Signs of an Abusive Relationship - 8 Early Warning Signs of an Abusive Partner - Domestic Violence

The Signs of Domestic Violence

People who inflict domestic abuse on their partners have common traits: They exert control, humiliate their partners, and begin with emotional abuse.

By Katherine Lee

Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH

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Domestic violence is a common problem that affects many women, and even some men, in the United States. “Domestic violence crosses socioeconomic stratifications,” says Anthony Siracusa, PhD, a psychologist in Williamstown, Mass., and a spokesperson for the American Psychological Association. “Many perpetrators and victims of domestic violence come from what society would describe as ‘good, wholesome families.’”

For victims of domestic abuse, it can often be difficult to admit that domestic violence is happening, and it can be even harder to do something about it. That’s why it’s important to know the warning signs and how to get help when you first experience emotional or any other type of abuse.

Domestic Violence: What are the Signs of Domestic Abuse?

Victims of domestic abuse often share similar experiences because perpetrators of domestic violence and emotional abuse share common traits. While any one sign does not necessarily mean the domestic abuse will turn to physical violence, these indicators do point to a greater risk factor of physical violence occurring.

  • Your partner exerts a tremendous amount of control.In relationships tinged with domestic abuse and emotional abuse, one partner often demands to be the center of attention, and expresses anger if the partner shows any signs of independence or autonomy. One form of control is extreme possessiveness and excessive jealousy. “A partner may lose his or her temper just because a spouse looks in the direction of someone of the opposite gender,” says Siracusa.
  • Your partner engages in verbal abuse.Verbal abuse and emotional abuse are commonly linked to domestic violence. “Derogatory statements such as ‘You’re stupid,’ ‘You don’t make sense,’ or ‘You’re crazy’ are common, as is name-calling,” says Siracusa. “From there, it’s not a very big step to physical violence.”
  • One partner demonstrates a lack of respect for the other.Victims of domestic abuse often have their judgments and opinions nullified by their abusive partner who demand that things go their way. “Disrespect for a partner is a warning sign of domestic abuse — the partner doesn’t seek input, but makes decisions about major things on his own,” says Siracusa, such as making big purchases like buying a car. “Even if he or she is the primary breadwinner, there should still be informed consent.”
  • The abused partner feels unhappy and trapped.Many victims of domestic abuse report feeling isolated and are depressed. “Many say, ‘I hate my life’ or ‘I wish I could run away,’” says Siracusa. “They experience fear and anxiety when their abusive partner is about to come home at the end of the work day.”

Domestic Violence: How Victims of Domestic Abuse Can Find Help

Once victims of domestic abuse recognize and admit their situation, the next step is to get help. But many women are afraid of their partner’s reaction, and rightly so, says Siracusa. “Often, victims of domestic abuse are pursued, injured, or even murdered.”

That’s where women’s shelters can be helpful. “Counselors at women’s centers can lay out an exit strategy,” says Siracusa. “For many women, it’s not an issue of just picking up and leaving. Often, there are children involved. A woman may not have an income or employment. Many of these women could have post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, or depression.”

Women’s shelters, he says, have done an excellent job of coordinating shelter, legal, and security services. For women whose partners have been physically abusive, going into hiding may be the best option. “Some women’s shelters have safe houses, the location of which is not disclosed until the parties are brought there,” says Siracusa.

But victims don’t always stay away; they return to their violent partner, believing that he may change. “A lot of times, women think, ‘My abusive partner will not drink, he will get better, he won’t hit me next time,’” says Siracusa. “But actions often don’t match the abuser’s promises. Before too long, a tragedy will occur, and we will hear of a victim being hurt or possibly killed.”

If you suspect that your partner might be on a course leading to domestic violence or is already abusing you, you must seek help. You can call a local organization or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

Video: Warning Signs Of An Abusive Relationship Becoming Violent or Ending in Homicide

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