Emotional abuse hinges on threatening to do things rather than actually doing them. So, while a physically abusive man will actually hit, squeeze or otherwise assault his partner, an emotionally abusive man may just threaten to do these things. What's more, he may threaten take children away, tell secrets or engage in other emotionally manipulative behavior. Emotional abusers control their partners through threats of actions rather than the actual actions themselves.
Consistently Chipping Away
Emotionally abusive men do things consistently. Rather than destroy his partner's self-esteem all at once, an emotionally abusive man will chip away at it until his partner forgets what it was like to have self-esteem in the first place, as she will have nothing to compare it to. He does this by constantly saying and doing little things such as telling his partner that nobody else could ever love her, criticizing her and otherwise needling at her in little ways that, when combined, destroy her self-esteem over time.
Emotionally abusive men also control their partners to isolate them from their families, communities and other social networks. A key example of this is controlling finances. By making his partner explain every dollar she spends, an emotionally abusive man forces her into spending money on things he approves of, which will not likely include coffees with girlfriends or trips to see her family. An emotionally abusive man will also make his partner account for communication with other people, often demanding to see text messages and read emails before she does.
An emotionally abusive man will try to make his partner completely dependent on him. He will do this by sabotaging the things she has in her life that are not related to him, such as her job and other relationships. He may give her false information about things her friends said about her to solidify his hold on her and eliminate friends from her life. He also may do things to cause her to lose her job, which cuts her off from day-to-day contact with other people and makes her both financially and emotionally dependent on him. These consistent, calculated efforts to make a partner solely interact with him define an emotional abuser.