Psychological Aggression in a Relationship

Psychological aggression in a relationship affects both partners' mood and overall well-being. The problem is that it often manifests itself in a rather subtle way that isn’t easily recognized.
Psychological Aggression in a Relationship
Gema Sánchez Cuevas

Written and verified by the psychologist Gema Sánchez Cuevas.

Last update: 20 October, 2022

There are subtle boundaries in the emotional world. Furthermore, in all forms of love, especially romantic love, there are components of hostility and conflict. This is inevitable. However, sometimes, this hostility and conflict turn into psychological aggression. In fact, it often occurs without the couple even really noticing.

Psychological aggression in a relationship occurs in many ways. Some of them are barely perceptible. It can be camouflaged behind a joke or another seemingly reasonable remark. Sometimes, sarcastic comments and little digs may seem harmless. However, they could become a form of aggression in the long term.

Threatening and overbearing attitudes, along with subtly humiliating or offensive comments, take their toll. In fact, they tend to produce silent resentment or blame. In addition, these attitudes damage self-esteem and undermine confidence. However, as there are usually also elements of affection and passion in the relationship, the aggression tends to be ignored. Here are some of the ways in which it manifests itself.

“Violence is good for those who have nothing to lose.”

 -Jean-Paul Sartre-

A couple arguing.


Dominance refers to all types of behaviors that intend to intimidate. This includes explosive anger, shouting, lack of control, and anything that, in one way or another, produces fear in the other person.

Often, this kind of aggression is concealed under the pretext that the perpetrator has “a strong personality”. As a matter of fact, they sometimes even criticize their partner for their own lack of control. They say things like “If you hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have been so angry”.

Restrictive control

Restrictive control refers to the attempts of setting limits or conditions on a partner. The aggressor gets upset because their partner sees certain friends or does certain things. In fact, they often express their control by trying to make the partner feel guilty.

This type of aggression tends to hide behind words like “It’s for your own good” or “If you want things to work out, you have to do this”. In other words, the aggressor suggests they have the best interests of the relationship at heart. However, best intentions are borne out of respect, not control.

Hostile withdrawal

Hostile withdrawal involves evasive, elusive, and abandoning behavior. Sometimes, the partner expresses total indifference to the other’s feelings or needs. The aggressor ignores all the worries, pains, and triumphs.

This form of aggression also manifests itself in the form of attitudes of abandonment. The aggressor frustrates the expectations of the other. In addition, they don’t give their partner company and support when they need it. However, they support them at other times. This becomes confusing for the partner. In fact, it’s classified as a covert form of aggression.

A woman walking away from a man.


Denigration is the most obvious form of psychological aggression in a relationship. It basically means one partner pulls the other to pieces. They do this in many ways. Some comments might be quite direct like “What are you wearing? I’m ashamed to be out with you looking like that”.

At other times, there might be subtler comments like “Lucky you, you manage to talk absolute nonsense, and everyone laughs”. There’s no real difference between these two forms of aggression, as they have the same effect.

They’re destructive expressions that seek to hurt and embarrass the other. In fact, the aggressor makes their partner feel smaller to make themselves feel bigger.

Psychological aggression is never acceptable

Psychological aggression in a relationship leads to emotional distress. This manifests itself in vague sensations of discontentment, including feelings of despair, anger, and anxiety. However, there’s a sense of not really knowing where these feelings come from. Nevertheless, they still manage to negatively influence concentration, productivity, and social relationships. For this reason, psychological aggression in a relationship is never acceptable.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Pérez Martínez, V. T., & Hernández Marín, Y. (2009). La violencia psicológica de género, una forma encubierta de agresión. Revista Cubana de Medicina General Integral, 25(2), 0-0.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.