Subtle Signs of an Abusive Relationship

| Ashley Davis LMFT

“I think there are some signs of abuse in your relationship.” You’d be surprised at the reaction that statement has gotten me from several clients. Most people seem shocked at the gravity of that statement or can’t fathom why I’m using the term “abuse” to describe their relationship. Their partner has never hit them or threatened them before. They don’t feel unsafe in the relationship. How can abuse describe what they’re experiencing?

Some verbally and emotionally abusive relationships actually contain no physical abuse and are pretty hard to spot to people aren’t familiar with the cycle of abuse. Below are some subtle signs of abuse that I have noted within toxic relationships at one time or another.

Your partner doesn’t admit blame

Ever feel like most disagreements end up being your fault somehow? Abusers are adept at leaving the blame for even the most one sided arguments solely on their partner. Statements to look out for include “Well I only did X because you did Y!” or “You’re crazy. That’s not how it happened at all!” or even “Well what about what you’ve done?” Healthy relationships include a lot of back and forth during conflicts where both partners should take some blame. You should never be made to feel guilty so the other person can duck blame.

Your partner uses temper tantrums to isolate you from friends and family

Most people would label a relationship where one partner monitors or restricts their partner’s comings and goings as unhealthy. However, a more subtle way of restricting time with family and friends that people in abusive relationships don’t generally pick up on is the dreaded “temper tantrum” as a method of restricting time with others. Have you ever noticed your partner picks a fight every time your parents come in to town? Do you avoid making plans with certain friends because you feel you’ll catch trouble when you get home? Does your partner make you feel guilty for spending time in social settings without them? These are all isolative tactics that could potentially signal emotional abuse.

Your partner uses your sexual relationship as a punishment

A sign of a potentially toxic relationship is one where one partner appears to have all of the sexual power and seems to use sex to manipulate their partner’s behavior.  Restricting sex or affection is one manipulation tactic abusers may use to control their partner’s behavior.  Others may ignore your wants and needs during sex for a while as a means of punishment for what they consider to be “bad behavior.”

Your partner contributes to your low self esteem and vulnerabilities

People with low self esteem are especially susceptible to abusive tactics. Most abusers are aware of this and will use the things that they know you are most sensitive about to further lower your self esteem when you are most vulnerable. They do this to make you believe that you are worthless and that no one else would want you if you leave or that you can’t make it on your own. If you frequently feel put down by your partner or that you’re stuck in your relationship, there may be a problem.

If you notice one or more of these signs within your own relationship, I would highly recommend that you seek professional help as these signs are at best signs of an unhealthy relationship and at worst potential signs of abuse. Toxic relationships become more difficult to treat the longer they go on and often lead to individual mental health problems as well. If you think you may be in an abusive relationship where safety is an issue or just want to learn more information about the dynamics of abusive relationships, InterAct is a wonderful and confidential local resource for victims of domestic abuse.

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