My Partner Emasculates Me - How Can I Make It Stop?

By Michael Puskar|Updated June 22, 2022

The term “emasculate” has negative connotations of stereotypes and labeling. It tends to refer to a woman “stripping a man of his manhood.” Belittling and degrading may be more accurate terms. Being belittled or degraded by someone who you love—no matter what gender you are or they are—can be uncomfortable, humiliating, and hurtful, especially if it goes too far and goes on for too long. What can seem like little things can become a big problem in a relationship. If a negative behavior becomes more than an isolated incident in a relationship, breaking the pattern is important for your emotional health.  If the pattern of belittling or trivializing is used for power or control over a partner, it may be a sign of verbal abuse.

Note: If you or a loved one is experiencing abuse, please seek help. You can reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Call 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224, text, or use LiveChat.

If you would like to learn more about building healthy relationships, therapy can help. Licensed mental health professionals are available to offer both individual and couples therapy at ReGain.

You Deserve To Be In a Supportive Relationship
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What Does Belittling Mean in a Relationship?

To belittle means to cause a person to seem “little or less than.” Being belittled in a relationship will likely make you feel small or dismissed. You may have a feeling that your partner is purposefully making you feel degraded or trying to “cut you down,” whether when you’re alone or with others.

Examples of belittling include:

Unwanted criticism: A partner can feel belittled by unsolicited criticism, especially when it’s negative or unproductive. Constantly pointing out flaws and mistakes can demean a partner.

Condescension: Talking down to a partner can be belittling, as one partner has an air of superiority over the other.

Undermining: Questioning a partner’s competency can undermine the partner, as can going behind the partner’s back to “correct” what they’ve done or said.

Put-downs: Putting down a partner, even if done under the veil of “teasing” or “joking,” can be belittling. Bad-mouthing a partner to or in front of others or behind the partner’s back can also be embarrassing, degrading, and belittling—and can make everyone involved feel uncomfortable.

Passive aggression: Sometimes belittling can be very obvious, but it can also be subtle or passive-aggressive. For example, a partner may regularly roll their eyes or go behind you to “fix”    what you’ve already done.

Claiming to “be helpful”: Belittling might come in the form of so-called “helpfulness.” A partner     might insist their behavior of “putting you down” is an act of support to help you “be                better.” In this case, you might try letting them know that you’ll ask for help or advice when and if you’d like it.

How to Address Belittling Behavior

Plan to have an honest, respectful, calm conversation

  1. Try being prepared ahead of time to know what you want to say and what you want to achieve.
  2. Try to choose a time for the conversation when you and your partner are both in calm moods.
  3. Try to practice what you want to say.
  4. Consider how your partner might reply and how you’ll respond.
  5. Try to use “I” statements. “I feel belittled when you make fun of me” or “I feel like you think I’m not capable of doing things myself when you criticize me.”
  6. Try to be direct and honest about your concerns and feelings.
  7. Try to be prepared with specific goals for how you would like your relationship to change.
  8. Try to ask your partner how they can change their behavior to be more respectful of you.

Knowledge is Power: Understanding Healthy Relationships

If you feel belittled or degraded in your relationship, understanding what a healthy relationship looks like can help you set positive personal and relationship goals.

Common characteristics of healthy relationships include:

  1. Healthy, open communication. Both partners should feel comfortable talking respectfully about issues that arise without fear of judgment. Mindful listening is also a part of healthy communication.
  2. Sharing perspectives. While belittling is not healthy, partners sharing their perspectives can be positive without judgment or criticism.
  3. Trust includes feeling secure that your partner is being honest and has your best interests in mind. It also means being able to feel safe and comfortable with them and free from emotional hurt.
  4. Feeling accepted by your partner is important for emotional health. Feeling like you need to earn approval or fearing constant disapproval is not a positive pattern.
  5. Strong conflict resolution and problem-solving. Hurt and disagreements happen in every relationship. How you manage the conflict is important for your well-being as a couple and an individual. Talking about issues respectfully, productively, and honestly is important, as is listening without anger.
  6. Mutual respect. Partners who respect one another do not engage in belittling behaviors. They build each other up, not knock each other down.
  7. A sense of fulfillment, connection, and happiness in the relationship. If belittling patterns or other issues leave you feeling unhappy and disconnected, it may be time to reevaluate the relationship.

Belittling and Relationship Red Flags:

If a partner who has a pattern of belittling you does commit to or follow through with the positive change, it may be time to consider the relationship's future and what you need to do to protect your mental health. A licensed mental health professional can be very helpful as you navigate relationship challenges, changes, and decisions about continuing or ending the relationship. Both relationship and individual therapists are available online at ReGain to offer you compassion that’s convenient to access.

The following are some red relationship flags:

  1. One partner tries to control the other.
  2. Partners don’t respect each other’s boundaries, including boundaries about belittling or degrading behaviors.
  3. The relationship feels unequal. For instance, if you are constantly on edge or feeling bad about your partner degrading you, you may not have equal balance in the relationship.
  4. One partner is in a pattern of saying negative or hurtful things about the other.
  5. You don’t feel heard in the relationship. For instance, you may express your concern about being treated negatively, and your partner does not seem to have heard you and continues the pattern of behavior.
  6. You fear expressing disagreement. In healthy relationships, expressing disagreement respectfully is usually not cause for fear.
  7. You don’t feel happy or comfortable around your partner. Constant belittling can lead to unhappiness.
  8. Discussions aren’t productive. For example, you might discuss your concerns repeatedly, but if your partner does respond respectfully or the discussion usually becomes an argument, positive progress may not be likely.

You Deserve To Be In a Supportive Relationship

When Belittling Becomes Emotional Abuse:

If belittling, humiliation, and criticizing are harsh, unrelenting, and intended to undermine the partner’s self-esteem, the relationship may be emotionally abusive. It is important to know that if a relationship becomes abusive, you should seek help immediately. Relationship abuse is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.  The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers help 24/7. The number is 1-800-799-7233. You can also text “Start” to 88788.

Examples of emotional abuse include:

  1. Public humiliation
  2. Dismissing what is important to you
  3. Insults that are disguised as “jokes”
  4. Insulting your appearance
  5. Purposefully agitating you or “pushing your buttons”
  6. Being condescending and demeaning
  7. Yelling to intimidate you
  8. Character assassination—making comments that undermine your character or make you seem like a “bad person”
  9. Name-calling and insulting pet names
  10. Ordering you around
  11. Lecturing you
  12. Telling you that others think you are bad or wrong
  13. Emotional threats—such as threatening to leave
  14. Angry outbursts
  15. Blaming you for their negative behavior towards you
  16. Guilt-tripping you
  17. Blaming you for their problems
  18. Trivializing your feelings
  19. Indifference to your feelings
  20. Accusing you of being the one who belittles, demeans, and degrades

Signs of a controlling partner in an abusive relationship include the partner:

  1. Making physical abuse or threats
  2. Communicating to you in a way that is threatening and demeaning
  3. Making untrue accusations to you or about you and wanting you to prove your honesty
  4. Controlling all of the decisions in the relationship
  5. Trying to isolate you by controlling who you talk to and spend time with
  6. Controlling all finances or preventing you from earning an income
  7. Exerting control over your sex life and reproductive decisions

If you are in an emotionally abusive relationship, know that the abuse is not your fault and that help is available.

You should feel safe and supported by your partner. If belittling becomes a pattern in your relationship, please reach out for help right away. You can call it The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The number is 2/4 at 1-800-799-7233. You can also text “Start” to 88788. They can help you find resources so that you’re safe.

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