Abuse can happen to anyone in a relationship, yet the problem is frequently ignored, overlooked, or denied. Many victims of abuse hesitate to seek help because they feel as though the abuse is their fault or fear retaliation from their abuser. There are many signs that a relationship may be abusive.
An abusive partner often expresses extreme jealousy towards the other partner's social life, according to the Lindsay Ann Burke Memorial Fund. An abusive partner may interrogate you about your social activities, accuse you of cheating, or show up unexpectedly at your place of work, school, or other outside events. He or she may call you frequently while you are away, or may try to forbid you from going to work, school, or social events entirely out of fear that you may meet someone else. Often, an abuser insists that the jealous behavior is actually a sign of love.
According to the Mental Health Continuing Education series, controlling behavior is a large red flag of an abusive relationship. A controlling abuser may seem to fall in love very quickly, wanting to spend all of his or her time with you and wanting you to do the same. He or she may start talking about commitment or marriage very quickly and may refer to you as the best thing that has ever happened to him or her. However, this behavior may quickly spiral out of control. The controlling abuser may begin screening your phone calls, refusing to let you attend social or other events, and may become emotionally or physically violent if you attempt to re-assert your right to your personal space. He or she will attempt to cut you off from your family, friends, and anyone else you might rely on for help. In extreme cases, a controlling abuser may install surveillance cameras or tracking devices in your home or car to monitor your movements.
Belittling or Blaming
Abusers frequently belittle or blame their partners, according to the Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness. An abuser may criticize your appearance, your manners, skills, or intelligence. He or she may correct you constantly, lecturing you for "mistakes" you do not remember making. You may feel as though you are constantly walking on eggshells, not knowing what you might do next that will cause an argument or a lecture. In addition, an abuser may blame you for everything, including his or her own misbehavior. For instance, an abuser may spend an entire date with you sulking, shouting at waitresses, and driving recklessly, and may blame the behavior on you having arrived 10 minutes late. Often, abuse victims hesitate to seek help because the constant belittling and blaming makes them question their own responsibility and even their sanity. Keeping you constantly uncertain of yourself is a classic tactic of an abuser.
A clear warning sign of an abusive relationship is violent behavior, according to the Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness. An abuser may take out his anger by punching, hitting, or kicking. Such abusers generally do not begin relationships by hitting their partners - instead, they may hit walls, furniture, or pets. Violence in abusive relationships may also manifest itself during sex. Your partner may throw or hold you down during sex or may pressure you into having sex when you are tired, ill, or simply do not want to. Finally, even if a partner is not currently being violent, a past history of battering is a warning sign. Past abusers will frequently admit to having hit previous partners, but will insist that the other person made them do it or somehow deserved the abuse.
According to the Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness, abusive episodes often happen in cycles. An abuser will "blow up," then apologize, insist that he or she knows such behavior is wrong, and promise to change. These promises come during the "honeymoon" phase of the cycle. The honeymoon phase then fades into the "tension-building" phase, in which the atmosphere becomes increasingly tense, often with increasing episodes of belittling or small outbursts by the abuser. Finally, the abuser "blows up" again, whether physically, verbally, or both, and the cycle repeats. The cycle makes it difficult for abused partners to leave the relationship because the promise that the abuser has seen the light and will change often leaves the other partner believing that this time will be different. When it is not different, the abused partner often feels as though the failure was his or her fault - a feeling abusers work hard to promote.