I am being abused? I don’t want to leave him since I don’t feel all that unhappy in general, but I also hate to think I am in an abusive relationship! —Sticks and Stones

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Dear Sticks and Stones,

The only people who can really evaluate how a relationship is working are the people who are in the relationship.

That said, the behaviors you are describing would naturally raise concerns with those who care about you. The words he is using, especially “c—” and “w—-,” are aggressive words that are generally considered pretty disrespectful. The fact he uses these words when he is angry is a red flag. As far as terms of endearment go, they aren’t very endearing. You are not “one of the guys”—you are his partner. There is a difference.

The true indicator, however, is how he would respond if you did ask him to stop. If you decided you did not want to be called those names, even affectionately or playfully, would he respect your wishes or would he dismiss them? Telling you not to “overthink” things seems pretty dismissive. Your attempt to raise the issue about your friends’ feelings seemed to increase rather than decrease the behavior. That is not a sign of someone who is willing to take in alternative perspectives or be sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. Those are warning signs to pay attention to.

Only you can decide if your relationship is working for you. I would encourage you, however, to think beyond the words and explore how your needs are being met in the relationship and how you feel when you are with this person. Do you feel cared for, loved, and respected?

You do not have to be bothered by words if they don’t bother you. You don’t have to be bothered by words because your friends are bothered. It is important, however, to pay attention to how your boyfriend handles conflict and responds to your feelings. Is he willing to adjust his habits if they are hurtful to you? If not, then your friends have reason to be concerned.

Generally, how we speak to people is a reflection of how we think of them and usually a strong predictor of how we treat them. Using dismissive, disrespectful, or derogatory language tends to distance us from the humanity of the other person and allows us to ignore their feelings and needs. This may not happen intentionally, but it is often a side effect of that kind of practice.

Only you can decide if your relationship is working for you. I would encourage you, however, to think beyond the words and explore how your needs are being met in the relationship and how you feel when you are with this person. Do you feel cared for, loved, and respected? Do you feel your needs are valued and attended to? Do you feel like he is your number one fan and will support you through tough times? Does he help build you up when you are feeling low? Do you feel good about yourself when you are with him?

If the answer to these questions is no, then language is not the biggest issue in your relationship. And if that’s the case, you may want to speak with a qualified therapist who can help you sort through your feelings and your options.

Best of luck,

Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC

Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC is a licensed psychotherapist and former educator specializing in working with families in transition (often due to separation or divorce) as well as individuals seeking support with relationship issues, parenting, depression, anxiety, grief/loss/bereavement, and managing major life changes. Although her theoretical orientation is eclectic, she most frequently uses a person-centered, strengths-based approach and cognitive behavioral therapy in her practice.
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  • Anna

    July 28th, 2017 at 9:05 AM

    He is trying to make you feel that you are lucky to be with him, demeaning you in such a way that eventually you might feel grateful that he would even want to have you. Yes this is abuse and it sickens me that someone would ever behave in that way.

  • Cal

    July 31st, 2017 at 12:15 PM

    Well it is bullying when kids on the playground call one another names… don’t you think that you deserve as much respect as children deserve and even more as a committed relationship partner with someone? So yes I would call that abuse. He wouldn’t feel all that great if you did that to him right?

  • Holisic Hypnosis

    August 1st, 2017 at 2:30 PM

    “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never harm me.” is a childhood defiant retort to insulting provocations from my UK childhood. Abuse is a term with the connotation of wrong, bad, therefore to be condemned. But abuse means something that harms. It could be a case of no harm, no foul. I once knew a couple that would refer to each other as “Pig.” That being said, it is hard to see an easy acceptance of the swear words quoted. Most persons would interpret their use as insulting, taunting, disrespectful, mistreatment, demeaning or derogating, to name a few. It could be you were on the receiving end of negative behavior as a child, and have numbed/blocked your reactions. It could be you had a very protected growing up, and don’t know how to react. Finally you could be so saintly and loving that you are above it all! The original author deals correctly in my (not so humble opinion),with how it needs to be examined in the context of the relationship in general. Only you can decide if it is a loving relationship enough to out way what could be termed his uncouth verbalization. Blessings, Brian.

  • Mercy

    August 3rd, 2017 at 1:34 PM

    None of should have to live with being made to feel so hurt and unworthy of love. You are worth so much more than that.

