This is the second in a six-part series on emotionally abusive relationships.

“Am I in an emotionally abusive relationship?”

Chances are, if you’re asking yourself this question, it’s the first sign that you are. The moment that initial doubt creeps into your mind, that’s when you should start to ask yourself a few more questions, because emotional abuse is a slippery slope. It tends to get worse over time, can turn physical at any moment – even years into the relationship – and, when coupled with progressively more controlling-isolating-coercive-threatening behavior, it can become a lethality risk.

Here are some starter questions to ask yourself to get a clearer sense of who and what you’re dealing with:

How do you feel after spending time with your partner? Happy? Comforted? Lifted up? Energized? Peaceful? Content? Loved? Respected? Safe?

Or worried? Confused? Let down? Put down? Depressed? Anxious? Insecure? Walking on eggshells? Afraid? Less confident? Less happy? Less free?

Do you share power in the relationship? Do you take turns? Is it give-and-take – or are you doing all the giving?

Your gut instinct is one of the most powerful indicators that something is off here. Over time, you can lose touch with that inner voice – it can be drowned out by the silver tongue, smooth talk and convincing lies of a charming, covert abuser. So, if your inner voice is still loud enough to get you to pay attention, please listen! – and know that you are on borrowed time.

Because the longer you spend with a covert abuser, the softer and weaker your own inner voice becomes, until it is drowned out altogether by his. There will be an urge to minimize; to forgive, forget and try again; to drift back into denial – and then another year will go by and there will be less and less of who you once were, and more and more of who you need to be now to please him and keep the peace.

Except it will always be an uneasy peace, inevitably broken by something you say, some mistake you make, because nothing short of perfection will ever fully please him. And because life is not perfect, because you’re not perfect, he will eventually always find something to find fault with. The higher you jump, the higher he will raise the bar. That often goes for the children, too.

So exhausting, so depleting, so demoralizing, so dehumanizing to live like this.

Part 3 in the series will focus on why it’s important to recognize if you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship.

Ruthven Darlene, M.A, is founder and executive director of WomenSV, a local nonprofit that in the past 10 years has served more than 1,000 survivors of coercive control and covert abuse. For more information, call (833) 966-3678 or visit womensv.org.