Identifying the Signs of an Abusive Relationship

Feb 7, 2013

woman in cornerDomestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, marital status or education level. Domestic abuse occurs when one person in an intimate relationship tries to dominate or control the other person, either by physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological means.

Why Don’t You Leave?

To those on the outside, it can seem very simple. If someone you love hits you, you need to get up and leave. But the real answer is much more complicated. People experiencing domestic violence or abuse are often isolated because they feel ashamed, scared and reluctant or embarrassed to ask for help. There are many reasons why an abused person doesn’t leave:

  • Denial of the reality of the problem
  • Hope that their partner will stop
  • Shame and embarrassment
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Guilt
  • Financial reasons
  • Fear
  • Children
  • Spiritual or religious reasons
  • Traumatic bonding with their abuser

Domestic abuse often escalates from verbal threats to actual physical violence and while the physical injuries may be the most outwardly obvious signs, the emotional consequences of living in an abusive relationship can be far more paralyzing. An emotionally abusive relationship can destroy your self-esteem, your self-worth and lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, helplessness and hopelessness. The first step, and often the hardest step, is recognizing that there is a problem. Once that realization takes place, you can begin the process of getting help.

Signs of An Abusive Relationship

There are many signs of an abusive relationship but the first and foremost sign is if you are afraid of your partner. If you feel that you have to constantly walk on eggshells around your partner, if you are constantly afraid of their temper, that they will unexpectedly blow up at something you say or do, it is likely that you are in an unhealthy relationship. In a healthy relationship, your partner does not belittle you, make you feel small or inferior and use words that hurt. In trying to decide if you are in an abusive relationship, please ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I afraid of my partner most of the time?
  • Do I avoid certain conversation topics because I know it might set my partner off?
  • Do I feel that I can never do anything right?
  • Does my partner use words that hurt and humiliate me?
  • Does my partner get angry when I make plans that don’t include them?
  • Does my partner threaten me – by taking my children away, by saying he’ll hurt or kill me, by threatening to commit suicide if I leave?
  • Does my partner force me to have sex with them?
  • Does my partner keep me from seeing friends or family?
  • Does my partner blame me for their anger?

The more questions you answer yes to, the more likely it is that you are in an unhealthy, abusive relationship. One of the most important things to remember is that despite what many people think, domestic violence is not due to the abuser’s loss of control in anger. It is, in fact, a deliberate choice made by the abuser to control you. Often, the abuser will pick and choose who to abuse. People often justify staying with their partner by examining their behavior in other situations, like at family gatherings or community functions. They rarely lash out in public and are often seen by the others as friendly and respected members of the community. They are able to stop their abusive behavior when it suits them.

If you are being abused, please remember that you are not to blame for being hit or mistreated. You are not the cause of your partner’s abusive behavior and you and your children deserve to be treated with respect. You are not alone. Even if the risks of leaving an abusive relationship are great, the risk of staying can far outweigh the risk of leaving. There are many resources available for battered women and children, including hotlines, shelters, legal services, childcare and even job training. You deserve to live free of fear. Please start by reaching out for help.


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