I was 26 years old when my partner first assaulted me. We’d barely walked in through the door when he descended on me with insults, kicks, and punches. He was angry at me for questioning his actions while at the club.
I was fresh out of uni at my first corporate job; ready to take on the world. We’d been together for five years.
It didn’t start out bad. Far from it.
Abusers don’t start out mean and cruel. They start out charming. They reel you in with their kindness and attention; acting like they’re the savior of your life. Your knight in shining armour swoops in and rescues you from an ordinary existence. Toxic partners lift you so high from reality, you need to look down to see the sky.
But there are usually non-violent signs that can be easy to brush off (or even identify) until they crescendo to full-blown physicality.
Because for many a dangerous or toxic partner, it’s all about the long game. Rather than revealing their destructive behavior up front, they try to mask it in a coat of overwhelming affection.
Let’s examine 11 early warning signs of an abusive relationship.
1. Too Much, Too Soon
Toxic partners claim love at first sight. They try to escalate your relationship quickly by moving in together or getting engaged after you’ve only been together for a short time. They pressurize you for a commitment.
They give you undivided attention, grand gestures and romantic interludes. You emotionally invest in them, get attached, only to discover that they aren’t who they pretended to be. They simply manipulated you into loving them.
2. Unrealistic Expectations
Abusers will compliment you in a way that makes you seem superhuman. They’ll lavish you with praise and expect you to be perfect. Toxic partners will say, “I’m all you need. You’re all I need.”
Then turn around and pull the rag from under you. Suddenly, they’ll mock everything they ever praised about you. Your coffee will be too hot, your dressing too slutty and your snoring irritating.
But by this time, they’ve already wrapped you around their little finger. You’ll bend over backwards trying to get back into their good books.
3. They Check Up on You Constantly
Abusers hide their controlling behavior by pretending to be concerned for your safety.
Because they care so much, they want to know your every move, where you are and who you are with. They question what you wore and what you talked about with your friends. They act like you can’t make good decisions.
Pretty soon, you ask for permission to do certain things. They insist on controlling the narrative.
Your life becomes what they dictate.
4. Toxic Partners Isolate You From Family and Friends
Every time I answered a call, he hovered around me, listening in on my conversations. He’d then turn my words against me; using it as an excuse to get abusive and violent.
Emotional abusers will isolate you from your social circle. They’ll embarrass you in front of others, which makes you want to avoid people. They do this because they crave your total, undivided attention, but they also do it because they know your loved ones will see what they’re up to and speak out.
5. Checks Your Social Media To See Who You’ve Been Talking To
It was in the early days of social media, before instant messaging and video calls infiltrated our lives. In the beginning, we marveled at the ease with which Facebook had made reconnecting with old friends so easy. But with time, this amazement turned against me. He branded my online activity as a quest to seek old boyfriends and start illegitimate affairs.
Abusers will monitor your call logs, emails and messages. Woe unto you if they find a deleted call history or messages. The accusations of infidelity will fly in your face; your every move a cover up of your lies.
6. Extreme Mood Swings
Toxic partners are overly moody. They swing from meanness to affection intermittently. You can never tell what will set them off.
This irregularity can be very confusing, leaving you walking on egg shells afraid of triggering an explosion.
7. Abusers Control Your Money
With time, a pattern developed after an abusive incident. He’d hand me the car keys and wads of cash to visit my family or hang out with my friends. He’d encourage me to buy myself something nice or get my hair and nails and done. I was unemployed and solely dependent on him.
They will stop you from working whatever job you want. They’ll convince you to leave your job with the promise of supporting you. Or say you don’t deserve to get stressed out by your toxic job. Or use your children as a reason for you to quit. On the extreme end, they will sabotage your job by showing up at your workplace and causing a scene. They may have you direct your salary to their account and even show up at your workplace to collect your paycheck.
Once you depend on them, they turn up the notch on control. They’ll put you on an allowance and make you explain every dollar you spent. They’ll withhold money for basic items like food and clothing.
To the abuser, money is a tool of control. They want to limit your options, including your financial ability to leave. Abusers use money as an apology and a sign of remorse. They mask the emotional abuse by withholding then doling out money, love and affection.
8. They Get Aggressive Towards You
I arrived home one evening to find the gate locked. He stood at an upper window and refused to let me in. The accusation of infidelity thrown in my face once again. I slept at a friend’s house that night. All I got the next morning was silent treatment and complete disregard for what had happened.
Toxic partners are master manipulators. They might not get physical with you at the onset, but you may notice other behaviors. They will break cherished items, throw objects or beat on the table with fists.
A disagreement will escalate in a matter of seconds. Abusers will pull your hair, push you around, bite you and punch the wall behind you.
All this to intimidate you.
9. Forceful Sexual Activity
Abusers have little to no disregard for your privacy and choices. Toxic partners will use sulking or anger to manipulate you into compliance. They’ll make sexual or degrading jokes about you. Refuse to use protection. Force you to dress sexually or infect you with an STD.
They’ll make you feel as though you owe them sex.
10. They Have a History of Battering
Abusers may have a history of violence. You may hear the person abused someone else. People who commit domestic abuse are often violent.
A past record or history of assault, fighting, or abuse is a sign that they think violence is a way to solve problems.
But, they will deny it, say it’s a lie, or their ex was “crazy,” or it wasn’t that bad.
They may have elaborate excuses for these incidents or blame the person they attacked by saying they “had to” or that they “were provoked.”
11. You’re Afraid of Them
Being afraid of your partner is a major warning sign of abuse. Your partner might yell at you, call you names or brandish weapons in front of you. They might threaten to harm your children, your pets or to commit suicide. This can make you scared to say what you think, to bring up certain topics or to say no to sex.
No matter the reason, fear has no place in a healthy relationship.
. . .
What Can You Do if You’re Being Abused?
If you recognise any of these signs, your relationship might develop into violence. That’s because abuse escalates. Physical, emotional, mental, or financial abuse boils down to the same thing. Abusers hold the attitude that it’s ‘OK’ to shove their partners if they’re provoked. It’s ‘OK’ to slap you if you disagree with them. It’s OK to give you the silent treatment because you put too much salt in the food.
And they prove that every day by choosing to hurt instead of protect you.
But abuse of any kind is never your fault, despite what the abuser has told you.
I understand how difficult it can be to leave an abusive relationship. You might be torn between staying or leaving. It can get more complicated if there are children involved.
Start by calling the domestic hotline in your area. Do this from a friend’s place or somewhere you feel safe.
You can also turn to friends, family, neighbors, your doctor, or your spiritual community.
Also, make sure you have an emergency escape plan:
- Wait until your partner leaves before you try to escape.
- Hide a set of car keys, or ask a friend to come pick you up.
- If not, download a ride sharing app beforehand
- Pack a bag with keys, extra clothes, important papers, money, and medicines. You might keep it at a friend’s house.
- Have a plan to call the police in an emergency. You might have a code word, so your kids, family, friends, or co-workers know you’re in danger.
- Know where you’ll go and how you’ll get there.
. . .
It didn’t get better. The violence increased in severity and frequency.
One morning, four years later, after an especially brutal attack, I fled for the last time.
Sadly, there was now a child involved. And with that came the impossible dream of co-parenting.
Then the abuse morphed into a different monster.
This post was previously published on Hello, Love.
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