I believe that education is one of the key ways to reduce the numbers of people getting involved in and remaining in abusive relationships so here are a few things that should set alarm bells going:
- A clear sign of an abusive relationship is physical violence, including pushing, barging, throwing things at a partner, as well as hitting, kicking, strangling etc
- An abuser is always right about everything no matter how absurd
- An abuser is unlikely to take any responsibility for his actions (except if there is something to gain by appearing to do so), blaming other people or factors instead
- Abusers may lie about themselves or their past either for sympathy or to claim a trait they hold highly. The truth may take a long time to unravel, but you may find that they contradict themselves on key details of important life events
- Abuse is often manifested, particularly initially, as verbal abuse – name calling and saying very hurtful mean things
- At the start of an abusive relationship the victim may be told that she is the perfect woman and so much better than his exes. These past partners may be called needy and weak, and he may say they are stalking him or still want him back*
- Abusers often want to progress in the relationship quite quickly, perhaps under the cover of having finally found the perfect partner. They may want to rush to move in together or get married.
- Jealousy is often a feature in abusive relationships
- jealousy of your relationships including friends, work colleagues, and random others you may come across,
- jealousy of your hobbies and interests because they take your time and attention away from him or your relationship,
- jealousy of the time and attention given to your children, or other family members
- Abusers may try to isolate their partner. This could be by stopping her from working or socialising with friends and family, restricting hobbies or wanting to do all hobbies as a couple, being rude to friends so they don’t feel comfortable around him, agreeing to attend things and then cancelling or starting an argument at the last minute.
- Abusers may take things away – like restricting access to the telephone or internet, or taking back engagement rings or other gifts
- Abusers may exhibit threatening behaviour (with or without physical violence). For example, saying “sit down by the time I count to five”, “you don’t want to make me angry”
- Abusers may sulk to get their own way
- Abusers can often try to change their partner’s style (dress sense, hair, etc). This could be to make the partner look as unattractive as possible to others, or it could be to make the partner look quite a trophy on their arm.
- Abusers often destroy things – usually things that belong to or are dear to their partner.
- Abusers may undermine their partner and their achievements
- Always wanting to be in contact with you – calls, texts, emails,
- Abusers are often not only very careful about treating their partner better publicly than they do privately, they are also often very particular about keeping up appearances and generating a public perception in general
- A distinct double standard in the relationship so that for example, he can have female friends, but you cannot have male friends… he can spend money on a whim but you have to justify every purchase… he can go out after work but you have to come straight home or get permission first… you have to answer his calls or texts immediately, but he can ignore you indefinitely if he feels like it
- The abuser may try to exert financial control regardless of who is the higher earner. This can be manifested overtly (enforcing control over the household budget and giving the partner an allowance) or be more subtle (querying and criticising purchases)
- Abusers may have particularly traditional views about the role of a woman and wife, with strong views on the ‘perfect woman’ is*. They may believe that women are created to be in relationships and should be dependant and subservient to men.
- Similarly, an abuser may claim that he knows how to be the perfect man and partner (so is unlikely to accept that any problems in the relationship are his fault)
- Victims of abuse may feel they have no say or choice in terms of sex and may be raped by the abuser
- Infidelity is often a feature in abusive relationship*
- Finally, an abuser may admit to being abusive in past relationships, perhaps in the context of what happens when people push or disrespect him, or with the intent of making himself appear superior in some way, or perhaps with no excuse or explanation
* these are particularly present in abusers with narcissistic traits (see review for the book Narcissistic Lovers)
Note: While physical violence is a clear indicator of an abusive relationship sometimes victims can explain it away, telling themselves it is not abuse but rather a one off, even if it has happened repeatedly. Victims of abuse can have a hard time acknowledging that they are in fact experiencing abuse, even when it is physical. This may be hard to fathom by people on the outside looking in.