Signs Of An Abusive Relationship

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18 Signs of an Abusive Relationship (Early, Emotional & Mental)

Hunt Ethridge

Written by: Hunt Ethridge

Hunt Ethridge

Hunt Ethridge is the co-founder and CMO of the as well as senior advisor and board of directors at other firms.

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Edited by: Lillian Castro

Lillian Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro brings more than 30 years of journalism experience to ensure DatingAdvice articles have been edited for overall clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement. She has worked at The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, The Gwinnett Daily News, and The Gainesville Sun covering lifestyle topics.

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Most of us have watched scenes of domestic abuse on TV and in movies. Often there’s screaming, throwing things, punching walls, slapping, etc. However, most abuse isn’t this upfront, and there are many different types of abuse.

According to the CDC, 48% of people have suffered emotional and verbal abuse in a relationship. In this article, I’ll take you through the different signs of an abusive relationship.

Early | Emotional | Physical | Mental | Verbal | Financial | FAQs

Early Signs of Abuse (#1-3)

It can be hard sometimes to identify the early signs of abuse. We’ve all lost our cool or said things we regret. But how do you know if it could lead to more? A great quote I heard recently is “If you’re looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, red flags just look like flags.” So it can be hard to see things through our emotions, especially at the beginning. But here are a few things to look out for.

1. They Treat Others Badly

How they treat others is the best preview of future actions. Do they have road rage? Do they yell at and demean waiters? Are they mean to animals?

2. They Think They’re Above Everyone Else

Many abusers feel that they’re above social norms. They may put others down to bring themselves up.

Photo of a cocky man

Abusers often think rules don’t apply to them.

They may feel entitled or that regular rules don’t apply to them. It could be that they’re very sensitive to criticism and want to get payback for perceived slights.

3. They Make Your Feel Bad About Yourself

Trust your gut. Relationships should feel good. There are always ups and downs, but there shouldn’t be a power imbalance. If you’re constantly walking on eggshells or can never seem to please them, it could be an early warning sign.

Signs of Emotional Abuse (#4-6)

Emotional abuse can start so slowly that you don’t even realize it is happening until it gets so bad that you don’t know what to do about it. It can make you start to question your own emotions.

4. They Use Derogatory Pet Names

Pet names are supposed to be cute like “honey” or “sweetheart.” They’re not supposed to make you feel bad about yourself. No one should be referred to as “My Own Forrest Gump,” a “Chubby Pumpkin,” or “Minimus Dickus.”

5. Every Argument Dredges Up Old Issues

Every couple fights. My last, very small fight was about the correct way to cut a sandwich in half. But you need to fight fair.

Photo of a couple arguing

During fights, sometimes abusers try to bring up old relationship issues to distract from the topic at hand. Try to keep the conversation in the moment.

You should only argue about the issue at hand. Abusers will try to bring up old issues to deflect the argument away from them and what’s going on at the moment. Try to stay on topic.

6. They Shut Down or Leave During Arguments

I actually hear about this situation a lot. One party will simply get up and leave the room/car/house to escape the argument. I understand that sometimes we need to step away and clear our heads. But saying “This conversation is over” or simply walking out completely delegitimizes your partner’s feelings and is honestly a very childish thing to do. We are adults; we need to be able to talk about tough things.

Signs of Physical Abuse (#7-9)

Physical abuse is what most people associate with abuse, in general. Hurting each other is so far beyond the pale that I’m not even going to use that as an example. That should be evident. All unwanted physical contact is a form of abuse, but there are other types of physical abuse as well.

7. They Physically Isolate or Separate You From Friends and Family

Abusers don’t want anyone else being able to help or influence their partners. They may try and ban you from seeing other friends, many times of the opposite sex. It could be about forbidding you to see your family or even actively turning them against you or you against them. Maybe they want to move to another town away from everything you know or try and deny you getting your driver’s license.

8. They Break or Hit Things

If someone can’t control their emotions to such a degree that the only way to alleviate them is to hit or break things, this is a huge red flag. No one starts by hitting their significant other. Otherwise, that person would be out in a heartbeat. Physical abuse starts incrementally.

Photo of a woman hitting a wall

If someone can’t control their emotions and uses violence against inanimate objects to release their feelings, that’s a bad sign.

First, it’s throwing or breaking things, then threatening, then shoving, then, well, worse. Don’t buy into those emotional rollercoaster relationships that you may see in movies that start with breaking plates and end with hot sex. Breaking shit isn’t OK.

I remember listening in shock to a woman telling me (while laughing) about how she threw a full glass of red wine up against the wall next to her man because he talked to another woman. “I mean, that’ll show him, right?!” 😮

9. They Use or Deny Sex and Intimacy as a Form of Control

Love, both physical and emotional, shouldn’t be contingent on acting appropriately or well-behaved. If someone is trying to withhold sex to get you to comply with their wishes, that’s not OK. When you try and hug or snuggle and they respond with “Not until you apologize,” your feelings are being manipulated. Likewise, forcing, blackmailing, or berating someone into physical intimacy is an abuse bordering on rape.

Signs of Mental Abuse (#10-12)

Mental abuse can be the most insidious type of abuse as it makes you question your own mind, memories, and emotions, which is exactly what the perpetrator wants.

10. They Say “I’m Just Joking!”

I really hate this phrase. It’s also in the same vein as “It’s just a prank, bro!” The person will say something mean or hurtful. If they get any pushback or anyone questions their motives, they brush it off by saying it’s just a joke. Then they may comment that you don’t know how to take a joke.

