Early Warning Signs of an Abusive Relationship

October is well known as Breast Cancer Awareness month, but did you know that it is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month? 

As a service provider for women who struggle with relationships, I believe it is very important to shed some light on the topic. Although I do not directly work with women who are actively involved in violent relationships, not talking about it would be a disservice to my population. 

When most people hear “domestic violence,” they think hitting, pushing, choking, and black eyes, but there are a number of other ways in which people can be abusive in relationships, including emotional/verbal (using words to manipulate you or make you feel small), sexual (forcing sex when you do not want to, or sex acts that you do not agree to), financial/economic (keeping all of your paychecks, limiting your access to money, other power tactics to keep you down financially), isolation (prohibiting you from seeing friends and family, not allowing you to work, getting jealous when you are out and about), threats (saying things like, “If you do this again I will have to hit you,” or threatening to cut off your ties with your children or other family members), denying/minimizing/blaming (not accepting accountability for their actions and blaming you as the cause, telling you that you must have imagined the giant fight you had last night), and using the children (getting the children to team up against you and side with the abuser, threatening to take away the children if you leave). 

Statistics show that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men are victims of some form of domestic violence (and remember, those stats are only for REPORTED cases—many more cases go unreported). Teen dating violence is also on the rise. It is reported that females between the ages of 16 and 24 experience intimate partner violence at 3 times the national average. 

If abuse isn’t just physical, what else does it look like? What are the early signs?

DV also looks like: constant criticism, name calling, put-downs, mind games, preventing partner from getting a job or going out with friends, keeping partner’s money, controlling where partner goes and what partner does, using looks/actions/gestures to instill fear, forcing partner to have sex when partner does not want to, or even forcing partner to engage in sex acts partner does not want to do. For more information, check out the “Power and Control” Wheel (for the flip side of that, check out the the "Equality" Wheel), developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project. 

Early warning signs look like: 

Partner is angry or resentful. Early on that anger and resentment may not be directed towards you, but eventually, you as the person closest to him will end up being the receiver of the anger and resentment. 

Partner always blames others for his own problems. The warning sign here is that the partner will always shift blame onto another person and not take any accountability for their own actions.

Partner plays the victim role. This one is more subtle to notice, but can be picked up in the stories that the partner tells. The trend you might start to notice is that others are always against him, or that things never go his way. 

Partner is entitled and feels superior to others. This also comes out in the stories that he tells and the way that he portrays himself. If everyone else is always “Stupid” or he is “Better than” them, that is a sign that he feels entitled and superior to others. 

A good example of the first four warning signs combined looks like this: You and your date are out to dinner and he gets incredibly angry when the waiter lets him know that substitutions are not allowed on the menu items. Your date yells at the waiter then calls him a “Stupid idiot who can’t get a real job and that’s why he’s wait staff at a restaurant.” He then proceeds to whine about, “Why does it always have to be so difficult. Why can’t things just go my way?” If you see this type of interaction at a dinner date you are on, run in the other direction.

Partner is petty and uses sarcasm, especially as a way to manipulate. Some sarcasm can be fun and light hearted and can keep things interesting. But there is a line that sarcasm crosses into dangerous territory, so be mindful of how he uses his sarcasm.

Partner is deceitful, meaning, he doesn’t always share the whole truths. He might not always completely tell lies, but he might not tell the whole story either. He might omit details, or the stories he tells don’t quite add up when you think of them logically.

Partner wants to move the relationship very quickly. Most people who end up in relationships with domestic violence knew the partner less than 6 months before moving in together. The reason is the partners who are the abusers are very good at portraying a fantasy fairytale, too good to be true, Cinderella type romance. This is all a part of their ploy: Get you, trap you, and then abuse you and make you feel small, like you deserve the abuse and that you cannot leave or do any better. They are all psychological mind games. 

One more statistic: 1 in 3 women who is murdered in the US is killed by a current or former partner. 

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, get help. 

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is: 1-800-799-7233. The Next Door Domestic Violence Hotline in Santa Clara County is 408-279-2962. 


If you struggle to be successful in relationships, contact us today for your free initial consultation.