  • Donna

    August 5th, 2017 at 7:26 PM

    I dated someone who wasn’t quite so obvious in his demeaning comments. People would say, “I don’t like the way he talks to you.” I had grown numb to the coarse nature of his words. I grew a pretty thick skin when I was with him. After almost 2 decades of his patronizing, superior words and attitudes, I finally left. I had been so completely disassembled it took years before I began to resemble my former self. I’ll never be that happy girl again. That’s become quite clear. As for that thick skin. Well, it keeps anyone from ever getting that close to my heart again. It’s pretty sad. I continue to hope and try to open my heart but every time I get close it clamps back shut.
    You say “after all this time…” I think you are where I was, a couple of years into the relationship, when my friends started commenting. If so, you could probably still leave this relationship with your soul relatively intact. I suggest that you strongly consider doing just that. Your friends know your heart well enough to know that this “should” be hurting you (meaning I think on the inside you are quite tender). I can tell you that the longer you wait, the deeper the damage. Talk to a male therapist about your feelings. A man treating you well might teach you something about your needs and your worth. Ask him to help you find YOU. Once you spend a little time in self exploration you might decide it’s time to go. There is something called paradoxical intervention which is basically prescribing the exact opposite of what you want. (Most people might say, when he says those words, substitute: “beautiful”, “precious” “creative”, things like that everytime he calls you one of those demeaning names. The way this works is the opposite….. When he calls you a “w”: call yourself “worthless”, when he calls you a “b”: call yourself “stupid”, when he calls you a “c”: call yourself “ugly.” See how some new, fresh, abusive terms hit you. See if you can find the feelings using this fresh vocabulary of hateful, berating terms. Don’t do this long term, tearing yourself down even further. That’s not the goal. The goal is to slap the calluses off of your ears and your heart. I agree with Mercy. You deserve better than this nasty, controlling man. I hope that you come to see the “terms of endearment” for what they are. Little knives that whittle away at your precious heart and soul.

  • Dani

    November 5th, 2019 at 10:08 AM

    I feel like the answer is too “diplomatic” and sugarcoated. The real answer to this girls question should be: undeniably YES, he is abusive! HE is not only abusive, he is a real horrible and disgraceful human being. If he can put down someone he is in a relationship like this, imagine this guy interacting with strangers and people who can do nothing for him. Please, girls, don’t fall for this sort of fake “love”, it’s not love, it’s not real, he doesn’t love you if he calls you a C**T! Wake up, have some self worth and self respect and leave his a**!

  • Leila

    December 23rd, 2019 at 8:46 AM

    I am currently in the same situation engaged to someone who has a kid and calls me names every time he gets frustrated with me or mad. He calls me a b**** or dumb*** and sometimes a c***t. He usually calls me a c***t when he’s really mad and It can be so hurtful, I usually go to the bathroom and cry my eyes out. Then I noticed how I’ve gotten used to him calling me names, I feel numb and even though there are times I want to run and tell my parents how my partner isn’t as nice as he seems. I wish I could tell them how emotionally abusive he is! but for some reason I never do. I don’t know if I’m afraid of being alone or afraid of my parents being disappointed. He does this thing that I hate , he makes me feel bad so as if I was responsible for his mouth or actions. When he apologizes it’s over text or in person but he says sorry as if it was just a word. I am afraid of my mom telling me how I was wrong for not saying anything earlier, I am very closed to my parents. They want nothing but happiness for me, my parents took him in when he didn’t have anywhere else to go. We live with them for now but the thought of moving out with him makes me nervous because if he treats me bad now I can imagine how bad he will treat me when no one is around. I am afraid of what he could do to me, but I try not to show it. He pulled my hair previously but I did nothing about it other than cry my eyes out alone! and it took a few hours for him to come around and apologize. I sometimes sit there and ask my self what should I do? and how should I handle this situation? it’s hard to know what to do when you love someone “love is blind” and it can get worse based on what I have been reading. So definitely no need to think its ok for him to call you names! “those are not terms of endearment” he obviously doesn’t think before he speaks and has no self control. You don’t want to end up scared of what he might do next, but also you dont want to be numb for all the mean name calling. Now if you’re already there (numb) then you need to do something about it! I don’t feel worthless but I hate that a man has to be calling me names, he doesn’t deserve me but I dont know what else to do to leave him. As I can tell you probably don’t want to leave him either but you need to because it could get worse.

  • CP

    May 11th, 2020 at 10:36 PM

    You should never talk to a women like that, girlfriend or not. Period!! What your little boyfriend needs is a serious lesson! Only weak little people treat their girl like that.

