5 signs of an abusive relationship most people will dismiss

If asked to name signs of abuse in a relationship, many would assume physical violence.

Domestic violence and relationship abuse are often cognitively associated with black eyes, broken bones, sexual assault, rape and even murder.

But what about the non-physical violence? Trauma, manipulation, control, emotional torture? A subtler, more insidious and ultimately easier to hide type of abuse?

Popular portrayals such as Wuthering Heights, Fifty Shades of Grey and the Twilight series fetishise a type of controlling, emotionally abusive relationship.

In these stories, a partner following you across the country without your permission, stalking you or dictating who you do and don’t speak to is presented as impossibly romantic, rather than arguably dangerous.

So if there are no bruises and no blood, how do you know if you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship?

Abuse is almost always power-related, but can start off so subtle that it might seem innocuous.

However, abuse can build up over time, so slowly that you wouldn’t even realise at first.

That’s why it’s important to be aware of smaller, more subtle forms of abuse in order to prevent it escalating.

Psychology Today cites five common behaviours that could in time become forms of abuse…


1. Control

People dictating where their partners can and can’t go, and when, is exceptionally common, particularly in a family where children are involved and scheduling is critical.

However, when this behaviour becomes a method of policing your behaviour, this can slip into emotional abuse and control.

While communication of whereabouts is important, you must be free to make your own decision about where you can and can’t go.

2. Isolation

Isolation is particularly insidious, because a partner might express the desire to ‘have you all to themselves’ or claim that they can’t bear not being with you, and dress it up as romance.

Abusers also seek to isolate victims from people who could offer support or help, such as friends and family.

Be wary of when an abuser also uses arguments to distract and distance you from your friends.

3. Put downs

All happy couples will mock each other occasionally, but when jokes or ‘helpful’ criticism and minor complaint stack up over time, it can start to feel hurtful.

The problem also arises when insults are disguised as jokes, so the victim is ‘not allowed’ to be angry or upset.

If you notice that you feel worse about yourself afterwards, then begin to reflect on how they speak to you and how often they try to put you down.

4. Following

There is a fine but distinct line between ‘romantic surprises,’ such as turning up to take someone for an impromptu lunch, and following your partner without their consent.

Abusers can dress this up as just “being protective” to make you fear for your safety, but it’s also a form of control and can feel very invasive of your privacy.

Even if the gesture is meant in all good faith, be clear about where your boundaries are and what you are and are not comfortable with.

5. Gaslighting

‘Gaslighting’ is a term you may not be familiar with, but you’ve probably seen it portrayed on TV and in fiction.

The term refers to manipulating someone into doubting their own sanity or understanding of events.

So in a relationship, if your partner refuses to see your side of an argument to the extent that they question your understanding of reality, it could be a sign of gaslighting.

The perpetrator forces the victim to question their own reality in order to gain control over them.


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