Warning Signs of an Abusive Relationship | Domestic Abuse

Domestic Abuse

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Abuse And Violence In Relationships

1 in 3 Women and 1 in 4 Men living in the United States have experienced some form of violent behavior from their partner, whilst in intimate relationships, so if you are in an abusive relationship, you are not alone.

While physical abuse is the most obvious and well known form of domestic abuse, it also takes many other forms, which can leave people unsure if they are experiencing a form of abuse or not.

In this article, we will share the key warning signs of an abusive relationship and red flags, to help you understand whether or not you have an abusive partner, and the best way you can put a safety plan in place for yourself.  

An abusive relationship is not a sign of love.

What is Domestic Abuse?

Domestic abuse can start when one person in the relationship feels like they are entitled to gain power and total control over the other person, so they utilize one or many types of abuse to achieve dominance.

Anyone could potentially experience domestic abuse or find themselves in an abusive situation, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, background, level of intelligence, culture, religion or lifestyle. 

Statistically, women are more commonly victims of abuse, while male victims make up approximately 24% of those in abusive relationships. 

Not every abusive relationship is within intimate partner relationships. A business partner, caregiver or  family member are also capable of displaying many of the same abusive traits as a partner. 

It is important to point out that domestic abuse is never acceptable – everybody has the right to feel safe and treated equally within a relationship.

Warning Signs Of an Abusive Relationship

There are a number of warning signs when it comes to an abusive relationship.

If you are constantly tense around your partner, wondering when the next insult, verbal, physical or emotional attack will take place, there is every chance you are in an abusive relationship.  

It’s less common for domestic abuse to take place at the beginning of a relationship but over time, a certain pattern of behavior will start to present itself, until you eventually realize that a cycle of abuse is taking place and the abusive behavior has become common practice

Here are some of the main signs of abuse:

Name Calling

Outright use of horrible names, calling you an ‘idiot’ or ‘ugly’. Some pet names can also be derogatory, for example,  ‘my fat little Princess’, is still classed as a form of abuse. 

Character Assassination

Destroying your self-worth through attacks on your character, saying things like ‘Why are you always so rude / late / annoying?’


Raised voices and shouting will be used by an abuser to intimidate you, making you feel inadequate and frightened. 

Public Shaming

Waiting until you are in front of friends or family to embarrass and belittle you, sharing your secrets or using you as the focus of their jokes. 

Insulting Your Looks / Appearance

Telling you that you have ‘too much’ makeup on, or your clothes look stupid, often when you have put a lot of effort into getting ready, or you’re going somewhere important. 

Lack of Trust and Jealousy

Constantly questioning your behavior and interrogating you over seemingly small things, like a trip to the store, taking your car to the garage and other similar situations

This is likely to involve going through your phone or computer, listening to your telephone calls and accusing you of things you haven’t done.

Threatening Behavior 

Threatening physical violence if  you ‘step out of line’ or don’t do as you have been told. Threats can either be loud and aggressive or sometimes delivered in a polite and calm way. This is still threatening behavior and should not be tolerated. 

Cutting You off From Friends and Family

Telling your family and friends you aren’t available for events and even making you feel guilty for wanting to spend time with them instead of your abuser. Over time, their aim is to keep you under their full control, away from others who may notice their behavior.

Financial Control 

Not giving you access to bank accounts and needing to ask for money, making you account for everything you spend and being ‘told off’ when you do spend money.

Giving you Orders

Go and get me some food’ or ‘Stop wearing your hair like that’, could be examples of direct orders  that an abuser would expect to be followed. 


It’s not uncommon for an abuser to deny arguments have taken place, or how bad their behavior has been, maybe just putting it down to a bad day, or making you feel like you are exaggerating. 

Physical Assault 

This can range from pulling you across a room, to more severe physical violence, resulting in bruises and broken bones. Anything that threatens your physical health is a form of physical abuse.


A common tactic for an abuser will be to make out that something is ‘All your fault’, turning the tables on you and even accusing you of the reason they behave this way.


Demanding that you only behave a certain way or stopping you from socializing. Sometimes even begging and pleading with you, feigning weakness and upset to control your behavior and actions. 

Warning signs of an abusive relationship
Warning Signs of an Abusive Relationship

Types of Domestic Abuse

It’s common for people to think that acts of physical violence are the only form of domestic abuse, but in reality, an abusive relationship can take a number of different forms and it’s important that you identify what these are:

1. Domestic violence / Physical Abuse

Also referred to as intimate partner violence, a violent relationship tends to start with verbal abuse and threats, until it eventually results in physical assaults

Any physical force that injures or endangers you, causing physical harm, is physical abuse.

Physical violence can range from anything, from black eyes to broken bones, and it’s important to realize that lesser physical injury doesn’t make the abuse any more acceptable – physical abuse does not need to result in medical care to be classed as domestic abuse. 

At no point is it acceptable for anyone to receive physical injuries from another individual, and even less so, by one who is claiming to be in a close relationship with you. 