Photo of a man laughing

Abusers often hide their abuse by saying they’re joking and that “You can’t take a joke.”

Winston Churchill said, “A joke is a very serious thing.” Jokes are meant to make you laugh. If someone is trying this to hurt, get out.

11. They Gaslight You

Gaslighting is a psychological ploy to make others question their sanity and memories. If you remember a situation going X, Y, Z, a gaslighter will tell you that you’re crazy, and in fact, it went Z, Y, X. If a lie is repeated often enough, people start to believe it. Case in point: Our President’s latest comments after his intelligence agencies’ Senate testimonies.

12. They Feign Helplessness

Abusers want you to feel like you need them and that you would be incapable of existing without them. “Oh, you know you can’t fix anything in the house. You’re too clumsy. You need me for that.”

Signs of Verbal Abuse (#13-15)

Shouting and yelling are the easiest signs to spot, but there are many more.

13. They Insult You or Humiliate You

They especially do this in front of your friends and colleagues. They keep trying to take you down a notch. If you tell a story and your partner contradicts you and tells you that you’re wrong, take note. Also, try to avoid name calling when fighting.

14. They Belittle You

Or they minimize your accomplishments and repeatedly tell you that you’re worthless or a failure.

Photo of a man yelling at a woman

Abusers will try to minimize what you’ve accomplished, so you feel like all you have is them.

Similar to the warning sign above, any time you accomplish something, the abuser may feel that it in some way takes away from them. So, they try to minimize anything good in your life.

15. They Intimidate You With Threats to Others, Including Themselves

These threats can be anything from “If you keep this up, I’m just going to pack my bags and move back with my family” to “If you leave me, I swear that I will kill myself.”

Signs of Financial Abuse (#16-18)

While not as straightforward as other types of abuse, financial abuse can be just as limiting and can keep you from feeling like you have an option of leaving.

16. They Interfere With Your Job

Examples of interfering with your job can be pressuring you to quit, telling you where you can and cannot work, making last-minute changes to child care, or showing up and harassing you at work.

17. They Disregard Financial Limits or Rules

If you make a budget or agree to certain spending limits, both sides need to follow what’s been laid out.

Photo of a man counting money

If he or she controls all the money in the relationship, that can be a big problem.

This can easily spiral into credit card debt, lying, and hiding expenditures.

18. They Control the Money

No one should be in the dark about their finances. Sure, one person can handle it if they want, but both sides should be able to have money, see the finances, know where money is going, and what sort of debt the family or couple have.

Who Can I Turn to If I’m Being Abused?

The National Domestic Abuse Hotline,, Loveisrespect, and RAINN have a number of links and phone numbers with information for people suffering in abusive relationships, including resources specifically for LGBTQ issues.

  • The National Domestic Abuse Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
  • The Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women: 1-888-743-5754
  • Loveisrespect: 1-866-331-9474

Why Do People Abuse Their Partners?

According to the National Domestic Abuse Hotline: “Domestic violence and abuse stem from a desire to gain and maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Abusive people believe that they have the right to control and restrict their partners, and they may enjoy the feeling that exerting power gives them. They often believe that their own feelings and needs should be the priority in their relationships, so they use abusive tactics to dismantle equality and make their partners feel less valuable and deserving of respect in the relationship.”

Are Men or Women More Likely to Be Abused/the Abuser?

Here are numerous statistics from the National Domestic Abuse Hotline that delve deeper into abuse and gender:

  • On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the U.S. — more than 12 million women and men over the course of a year.
  • Nearly 3 in 10 women and 1 in 10 men in the U.S. have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by a partner.
  • Nearly 15% of women and 4% of men have been injured as a result of intimate partner violence that included rape, physical violence, and/or stalking in their lifetime.
  • 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men aged 18 and older in the U.S. have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

Photo of a couple arguing

Both men and women can be abusers, but statistics show that women are generally more likely to experience partner violence.

  • IPV alone affects more than 12 million people each year.
  • More than 1 in 3 women and more than 1 in 4 men in the U.S. have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • Nearly half of all women and men in the U.S. have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime (48.4% and 48.8%, respectively).
  • Females ages 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 generally experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence.
  • From 1994 to 2010, about 4 in 5 victims of intimate partner violence were female.
  • Most female victims of intimate partner violence were previously victimized by the same offender, including 77% of females ages 18 to 24, 76% of females ages 25 to 34, and 81% of females ages 35 to 49.

How Can I Help Family/Friends Who are in Abusive Relationships?

Sometimes it can seem like you can’t help someone, especially if they don’t realize they’re in an abusive relationship. But the best ways to help them are simple.

Be there for them, and let them know you’ll continue to be there for them. Listen to them, and try not to tell them what to do. Be supportive, and suggest they talk to someone. Offer to go with them if they want. Reach out. If you think something is wrong, ask them if there’s anything they want to talk about.

Photo of friends supporting each other

One of the best things you can do for someone who may be in an abusive relationship is to listen to them and be there for them.

Believe them. The fear of the abused is that no one will believe them, and, in fact, their abuser may tell them that directly. Check in with them. Just continue to let them know you are there.

There are Signs, and There are Solutions

Abuse is always a tinged topic and invites a lot of high emotions. We need to be better at not blaming the victim and not minimizing the abuse. I know a lot of men especially won’t report abuse for fear of being shamed, made fun of, disbelieved, or emasculated. I was raped by a woman in college, and, while I wasn’t overly affected by it, I was laughed at and even congratulated for it. At the end of the day, just try and be there for anyone you think may need support. If you’re the one who needs support, please reach out to the resources in this article.

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