The 3 Stages of An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

29 Mar 2016

The 3 stages of an emotionally abusive relationship is not something you’re likely to think consciously about when you are caught up in it.

Rule #1 of an emotionally abusive relationship is this:

An emotionally abusive relationship is designed to ensure you are too off kilter to think clearly.

That is how the relationship is designed – and, yes, it is designed by an emotionally abusive partner, right from the start.

From the moment an emotionally abusive man starts his quaint ‘wooing campaign’ by letting you know what a catch he is and how lucky you are, he is shaping the relationship to serve his purpose.

For him to make it work, he has to keep you emotionally 100% roped in.

If you were able to step back far enough to see clearly what is going on – and you were thinking this way – you would become aware of the 3 states of an emotionally abusive relationship. They are:

Stage #1 of the 3 stages of an emotionally abusive relationship

Love, romance, and the whole shebang.

Well, as much love and romance etc. as this man is ever going to muster.

This is where he holds out the carrot of how wonderful your life could be with him in it. He likely does just enough research – through listening to you, for once – to find out what matters to you, and he leads you to believe that he and he alone can deliver it.

This is the emotional peak of the relationship. It tends to be quite short-lived.


Because the two of you have quite different agendas. His agenda is Pavlovian, he wants you to be hanging on his every facial expression, his every tone of voice .

Now, I’m well aware that this may sound weird. But there’s a good reason for that:

It is weird.

He wants you to see him as your only source of love supply.

Still, there are a couple of differences between Pavlov’s dogs and an emotionally abused woman. First, the dogs didn’t have to jump through hoops to get fed. Second, Pavlov wasn’t doing it to make himself feel better through controlling another being.

Stage #2 of the 3 stages of an emotionally abusive relationship

The A la recherché du temps perdu years – with apologies to Proust.

The second of the 3 stages of an emotionally abusive relationship – the search for a lost time – can go on for years, or even decades. This is the time when one person in the relationship – you – tries desperately to get back to what you once had with this man – or, at least, what you thought you had.

Despite being constantly faced with the Law of Diminishing Returns, you vow that you will stay the course, and beat this cruel law. Somewhere, just beyond the frustration, the criticism, and the rejection is the Happily Forever After. He promised you that life with him would be special, and it will only take one more push – or two, or three – for you to get there, at last.

#3 of the 3 stages of an emotionally abusive relationship

You give up.

Here’s what’s really interesting: you give up on yourself long before you give up on the relationship. It’s almost as if you’ve done some kind of crazy, Bee Gee inspired trade of the “If I can’t have you/I don’t want nobody else” variety.

You absolutely do NOT want anyone else.

Least of all, yourself.

As you see it, in Stage #3, he is the sole purveyor of Love and Good Feelings in the entire universe.

Being in Stage #3 of the 3 stages of an emotionally abusive relationship makes it tough to move on. You don’t want the one person who is available to you (that is you) and you can’t contemplate life without the man who has a Ph.D in making you feel broken.

This is the stage when the negative voices inside your head – his voice and your own – are ON A ROLL.

You go into Cassandra mode, constantly predicting the lonely, miserable life that awaits you without him.

The only difference is that unlike Cassandra, you’re wrong.

Stage #3 of the 3 stages of an emotionally abusive relationship is hell.

It feels like the end of the road.

Certainly, it takes you right to the end of the road.

NOT the end of the road for you. Just the end of the road for you and him.


Shame it took so long.

He’ll be a fine – a tad inconvenienced, but he’ll manage.

You’ll go on to thrive.

The 3 stages of an emotionally abusive relationship are, likely, the worst thing that will ever happen to you. They’re gruesome. They feel like they will go on forever and – there is always a way back from there to the person you were meant to be, and the life you deserve to have. There is always a much better life for you (and your children, if you have children) without Mr Nasty in it.

If you, or someone you know has ever struggled to make sense of what happened to them in an emotionally abusive relationship. please like and share this post on social media to help get the word out, and open their eyes to the 3 stages of an emotionally abusive relationship.


Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

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