2. Sexual Abuse 

It can be confusing for victims of sexual assaults within a close relationship, to identify boundaries of which sexual activity is acceptable and which is sexual abuse

Any form of unwanted sexual advances is a form of sexual assaults, this could be done by using guilt, physical force, or shaming in order to have sex, or perform a sexual activity against your will. 

Sexual violence is a form of relationship violence and non-consensual sex is classed as rape, regardless of whether you share a close relationship with the other person or not. 

Sexual abuse is at a higher risk of eventually resulting in violent attacks, serious injuries or death. 

3. Verbal Abuse 

If your partner is constantly using words in order to scare, control or belittle you, this is considered as verbal abuse

It’s common practice that the abuser tries to make you feel like it’s your fault, this is not the case, but is actually one of the biggest signs of insecurity in abusers. 

The abuser will accuse you of things you aren’t doing, (usually due to jealousy and a lack of trust), manipulate, degrade and criticize you. This could be in private, or in front of friends and family. 

Arguments in a healthy relationship are not uncommon, but verbal abuse is a far more impactful issue within relationships.

Here are some red flags to help you understand if the comments and arguments are abusive:

  • Happens very regularly 
  • Arguments are not around genuine issues, but instead ‘made up’ 
  • Your point of view is never relevant 
  • There is no compromise or agreement found
  • The abuser will always ‘win’ and dominate every argument 
  • Abuser often yells and screams
  • You have not started the argument, but are blamed for it
  • They will act as the victim and make you feel guilty (Example –  ‘You’ve made me shout at you; how do you think that makes me feel?’)
  • They lash out and hit walls, or pound their fists
  • You are made to feel grateful for not being hit or physically abused 

4. Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse can take a few different forms and is often harder to spot or identify as abuse.

If you are a victim of psychological abuse, it is easy to miss the constant thread of control, fear and manipulation that you are treated with, and you have probably found yourself trying to excuse their behavior: 

  • ‘Is it my fault?’
  • ‘Maybe I deserved it this time.’
  • ‘They have been stressed recently, maybe that’s why.’

Isolating you from your friends and family as much as possible is another key sign of emotional abuse. 

All of this emotional abuse starts to damage your self-worth, confidence and independence, making you feel as though you couldn’t survive without your abusive partner, because no one else could possibly want you.

No matter what the circumstances are, or who the individual is, emotional and psychological abuse is not your fault and you do not deserve it.

5. Financial Abuse

Also referred to as economic abuse, this is a very real, and damaging type of abusive relationship.

Your abuser will closely control your finances, withholding any cash or credit cards so that you cannot spend freely, or giving you an allowance and making you account for every penny spent.

This could be to control your movements and damage your daily life, by making you late for work, meetings, or social events, giving them complete control of your actions through money. 

In severe cases, you could be denied money to access basic human rights, such as food, medication or shelter. 

Cycle of Abuse / Control Wheel

Cycle of Abuse
Warning Signs of an Abusive Relationship - The Cycle of Abuse

Victims of domestic violence and those living in abusive homes, could already be familiar with this cycle of abuse.

How much time there is between each stage, will vary in each situation. In this image, the abuse is centered around violent behavior, but in fact, Phase 2 could be any regular use of other abusive behaviors.

Effects of Abuse

You may be made to feel like the abuse you receive is ‘your fault’, but this is not the case. 

This is a common tactic used by abusers, which is all part of them being able to retain as much control over the person they are abusing as possible. 

Domestic abuse can cause long term damaging effects. 

While physical abuse can have a long lasting impact on someone’s body, the mental trauma experienced by someone who has experienced abuse is not to be underestimated and is linked to post-traumatic stress disorder

People who have been abused can often experience depression, shame, confusion and fear and various other mental health problems

If someone has been abused in an intimate relationship, it can commonly have an effect on future relationships, making it harder for them to trust someone, finding themselves constantly tense about their behavior, or that they could be a victim of abuse again.

Getting to Safety and Seeking Help

If you have immediate concerns over your safety, get yourself to a safe place and dial 911 (U.S), or 999 (U.K) immediately. 

You should trust your instincts and remember, if you are experiencing domestic abuse – you are not alone.

If you are reading these warning signs of an abusive relationship, there is a high chance you have very real concerns that you, or someone close to you is the victim of domestic abuse.

No matter how much you may want to defend your partners actions, it’s important that you realize victims of domestic abuse are at serious risk of physical and emotional harm. 

If possible, you should look to stay with someone you trust, such as a close friend or family member, who can provide you with somewhere safe to stay while you seek professional help. 

If there is no immediate danger, but you need professional help and emotional support, you can reach out to the following:

United States Residents

1. National Domestic Violence Hotline

1.800.799.SAFE (7233)

TTY 1.800.787.3224

Text ‘START’ to 88788

2. Victim Connect Resource Centre

3. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

United Kingdom Residents

1. National Domestic Abuse Helpline

0808 2000 247 (Open 24hrs) or Live Chat Function

2. Mens Advice Line

0808 801 0327 

3. Womens Aid 

You can experience new love and experience a healthy, good relationship.