Domestic Violence Isn’t Always Physical: 8 Signs You Are in an Abusive Relationship

photo by thx0477

Domestic violence, outside of the obvious signs of physical abuse such as pushing, grabbing, and hitting can be subtle, and both genders are at risk.


When I talk about non-physical domestic violence and abuse, I’m not speaking of the occasional fight, or ups and downs of any normal relationship. I’m talking about patterns over time. Controlling behaviors, shaming, refusing to listen, talking over you, blaming, emotional abuse, yelling, lying, neglecting, stalking, inappropriate sexual pressure, intimidation and psychological manipulation are all examples of abuse.

Those that had upside-down childhoods where they were forced to “parent” a parent or had healthy boundaries ignored, are most at risk for this type of relationship. Children who were yelled at one moment and then showered with apologies and loving behaviors the next become confused and often times miss the signs of abuse in adult relationships. Children that were blamed, made wrong, ignored, put down, or abused physically are at high risk for adult domestic abuse.

When your childhood is filled with emotional ups and downs; it’s easy as an adult to equate this type of behavior with love. As a child you can’t leave your parent so you either try to “fix” them, or you make excuses for them and take the blame.


If you, like so many, had this type of childhood, here are the signs to watch for in your intimate relationships:

— Being extra attentive to another person’s needs vs. your own healthy boundaries. Over time, if you’re in an abusive relationship (or grew up in an abusive household), you learn to walk on egg shells so you don’t upset your partner. Chances are you did this with a parent and unconsciously do this with friends and co-workers. Keeping quiet, not speaking your mind, not wanting to rock the boat, justifying bad behaviors as “oh, i must be overreacting” are all signs that you’re not listening to your inner voice.  Anytime you’re in indecision about whether or not you should be upset about something you’re ignoring your inner voice.

— Another sign is that you no longer get together with friends as often as you once did, since you are always trying to repair an argument or get over a recent dramatic event within your relationship. Missing social events or spending the weekend fighting instead of having fun together can be a sign that you’re in a bad relationship. You may start to feel isolated as your partner demands most of your time. You may even hear yourself justifying your partner’s behaviors and making excuses for them. As time passes, victims lose their self esteem and start to question and blame themselves for all of the problems within the relationship.

— Often domestic violence victims start to cower in other areas of their life, backing down from any sort of conflict. Rather than speaking your truth, you keep quiet to keep the peace. Perhaps it is a habit from your relationship, or maybe you’re just too tired to speak up after so much conflict at home. Asserting your needs and desires begins to feel like a battle zone and it becomes easier to just accommodate instead of worrying it will erupt into a tense situation.

— If you grew up in an emotionally disruptive household you may not be able to really identify what you’re feeling or what you need and want. Children that live with volatile parents learn to put the parent first and caretake. If children aren’t taught good boundaries, they are taught to think outside of their own needs and grow up ignoring these needs.

— Do you put yourself in dangerous situations such as aggressive driving by your partner yet stay quiet so you don’t set them off into a violent rage?

— Are you exhausted most of the time? Are you starting to have a hard time making decisions for yourself and find your thinking cloudy? Do you question yourself and your needs more than you trust your own knowledge?

— Do you find yourself having sex when you don’t want it on a regular basis to just keep the peace? Any time you find yourself doing what you really don’t want to do just to keep the peace is a sign that you are giving your power away.

— Do you find yourself breaking up and then getting back together, often forgiving bad behaviors, giving them another chance and believing empty promises that never come true?


Many domestic violence victims want to believe that their partners have changed, want to believe that there can be a fresh start and hope that their love can overcome all obstacles. When children from violent childhoods can’t escape the angry parent, they learn to justify bad behaviors, blame themselves and then hope unrealistically that the parent can and will change. This cycle becomes learned and unconscious. True love is a give and take scenario. Sure at times you may do things you don’t really want to do for your partner’s sake but you know in your heart when this is occurring on a regular basis.

Real love between two healthy people respects boundaries, shares the burden of blame when things go wrong, and works to find a way to work things out without verbal abuse or rage. The good news is that once you get it, really get it; you look backwards and forwards with such clarity that you never miss the signs again. You vibrate at a different frequency and clarity moves back through your past and into your future. You recognize the signs you ignored and see the patterns you participated in…. Ah-ha moments realizing what you’ve endured, where you came from, how these habits formed, and how you will be treated in the future come frequently and with crystal clarity. You are stronger and smarter and able to lend a hand to those around you that may be in this situation. One by one we wake up, say no, and walk away forever.

