No one is at their best 100 percent of the time, but there's a big difference between not being at your best and saying or doing something that you truly, deeply regret and being a full-fledged bully. Sometimes, though, the signs that someone's a bully aren't as obvious as they were on the playground growing up. As you get older, these things can get a bit more subtle, which can, in some instances, make it tougher to sort out if someone in your life is a bully. If your partner ever does these things, it could be a sign they're a bully, however, and whether they are, in fact, a full-fledged bully or they "just" say or do these things sometimes, there might come a time when you have to make a choice of whether to stay in that relationship, or leave it.
"Bullies like to exert their power over people, so if you’re noticing these behaviors it’s really a means of somebody trying to control you and that is not gonna work in a relationship," therapist Kimberly Hershenson tells Romper. "So these are signs that there’s not equality in the relationship."
If your partner shows signs of being a bully, there might be some things that you can do other than leaving the relationship, if you're not ready or able to do that at the moment.
"If you are being bullied in a relationship, it's important to have a conversation with your partner and express how you feel in tangible and clear communication," Christie Tcharkhoutian MA, MFT, a marriage and family therapist and a matchmaker at Three Day Rule, tells Romper by email. "Action-oriented, specific statements such as 'when you say [this], I feel [this],' help to create tangible examples for your partner who may not even be aware of how they are making you feel. It is important not to generalize when it comes to providing examples and to be honest and authentic with your feelings. If they are unwilling to say 'I'm sorry' or to build awareness of these bad habits, it may be time for you to reevaluate the relationship and find someone who can bring you up and empower you to be your best self so that you feel safe, accepted and loved."
If you need help leaving your relationship, reaching out to a qualified therapist, and making sure you have a strong support system can help.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.
1. They're Disrespectful To People In Service Industries
You've likely heard it before, but when people are disrespectful of those in service industries, that's definitely not a good sign. Hershenson notes that if they're yelling at or otherwise disrespecting doormen, cab drivers, waitstaff, and the like, that could be an indication that there are some bullying tendencies there. Just because someone is waiting on you or serving you doesn't mean that you can treat them terribly.
2. They Make You Feel Like Your Ideas Aren't Good Enough
Hershenson also notes that if your partner makes you feel like your ideas aren't good enough or that you never have anything good or worthwhile to say, that too can be a sign that your partner is a bully. No one wants to feel like they're consistently falling short, whether it's because of your ideas or something else.
3. They Make You Feel Small
"Any behavior that makes you feel small in order to make them feel better about themselves could be a form of bullying, i.e. if you get a raise at work and you tell your partner about it, and they minimize it by saying 'oh, well you still don't make that much,' the inappropriate response to your accomplishments can be a form of bullying," Tcharkhoutian says. It's not OK for them to make you feel less-than for any reason.
Hershenson says that in these cases it's important to establish boundaries and vocalize them. "If they’re putting you down, telling them, ‘I will not tolerate this behavior,'" she explains. "And really setting, in your mind, what you want in a relationship with a person, whether it’s a friend or a partner, and what you don’t. And if this doesn’t go along with what you’re looking for, then you’re going to need to leave and move on."
4. They Point Out Where You're Letting Them Down
If your partner points out each and every way that they think that you're letting them down, that can also be a sign of bullying. Hershenson says things like questioning something like why dinner hasn't been made or why you weren't able to get to a household chore — and making demands that you do these things in the first place — aren't something that you should have to deal with in an equal relationship.
5. They Don't Respect That Other People Have Other Opinions Or Values
Differing opinions, values, expectations, and priorities are part of life. You're not going to agree on everything all the time. Hershenson notes that a partner (or friend) refusing to accept that others might feel differently than you do on some topics can be a subtle sign of bullying as well. Steam-rolling everyone else because you can't deal with anyone else having opinions isn't a good look and can, in some cases, inflict some damage.
6. They Make Comments About You Or Your Appearance
Negative comments about your appearance aren't OK. Hershenson says that if they note that something doesn't look good on you or compare you to how their ex looks, that can be a sign that they're a bully.
"It’s gonna be very important to set boundaries with the person, like, if they’re commenting on your body, tell them, ‘My body is my business. That is not appropriate,'" Hershenson adds. They have to know that that behavior is not acceptable.
7. They Do These Things In Front Of Other People
Tcharkhoutian says that if your partner does these things in public, in front of other people, that's concerning as well (not that it's not concerning when it's done in private). "[I] your partner does these things in front of others, it may be a way for them to feel like the 'better' one in the relationship," she says. It'll make you feel terrible, however, which is obviously problematic.
"If these behaviors become a pattern without your partner being open to hearing how they make you feel, this is a worrisome sign to the relationship," Tcharkhoutian says. "It may be that your partner's insecurity is so ingrained that breaking this habit may not come so easily. They may feel so badly about themselves that they are unable to quickly shift their behavior or piercing words. Their desire to feel big may consistently make you feel small, which will negatively affect your self esteem, happiness and mental health."
Being in a relationship with someone who bullies you isn't good for the relationship and isn't good for you. Although it may be challenging, if your partner does not listen to your efforts to communicate, it may be time to leave the relationship. Leaning on friends, loved ones, and possibly a therapist, can help you out of this toxic situation.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.