In the United States, one in four teen girls has been physically or sexually abused by someone she’s dated, reveals the global movement for good, DoSomething.org. More staggering, one in three women will be physically abused by an intimate partner during her life, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
What’s especially concerning, a 2019 report, “Gender Differences in Patterns and Trends in US Homicide, 1976-2017,” found domestic violence is rising. The number of women killed each day in the US by an intimate partner has increased from 3 to nearly 4 just since 2014. So odds are you, your daughter, or many friends, family members, and co-workers have been or will be abused by a date or intimate partner.
Before being in an abusive relationship, nearly all girls and women insist they’d never allow a guy to mistreat them this way. Nonetheless, many still find themselves caught up in an endless cycle of abuse that worsens over time. By that point, it becomes difficult and even dangerous to try to break free.
The problem is that most abusive relationships don’t start out that way. That’s how so many women find themselves in these situations. Abuse is often gradual and subtle. More often, it starts as verbal or subtler yet, emotional abuse that involves manipulation, passive-aggressive behaviors, and other covertly abusive patterns. As a result, even strong and independent women can find themselves at the mercy of an abusive boyfriend or spouse.
So, there are several keys to protecting yourself. Know the early signs to look for, what constitutes abuse, and how to walk away from a potentially dangerous or abusive relationship.
Early Warning Signs
In nearly all abusive relationships, there are early warning signs. Some signs may be visible, while many others fly just below the radar. So pay close attention from the very start, and be on alert for the following red flags.
Abusive men are often very charming. They quickly seduce you by lavishing you with praise and adoration from the outset. They may even profess their love very early on. With all the positive attention and affection, you’ll feel on top of the world – and that’s an abusive man’s game. A Don Juan will hook you and reel you in before throwing his first punch (figuratively and literally). After you’re wrapped around his finger is when the abuse usually begins.
Abusive men also want to isolate you to increase your dependence on them. They’ll find fault with all your family and friends and reasons why you shouldn’t be spending time with them. These men tend to be clingy, leaving you little freedom to maintain relationships with others. As you lose your network of support, you become increasingly dependent.
Often, abusers are narcissistic and feel they’re superior to others. They may covertly insinuate they’re superior to you, that is if they don’t say it outright. But in the beginning, it may be more evident in the way he treats others, particularly women. Abusive guys often belittle people and commonly are exceptionally rude to or critical of waitstaff, particularly if they’re female.
If the man you’re dating lacks empathy for you or others, this is an enormous tell-tale sign to run the other way. Narcissists are the most dangerous type of men to be involved with from an emotional standpoint. Not to mention, they’re often capable of domestic violence.
Once an abuser is confident you’re hooked on him, he may run hot and cold in a flash. If you say or do anything that doesn’t please him, he’ll freeze you out. Then, as soon as you come around to his side, you’ll once again be the best thing that ever happened to him.
Another red flag is if a guy monitors every aspect of your life. It’s true, in a good relationship, you should be open and honest with each other and not keep secrets. Still, if he often badgers you with questions about where you’ve been, what you’ve done, and who you’ve seen, take this as a big warning sign. Does he insist on reading all of your text messages, emails, or social media messaging? If so, that’s a huge red flag.
Picking fights is another common behavior. If the arguments seem to be for no rhyme or reason, odds are he’s testing you. Abusers don’t necessarily go from being the best boyfriend to batterer overnight. They often begin with small fights and more covert behaviors or minor acts of aggression and gradually intensify these to bigger feuds and more severe actions.
As soon as you see any red flags, especially if you’ve seen multiple instances of a particular flag or more than one, it’s time to split. Abusers have an uncanny ability to manipulate women. So it isn’t worth the risk to wait and see if more red flags pop up. By then, you’ll likely be in way over your head.
Signs of an Abusive Relationship
So what are the signs of an abusive relationship? And what if you missed or didn’t heed the early warning signs and now you’re enmeshed?
A good starting point to determine whether you’re in an abusive relationship is understanding what’s healthy versus unhealthy behavior during a disagreement. Conflicts inevitably happen in all relationships, even healthy ones. But there are healthy and unhealthy ways to argue.