Via Daily Transformations

Photo from David Castillo Dominici

About Tamara Star

Tamara Star believes happiness is not an end destination, but instead the ability to see the ordinary through eyes of wonder. She’s an international best selling author, life coach, and the creator of the original “40-day Personal reboot program for women” –a 6 week virtual deep dive into clearing the slate on what’s blocking you from living a life you love. Her first book, a quick and easy read: “How to Survive a Break Up and Come out Thriving,” is available on Amazon. Her co-authored book “Sexy Secrets to a Juicy Love Life” sits on the International Best Sellers List. You can find more information on and follow her on FB orTwitter.
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  1. A couple of weeks ago this article was reposted over at xojane. I was casually reading there when I came across it, and it really shook me up. So much of what I have been struggling with in my marriage was described. It wasn’t just me being “over sensitive” At that moment I knew I had enough. I made a plan and left home 4 days later. Found support through a local call centre and so much more support than I had expected from my family, who I was initially embarrassed to talk to. Taking action was incredibly scary, but help was there when I needed it and I am very grateful. I’m in my own space now, and have time and calm to figure out what I want to do next.
    Thank you very much for this article.

    • 2 1/2 years later and I’m revisiting this article. I am one of the lucky ones. My life is my own again. Leaving brought financial struggles, legal struggles, and mental health issues including PTSD. Every struggle was worth it, and I’m on the other side now. I was fortunate to have the support of an excellent women’s centre, and my family. I have a happy and secure life, managed to keep my dogs, lots of friends, and I’m living on my own terms. It is such a pleasure to be myself again.
      Thank you again for this article. It changed my life.
      🙂 L.

  2. I struggle with PTSD because of an extremely emotionally abusive marriage and divorce. Because we have children together, the abuse continues. First with him leaving me no way to fight in the divorce and him taking my children from me, then alienating them from me for almost 3 years. I have been completely dehumanized by him.
    The sorrow as I go through therapy to cope is hard because I often question why I let myself be led to believe I deserved those punishments.
    This post describes and explains so much of it…thank you!

  3. Marcie Lightwood says:

    I could send this to the man who emotionally abused me for more than 25 years, but even though we are apart and in new relationships, I still fear his manipulation. We say “friendly” after our divorce, but I have recently sought counseling for the intense anger I feel towards him, and towards myself for “taking it”. The kindness, unconditional love and even-tempered treatment I have been getting from my current partner serves to highlight how wrong it was for my husband to do that to me, and how foolish I was to accept it, hoping that by “being a good wife”, I could earn fair treatment… Now I have it!

  4. Chip Burkitt says:

    Domestic abuse isn’t always physical, but violence is. Violence always involves physical harm or a credible threat of physical harm. To say otherwise broadens the concept of violence to the point where it means any kind of manipulative or negative behavior. I like that your article calls out cruel behaviors and shows that they are abusive, but there is no need to call such behaviors violent in order to show that they are wrong.

  5. Thank you for put it so succintly. It’s a little hard to ignore when it’s laid out like this (as least for me). Keep up the great work!

  6. This article is brilliant. More people need to read it

  7. All the things you said we see in our 19 yo son who is in a relationship with an emotional/verbal abuser. How do we get him to realize this? She curses him out for spending time with family or friends and he apologizes for it! It is heartbreaking for us to watch, and know that she basically has the upper hand because if we say anything negative about her he is defensive. Why do men stay in these relationships and how do we get them out of them?!

  8. AnthonyZarat says:

    I think you left a very common form of domestic violence out of your list:

    9 – Does your partner threaten to falsely accuse you of a crime if you ever leave her?

    • Tamara Star says:

      Anthony, this comment gave me chills. I would get an attorney immediately, record her, put in writing in an email to her that you won’t put up with this threat anymore, etc etc etc. I cannot give legal advice, nor am I qualified, but if you are sensing something like this happening, you must start to protect yourself and start to get out NOW. I’m so sorry to read this comment.

  9. I really needed to read this, thank you.

    As a child product of domestic violence in the form of physical and emotional abuse via decay of the mind and loss of will I feel it is a constant uphill struggle to keep my head on my shoulders. I became the caretaker youngest child to my mother first and when she left the kids behind I became the caretaker only child to my father. With substance abuse on one side of the aisle and financial insecurity on the other, I learned many ways not to be. For seemingly obvious reasons, when I was asked what I wanted to be as a child I always thought I wanted to be a parent, a giver, a lover of those growing up in the world.

    I’ve tried to always keep a personal vow to not focus on what my parents did wrong and do the opposite of that. To instead be the best parent I could from within using the strengths of the parents around me as examples for growth and the faults of my own parents as ways that I may be imperfect and can also continue to grow.

    Life is a spectrum of understanding and orientation. Your trajectory never loses momentum even if you find yourself pointed in directions you never intended to go.

    • Well said.
      I grew up being raised by my grandparents and unfortunately, they allowed my biological mother around who was and still is physically, emotionally and verbally abusive. There would be times that they would cut off ties and communication with her only to fall back into the same pattern a year or so later. And yet again, the same cycles would repeat. Still to this day this is happening and I’m a grown adult.
      This article came at a good time. I’ve been able to understand better how I have ended up in abusive relationships as an adult.
      Sure seems like I have gotten myself into quite the pickle as of recently. It is no help that my family is stuck in the cycle of accepting poor treatment and abuse, because it also jeapordizes my well-being. Just keeping my head up and working towards a more focused goal.