  • Renee

    August 7th, 2020 at 5:01 AM

    I am married to a man and I have to be very careful about asking him questions or saying anything to him. Because he call me nasty names all the time. I a b****, w**, f you b****, i should have never married you to this is the way i f*** her. I am so over this and so things that he have sad to me it will never leave my mind, but i try to keep it moving. He treat the women on his job like queens and the outsider, but its just something with me he just nasty. I know its verbal abuse because I read about it all the time. I don’t see him changing and I don’t know if i can continue living this way with him.

  • HHH

    August 7th, 2020 at 3:48 PM

    Why should you stay with him? If you allow him to verbally abuse him you will continue to lose self respect and self esteem. “I love him.” is the usual reply. Or “I need him.” (Usually financially). Either way it is a dependency. As a Domestic Violence Counselor, I can tell you that this cycle can easily progress to physical abuse in time. Why wait? You are giving him the message each time that you will accept his behavior. He likes the feeling of power he derives, but at the same time he is feeding a sense of despising you for allowing it. This self feeding cycle progressively worsens. If you need to, get outside help. Usually the abuser also progressively tries to isolate their partner from friends and family to prevent this. Also, I he keep you under his thumb, he does not have to fear rejection/abandonment.

  • Violet

    September 4th, 2020 at 3:53 PM

    The answer to your questions is a definite “YES!” These vile words are NOT term of endearment. He calls you these names to make you feel unworthy and humiliated. Your friends are absolutely right to be concerned for you. This ‘Man’ is a disgrace. I feel that the reply you received was way too diplomatic. I guarantee you this: If you stay with this disgusting creature, he will start physically abusing you. Have no doubts about it. Run as far away from him as you can and don’t look back. His orrible behaviour will not get better, it will get worse.

  • Dorian

    December 26th, 2020 at 6:47 PM

    I am dealing with a similar situation where my partner calls me a b…., simple, stupid, lame.The list goes on.. Noone is perfect , but i do know that he will never understand the damage he has caused. He exploited my trust using my past against me. He even plays the victim role making me to be the constant reason why he lashes out. I have taken care of everything living etc for the two years we have dated. Many days I have questioned my own character, beating myself up for the things that he said to me. It took me just recently to realize this is my life, i own it and it is worth more than any man can give. It takes a strong and determined mind to pull yourself out of a poisonous relationship. When you understand your worth and empty out the toxins, you are already a step closer to healing.

  • Michele

    February 20th, 2021 at 9:44 PM

    By not setting boundaries and staying with him, you are training him to keep treating you this way. Yes, it is abusive. Name calling should never be accepted. I recommend you leave and find someone who respects you.

  • Jasmine

    January 17th, 2022 at 6:15 PM

    I broke up with my ex because he called me a bad word. I know there’s no reason to be called that word but it’s the one time I had it coming, yet I never forgave him. I know he loves and misses me even after saying sorry but I feel so hurt by him. Me and my brother called him the n word more than once and he never respected me after that which is why he called me a bad word. He always forgave me for treating him badly but I feel hurt by him, am I wrong?

  • Lilly

    January 17th, 2022 at 6:22 PM

    I’d feel hurt too if my boyfriend called me that but I’d want to die if I was called the n word and was black. Some people riot over the n word. It’s disrespectful. If he’s someone you loved, you should explain to him how he hurt your feelings but come 100% clean about being wrong calling him the n word. He’s a good man for not getting abusive after being called that.

  • lola

    April 8th, 2022 at 11:46 AM

    I am wondering as well. Just yesterday evening, my fiance and I got into an argument I cry a lot when I am hurt he began to tell me that my bullshit crying is childish. He began to finger me and calling me a bitch and he was yelling. I took a break and when I went back to speak with him he was insulting me. name calling. I began to scream that i hated he called me names that I hated that he was so mean to me. I eventually was pushing him and started to push him at his chest. he began to scream more and he started telling me to pack my bags and get the f out. he told me he was tired of my child behavior that i am a b. that I dont wnat to solve problems like an adult. but the crying hes fed up with. Background – infedelity – he cheated with his co worker and the fight began bc I asked him why he had done that – its been 6 months since that happened – my fiance tells me I am not allowed to talk about it anymore that i should move on or i will loose my family – that it will be my fault if we seperate. i feel lost. Back in the summer, when he was cheating he always named called me. he always was so rude and i didnt recognize the man i had falling in love with. what i experience last night was that man in the summer. I feel the hate from him. All i want is for him to be honest with me. if I am not good enough for him. I should know and stop living a life of lies and abuse.

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