Name-calling, yelling, fault finding, pushing your buttons, threatening, destroying your property, or acting violently toward you are all unhealthy and a form of abuse. If your boyfriend or spouse does any of these during an argument, it’s indicative of an abusive relationship.
When a boyfriend acts violently toward you, whether he merely shoves you or does something more violent, it’s abuse. Such actions show he lacks control of his behavior, doesn’t respect you, or both. Whatever the case, once a guy acts violently toward a woman, it’s sure to get worse.
There are many other indicators of an abusive relationship, as well. Emotional and verbal abuse can be as destructive as physical abuse and are often a precursor to it. Maybe you’re currently with a man who’s emotionally or verbally abusive. If he calls you names that are demeaning or hurt your feelings, that’s verbal abuse. Yelling and screaming at you or threatening you are also forms of verbal abuse.
Emotional abuse can include verbally abusive behaviors because words can cause psychological harm. But emotional abuse often comprises more covert acts as well.
For example, your partner may use various means to manipulate you or make you feel guilty so he can get his way. He might say something hurtful but then claim he was joking. Of course, joking around isn’t always abuse. If it doesn’t bother you, or if he stops once you bring it to his attention, it likely isn’t abuse. But if he continues to joke at your expense despite knowing how you feel, then it’s abuse.
There are numerous ways emotional abuse can occur. If your boyfriend tries to control you, belittles, discounts, or continually opposes you, or often denies something he said, these are all forms of abuse.
Often, emotional or verbal abuse are the first signs that a relationship may turn physically abusive. But emotional or verbal abuse alone can be as destructive as physical violence. Whatever the form of abuse, you need to get out of the relationship for your physical and emotional well-being.
Consequences of Remaining in an Abusive or Violent Relationship
Regardless of the form of abuse, there are many negative consequences of being in such a relationship. First, victims of abuse often experience the loss of relationships with family and friends and become isolated. Abusive relationships also break down a girl’s or woman’s sense of autonomy and self-esteem. Because abusers often tell their girlfriends or wives that they’re crazy, women often lose their ability to trust their judgment and perception of reality.
Of course, there’s also the physical abuse that may occur. When it does, the frequency and severity worsen over time. Ultimately, many women become emotionally trapped in a physically abusive relationship or come to fear the violent repercussions that’ll result if they leave. So instead, women spend years enduring terror and violence – that too often turns deadly.
How to Get Out and Where to Go for Help
Prevention is the first step to protecting yourself. So pay attention to early warning signs, and don’t brush them off. As soon as a red flag pops up, find the nearest exit and never look back. Don’t allow him to explain himself. Destructive and abusive men are great at rationalizing their behavior and gaining women’s sympathy. He’ll try to woo you into giving him another chance. So cut off all ties, and remember, you don’t owe him anything. You only owe it to yourself to protect yourself from harm.
But what if you’re in an abusive relationship and don’t know how to get out?
Steps to take
First, talk to family and friends and ask for their help and support. But realize, abuse victims often flip-flop then try to rationalize the ill behavior of their abuser. If you do, concerned family and friends will try to set you straight. Keep in mind that as bystanders, they may be in a better position to judge the seriousness of the situation because they aren’t emotionally attached to the abuser. If family and friends tell you it’s in your best interest to leave, trust their judgment.
Also, most communities have shelters for battered women. These usually provide food and shelter as well as assistance in finding work and affordable housing and childcare. The Houston Area Women’s Center has a 120-bed shelter as well as a residential facility for families and individuals fleeing from abuse. It also offers a host of programs and resources to battered women and their children.
In all areas of the city, state, and country, you can also call the business line of your local police department, explain your situation, and ask for help. They should be able to put you in touch with a local domestic violence organization. Police can also come to your home and stand guard while you get your personal belongings out.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline can also provide assistance. Call 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE), and they should be able to direct you to help in your area.
You can also call the Houston Area Women’s Center Domestic Violence Hotline: 713-528-3625 or 800-256-055 or Sexual Assault Hotline: 713-528-RAPE or 800-256-0661
Finally, if your situation is an emergency, call 911.