      • Tamara Star says:

        Hi Alex. Unfortunately you just described my childhood too. The good news is…once you realize it, you see the warning signs and you don’t go there anymore. If you do, you get out early enough and no longer ignore the signs. Your comment shows how aware you are. Big high five for that. T

  10. I never realised i was actually in an abusive relationship. I believed it was my fault i was being treated how i was because i wasn’t good enough and i deserved it. I thought it was normal. We broke up n got back together, me believing he’s change…he didn’t. We have a son together aswell. A few months back i left him for good, fell in love with a guy n haven’t looked back since. I’m in a healthy relationship but i still have a lot to learn about what is a healthy relationship. He’s patient with me and cares about what i think and feel. He came into my life at exactly the right time. I would have been back with my ex if it wasn’t for him. Anyway rambled on long enough,lol. Great article :-). Xx

  11. One added difference and dimension if the person is an *abusive alcoholic* is that the alcoholic often sees provocations and conspiracies when there aren’t any. Such a bad combo in addition to all you have stated above. And so awful for the people around them!

    Worth exploring?

    • Tamara Star says:

      Hi Lisa,
      It’s a lethal combo, especially when combined with someone that refuses to get help ie: AA
      Hoping whomever it is involved in this situation is getting the support they need to either be strong and hold tight as the person goes through AA, or to find the strength to walk away.

  12. This is a great article. You’ve nailed it.

  13. This is my life right now…I’ve encouraged him to get help and finally after years he is…but whether it will help or not I don’t know. He’s also battling severe anxiety and moderate depression. I wish I had known earlier that real love wasn’t a roller coaster ride.

    • Tamara Star says:

      Hi Kerri-Ann
      I’m glad your partner has agreed to get help. I hope you’re reinforcing that postive step and if he’s battling severe anxiety and depression, a good therapist will know how to help. I hope you are taking care of your emotional needs right now and getting the suport you need as you support him in his steps towards health.

  14. I’m truly confused. I’ve witnessed a close friend become too controlling and co-dependent with her daughter because she won’t put some of her own needs first. Is there anything I can say? Beyond trying to gently urge her to follow her own pursuits, I have to limit my time with her because of the negativity/dysfunctional environment. This all stems from her own emotionally abusive/controlling upbringing. I’m not sure how to be a “better” friend at this point. (??)

  15. I like this article. Very good blunt key points to what non-physical abuse is. My mother was an still is an abuser and has exercised almost all of the key defining points of behaviors. Lucky, when I was 12, I was able to recognize that it was not a healthy relationship and I took my younger sister and moved in with my dad. I wished for a long time that I could have an ideal relationship with my mom but vowed to never put my family ( now a hubby and toddler) in front of a raging train as a price to have that relationship. Better healthy and happy than chasing something that will never be!!

  16. With only a few exceptions this was the story of my most recently ended long term relationship. After it was over she blamed me for being unable to take her screaming at me. In some ways she was right, what I brought to the relationship came directly from my childhood. But it is also what made me unable to see the difference between her passion and her abuse. Had I grown up healthy I would never have found her anger strangely attractive.

    • Tamara Star says:

      Hi Chris, I’m sorry you experienced that type of relationship. I had great relationships in my 20’s and 30’s, yet when I turned 40 I decided it was time to remarry again. What I found were 3 relationships in a row that had the same flavor….and I was the common denominator. I dove deep into the why’s and those 3 relationships were what this article was born out of…I recreated what I thought was true love~just like my family~ emotionally and verbally abusive. Real love isn’t a roller coaster ride.

  17. Yup yup… Story of my life…but I am determined that my son will be able to grow up free from what I did not escape… He hung out with his friends yesterday and I felt like a police detective following him and his friend around town— they did hang out in front of one friend’s house ( the home of the abusive parent) but did not go inside…

    I don’t want to be a tiger mom and be uber- controlling, but I have to enforce reasonable boundaries when it comes to basic personal safety— and his friend’s father ( and our former friend) is like a keg of dynamite….

  18. Great article Tamara

    ✺”Controlling behaviors, shaming, refusing to listen, talking over you, blaming, emotional abuse, yelling, lying, neglecting, stalking, inappropriate sexual pressure, intimidation and psychological manipulation are all examples of abuse……..
    The good news is that once you get it, really get it; you look backwards and forwards with such clarity that you never miss the signs again………….
    One by one we wake up, say no, and walk away forever.”✺

    The sad thing is that many people are not even aware that their behavior is emotionally abusive.

  19. I wish I’d seem this when I was in my emotionally abusive marriage. It’s amazing how, if you don’t know exactly what constitutes mental and emotional abuse, it’s so easy to think its your imagination.i am glad I woke up, and can help others now. Everybody should be happy and healthy. Everybody.


  1. […] Domestic violence, outside of the obvious signs of physical abuse such as pushing, grabbing, and hitting can be subtle, and both genders are at risk.  […]

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