7 subtle signs of an abusive relationship

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Our homes are the places where we should feel safest, and yet for so many people this is where the real danger lies. Here we examine the less recognized signs of domestic violence

Content Warning: Provides details about the abuse

Domestic abuse is a crime that is mostly committed behind closed doors. The perpetrators are of all ages and from all walks of life. You appear to others as a different normal person – a friend, family member, or coworker – which can make them difficult to recognize. And that is why it is so important to be aware of the signs to ensure that people are receiving support to safely get rid of abusive relationships as soon as possible.

According to Crime Survey data for England and Wales for the year ended March 2018, the police received more than 100 domestic violence calls every hour, yet only 18% of women who had experienced partner abuse in the past 12 months reported this the police – highlight how big the problem really is. One in four women and one in six men is a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime. Two women are reported to be killed each week by a current or former partner in England and Wales alone.

Domestic violence victims and perpetrators come from all walks of life and can be any gender, sexuality, race or class. It is important to acknowledge, however, that domestic abuse prevalence estimates do not take into account whether acts of violence are repetitive and persistent, whether under coercive control, or other important factors. While we should never undermine the experiences of male victims of domestic abuse, charities such as the Women’s Housing Action Group (WHAG) report, “Abuse women is more physically serious and is more likely to result in injury and hospitalization.”


While the media tends to focus on physical violence in an abusive relationship, it is just one type of abuse by intimate partners. Domestic abuse is a term that includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional and psychological abuse, financial abuse, and harassment and stalking. These forms of abuse are less recognized, which means that those who experience them sometimes may not even realize that they are in an abusive relationship. Often victims – and sometimes even those around them – feel that the abuse isn’t “that bad” because there is no physical violence, but seven out of ten psychologically abused women show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and / or Depression, with psychological abuse being a stronger predictor of PTSD than physical abuse in women.

If any of this is ringing alarm bells for you, whether it is a relationship you are in personally or if you are worried about a friend or family member, there are some non-physical abusive behaviors to watch out for Violence.

Move the relationship quickly

Abusive relationships are often very intense. A perpetrator will most likely be very loving in the beginning, showering their victim with compliments, attention, and affection. This quickly creates a strong bond and a sense of “you two against the world”. They usually want to spend a lot of time together and express their love early on. You can suggest moving in together quickly or talking about marriage and children, and even suggest.

This intensity enables them to control different parts of their victim’s life. A perpetrator can suddenly become “aggressive” and malicious in certain situations, becoming a completely different person from the person the victim thinks he knows, leaving them in disbelief, shock and confusion. Mental abuse is often interspersed with kindness to confuse the victim, and they will often – especially first – apologize and regret their own behavior. This puts the victim in a cycle of false hope that they know they have done something wrong, that they will change, and that these “slip-ups” in behavior are not the “real” partner they know and love.

Gas lighting

This is a term used to describe when a perpetrator confuses their victim and realizes that they are oversensitive or overreacting. You can disapprove of your version of events until you start believing their narrative or claim that an event has never occurred. They can portray insults as jokes and ridicule you when you get upset. Gas light can be subtle and not as noticeable at first, but it steadily undermines the victim’s self-esteem and leaves you emotionally dependent on the abuser. Offenders often shift the blame for problems inside and outside the relationship onto the victim and refuse to accept responsibility for their own behavior.


Offenders can humiliate, undermine, or embarrass their victim in public or in private. They can label their partner names as “worthless”, “fat”, “stupid” or “disgusting” and exploit their victim’s vulnerabilities against them. This can be anything the victim feels ashamed or guilty about – from secrets or private information that the victim has shared to any mental illness they may have – that serve to degrade the victim. They focus on destroying the victim’s self-esteem until the victim feels that no one else could ever love them.

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Jealousy and isolation

As the relationship progresses, the abuser may become more jealous and possessive, expressing disapproval about who the victim is speaking or spending time with, preventing them from seeing friends and family, and accusing the victim of cheating.

They often focus their jealousy on certain people and may have a tantrum or frequently accuse their partner of cheating, until the victim believes that maintaining their relationships or interacting with that particular person is more trouble than it is worth. They can manipulate a breakdown in the victim’s relationships by insulting those close to them, turning the victim against their loved ones, or otherwise causing a rift in their relationships – which can extend to work colleagues and health services as well. Isolating their victim means that they can gain complete control over them and ensure that their victim is dependent on them.


Beyond your other relationships and interactions, an abusive partner may try to control what you wear, eat, or any other aspect of your life by checking your phone and social media, and even requesting your passwords.

Private information, sexuality, precarious immigration status, mental illness and children can be used to control the victim by using threats to divulge their private information, extradite a victim, report them to authorities, separate them or take over the children away from them. The abuser can also use suicide threats to deter the victim from leaving or threats to harm the victim, the people he loves, or even their pets.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse can include many things, such as insisting that you act out fantasies or engaging in sexual acts that you have not expressly or enthusiastically consented to, denying your sexuality, not using contraception, and being in control of when you get or get pregnant Intentionally infecting you with a sexually transmitted disease.

Less recognized forms of physical abuse

When we hear the phrase “physical abuse” we often interpret it as physical violence, from hitting to kicking or other forms of physical violence. However, this abuse can go further and many people are unaware of the signs. An abuser can impose physical restrictions on you, such as: For example, refusing to let you go out, or preventing you from sleeping, eating, drinking, or washing.

This is not an exhaustive list of the forms abuse can take. If any of the above sounds familiar to you, please get in touch. You can find professional support options here:

• womensaid.org.uk offers a site for finding local support, a chat function and e-mail contact, as well as many other resources.

Via phone:
• National Helpline for Domestic Abuse, operated by Refuge: 0808 2000 247 (nationaldahelpline.org.uk)
• The men’s counseling line for male survivors of domestic violence operated by Respect: 0808 801 0327
• The mix, free information and support for under 25s in the UK: 0808 808 4994
• National LGBT + Domestic Abuse Helpline operated by Galop: 0800 999 5428
• Samaritan service around the clock: 116 123

In an emergency where you are concerned for your safety, please dial 999.

You may not feel comfortable talking to loved ones about what is happening, or maybe you have, but they are not sure how to help you out. The counseling gives you a safe space to talk, without fear and without judgment. To contact a counselor, visit counselling-directory.org.uk

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