Guest blog- How to spot the signs of emotional abuse, Sara Davison

Sara Davison, best known as The Divorce Coach, made a name for herself when she launched the UK’s first ever Breakup Recovery Retreat, now dubbed as ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ which was also commissioned for a TV series with Sara starring as the expert. Sara has written a blog for us with tips on how to spot the signs of emotional abuse.

Emotional abuse can be very difficult to spot which is why is often goes misdiagnosed.  The important thing to understand is that it’s not a one-off incident; it’s a cumulation of incidents over a period of time and, quite often, you may not even be aware it’s happening to you. As isolated incidents they may seem, to the untrained eye, relatively minor - rationalised as the perpetrator having a bad day or the victim being over sensitive. This is why it’s so often hard to prove in a family court.  But when you stack all the incidents up together –that’s when you start to see what’s really going on and build a true picture of a client being ground down.

So many people don’t even know they are in an emotionally abusive relationship – they don't understand it for what it truly is. I have clients who have been in these relationships for years and think it’s normal – and that’s the human instinct; we normalise it as a way of coping. And that’s what allows the abuse to breed –because otherwise we’d have to make some big and uncomfortable decisions.

Many people think that abuse doesn’t happen to “people like them”. Some will think it is all their fault and believe they are difficult to live with. They simply don’t recognise they are in an abusive relationship themselves and some will be embarrassed about their situation so will find it hard to open up. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of the red flags.

Emotionally abusive relationships adversely impact a person's health and well-being and can be difficult to spot given toxicity is often wrapped up in flashes of romance and confusing behaviour. Some of the signs include:

  1. Walking on egg shells - Not being able to say what you really feel and worrying about your partner’s reaction before you speak. Heightened anxiety when your partner is around.
  2. Gaslighting - When situations or words are twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favour your partner, or false information is presented with the intent of making you doubt your own memory, perception, and sanity.
  3. Lies – When there is a history of lies or explanations that do not make sense to you. Distorting the truth beyond recognition and having a different version of the past than you do.
  4. Slow erosion of confidence  and self-esteem –  When you partner is belittling you, sowing seeds of doubt about your abilities and putting you down. I had a client whose partner used to call her ‘fatty bum-bum’, which was said in an endearing way but it’s unmistakeably a put-down and eroded away at her self-esteem. He’d give her backhanded compliments like “It’s great you can wear that dress with your arms. That’s what I love about you – you just don’t care.”
  5. Lack of personal freedom – You need to run everything past your partner and are not allowed the freedom to make your own decisions. This could include controlling what friends you spend time with, how you dress and even where you go.
  6. Increasing self-doubt – If you are starting not to trust your gut instinct and own ability to make good  decisions. You lose your confidence and become a shell of your former self. You may even start to doubt your own sanity.
  7. Withdrawal from friends and family – Becoming more isolated from those close to you and your partner is setting things up so you are more dependent on them.
  8. Living a double life behind closed doors –  The perception is that you are a happy, loving couple but the reality at  home is very different.
  9. Emotion, verbal and /or  physical abuse –  When your partner makes you feel less than and vulnerable, as well as being threatening and even violent towards you. This can also be sexual abuse – forcing you to have sex when you don’t feel like it or abstaining from sex to make you feel rejected.
  10. Financial control – If your partner  controls the amount of money you have access to or what you spend it on, whilst they can spend as they please without mentioning it to you. You may not have access to family financial information and be kept in the dark about money.

Leaving a toxic relationship requires a very careful and considered approach and specialist tactics to navigate the divorce process. It is a widely recognised fact that, for those in abusive relationships, the abuse does not stop when you leave your partner. In many cases, the abuse escalates once the controlling partner realises their spouse is pulling away and steps up their control in other areas –making the divorce process as difficult as possible by cutting off financial support, sending bullying and intimidating legal letters or by creating problems with the children and using them as pawns.

There are several good reasons to avoid going to family court. Going to court can be very expensive especially given an abusive ex will continue the gaslighting and confusing behaviour during the divorce process and this will hike up the costs.   Because there is no compulsory training for legal professionals, you may also find that nobody really understands what you are dealing with, which can negatively impact your case. There is no guarantee that you will get the result that you want.

There is also another cost that is not talked about enough and that is the emotional cost of going to court. The paperwork, the intimidating letters from the other side and the stress of the court process itself is all-consuming and takes a huge toll on your mental wellbeing.

 As well as family mediation services, there are so many incredible charities such as the DASH charity who I work with – as well as coaches who specialise in this area. I run a Master Practitioner Coach Training programme which offers dual accreditation from myself as well as The DASH Charity, a UK domestic abuse registered charity, educating people on what emotional abuse and also how to support people through it.  Above all, know that this is not your fault and it will not get better without taking action. But the good news is that you can get through this and come out the other side to be happy and confident. The key is to focus on one day at a time and reduce the overwhelm by taking small steps. You will be surprised at how far you can come in a few weeks.

CREDIT: For more information on 1-2-1 coaching, please visit or for Sara’s Master Practitioner Training programme, please visit:

 Sara Davison, best known as The Divorce Coach, made a name for herself when she launched the UK’s first ever Breakup Recovery Retreat, now dubbed as ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ which was also commissioned for a TV series with Sara starring as the expert.

In July last year, Sara launched the UK’s first ever specialist breakup recovery retreat; How to Divorce an Abusive Partner and Recover from a Toxic Relationship. Sara is a patron of registered UK domestic abuse charity, The Dash Charity, and works with individuals to empower those feeling helpless and overwhelmed with the critical tools they need to break free, so they can start their healing journey and redesign their lives.

Following the success of her Breakup & Divorce Coach Practitioner Accreditation Programme, creating created a global community coaching community of 180 Divorce Coaches spanning 13countries and five continents, Sara founded the International Divorce Coach Centre of Excellence in 2021 and works with family lawyers and mediators, as part of this, offering a Master Practitioner Coach Training programme on what emotional abuse is and how to support people through it –with dual accreditation from Sara as well as The Dash Charity.

Other Blog Posts

Christmas Anxiety and Children

How can separated parents ease anxiety for children at Christmas? What are the triggers?


Festive top tips for parenting over Christmas

Co-parenting during the holidays, especially Christmas, can be challenging for separated or divorced parents. Here are some top tips to help make the festive season easier for everyone involved:


How will assets I have inherited be treated when I divorce? 

What happens to inherited assets when a married couple divorce? Can they be protected? Will they be shared?


How can separated parents manage Christmas Gifts?

The gifts separated parents buy for children can cause disputes. How can this be avoided? What tips are there to help?


Are Pre-nuptial Agreements binding in England and Wales?

Is it worth having a pre-marital agreement and what impact will it have?


Does common law marriage exist?

What legal protection is there for unmarried couples who separate?

View all Blogs