Everyone looks for love in life, and many of us seek a relationship partner to share our lives with. However, when we are dating, many of us don't know red flags to look for in an abusive partner. This causes many people to fall into violent or abusive relationships. When this happens, it can cause a great deal of trauma.
So, how do we look for love and still protect ourselves from would-be abusers? It is important to look for red flags early on in the relationship, so that we don't needlessly go down a violent path.
October 2023 is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, so this is an important time to educate ourselves about what healthy relationships look like, so that we can safeguard ourselves against getting into an abusive relationship.
If you are the parent of a teenager, it is also important to talk to them about dating violence, so they can be aware of potential red flags as well. People of all ages, races and genders can be the targets of domestic violence. This makes it important to break the stigma and silence that victims face. The more we can raise awareness, the more we can help people to speak up for themselves.
What a healthy relationship looks like
A healthy relationship is an equal partnership between two people that is mutually beneficial. Healthy relationships center around love, trust, respect and good communication. When you are getting into a new relationship, or even in your current relationship, you can ask if all of these factors is present. If not, it may be a red flag to look out for.
According to New York State, some of the foundations of a healthy relationship are:
Boundaries: You and your partner are able to find ways to meet each other’s’ needs in ways that you both feel comfortable with.
Communication: You and your partner can share your feelings, even when you don’t agree, in a way that makes the other person feel safe, heard, and not judged.
Trust: Building trust can take time and allows couples to be vulnerable with one another knowing that they can rely on the other person.
Consent: Most commonly used when you’re being sexually active, giving consent means that you are okay with what is happening, and that no one is forcing you or guilting you into doing anything that you don’t want to do. Consent can be given and taken back at any time, and giving consent once does not mean you automatically give consent in the future.
In healthy relationships, there is an equal give and take between partners. One person isn't making all the decisions or always taking the lead. There is an equal balance of power between both people, and no one feels controlled by the other.
A healthy relationship should add to your life, not take away from it. In healthy relationships, you can allow healthy space between partners. In addition to your relationship, you have time for work or school, family and friends, and your hobbies and interests. If there is an interest that your partner doesn't share, you still feel free to pursue it.
Trust is also key in a healthy relationship. This means, you have confidence in your partner to make good decisions. You aren't constantly hovering over them to make sure they aren't cheating. You aren't having to look through their phone or other devices to monitor their messages. These are all signs of trust in a partnership.
When it comes to sex, you two are on the same page. You take your time to become sexually active, and do so at a pace that is comfortable for both people. Trust and respect extend to the bedroom too. When you are sexually involved with someone, sex should feel comfortable and pleasurable for both people. You mutually ensure that both of your needs are being met. It isn't just about one person's needs.
In a healthy relationship, there is honest conversation that allows both people to be heard equally. You make sure to listen as much as you speak, so that your partner feels heard and valued. When you talk together, you make sure to do so in a calm and respectful manner. If you argue, you make sure to take responsibility for what was said, and apologize if needed.
When you are in a healthy relationship, it contributes positively to your life, your happiness, and your mental health.
According to Better Health,
The benefits of social connections and good mental health are numerous. Proven links include lower rates of anxiety and depression, higher self-esteem, greater empathy, and more trusting and cooperative relationships. Strong, healthy relationships can also help to strengthen your immune system, help you recover from disease, and may even lengthen your life.
Science shows us that having positive relationships can make a big difference in our lives. When you are in a healthy relationship, it has a positive effect on your overall wellbeing, and can even make you healthier. This makes having good relationships key when we are looking for love.
Red flags of abusive relationships
At the start of a new relationship, most people are on their best behavior, because they want to show a potential partner their best face. This may make it difficult to recognize that someone may be abusive later at the outset of a relationship. However, there may still be red flags early on that will warn you to steer clear of a potential partner.
According to The Hotline, here are some red flags that you may be in an abusive relationship:
Embarrassing or putting you down
Looking at you or acting in ways that scare you
Controlling who you see, where you go, or what you do
Preventing you or discouraging you from seeing your friends or families
Taking your money or refusing to give you money for expenses
Preventing you from making your own decisions
Telling you that you are a bad parent or threatening to harm or take away your children
Preventing you from working or attending school
Blaming you for the abuse, or acting like it’s not really happening
Destroying your property or threatening to hurt or kill your pets
Intimidating you with guns, knives, or other weapons
Shoving, slapping, choking, or hitting you
Attempting to stop you from pressing charges
Threatening to commit suicide because of something you’ve done
Threatening to hurt or kill you
Pressuring you to have sex when you don’t want to or do things sexually you’re not comfortable with
Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol
Preventing you from using birth control or pressuring you to become pregnant when you’re not ready
Abusers will often try to isolate you from friends and family who could be of assistance to you when you try to leave the relationship. So anyone who is trying to discourage you from spending time away from them in an attempt to control you is a red flag you may spot early on. It may seem exciting that your new partner wants to spend all of their time with you, but this actually shows a lack of healthy boundaries.
You may also notice manipulative behaviors like gaslighting, which is a form of verbal abuse that many of us aren't always aware of. If your partner uses any forms of manipulation with you, then this is a huge red flag. Whether they are trying to coerce you into sexual activity, drug use, or any other activity you feel uncomfortable with, it is best to distance yourself right away.
If your partner doesn't respect you, or if you feel like you are doing everything to meet their needs and neglecting your own, this is a red flag as well. Having a partner who isn't supportive of you can be an early warning sign that the relationship could end up abusive later on. A good partner should never ask you to neglect your needs for theirs.
Relationships are supposed to be about balance, but when it comes to abusive relationships, they are all about power and control. You should never feel like someone is trying to control you, or to make you change who you are against your will. Any time a partner asks you to change for them, this is a huge red flag.
Poor communication, where they don't listen, talk over you, fail to respect your opinions or are always yelling and arguing is also not a good sign. It shows that they can't be trusted, and this is something that should not be tolerated. Anyone who can't communicate in a calm and respectful manner isn't the kind of partner that you want to have.
Abusive relationships can lead to PTSD
When you are in an abusive relationship, you learn to cope with constant fear of your partner. You never know what is going to set them off and cause them to become angry with you. You feel like you are constantly walking on eggshells around them.
According to Paired Magazine,
The feeling of walking on eggshells is incredibly impactful on your relationship and your well-being.
“You may experience a sensation of tightness, discomfort, or uneasiness in your body when communicating with your partner,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“This is often accompanied by a sense of dread, which can manifest as an empty feeling in your stomach and a clenching of your jaw. However, everyone experiences this differently.”
If you are living constantly in fear of your partner, or setting off their anger at you, this can cause long-term consequences to your physical and mental health. When you are constantly alert for danger, this is called hypervigilance, which can be a sign that you have PTSD from coping with the trauma of domestic violence.
As someone who was previously in an abusive relationship myself, I know firsthand what it is like to live with this constant fear. I have PTSD resulting from being in an abusive relationship, so I also know how difficult it can become to get free from an abuser.
Leaving an abusive relationship
Although you may know that you need to get out of the relationship because it is destroying your life, it isn't always easy to leave. This happens because the abuser has asserted so much control over your life that you don't know how to get free of them, and you worry what will happen if you try to get away. The longer you have been in the relationship, the more difficult it can be to leave.
These fears are normal and well-founded. The time when you leave an abuser can be one of the most dangerous times for them to become violent. This makes it extremely important to create a safety plan prior to leaving. You may be afraid if you have children or pets at home, or if you are financially dependent on your abuser.
According to the Domestic Violence Crisis Center, when making a safety plan:
Obtaining a new cell phone
Changing a routine
Changing locks and installing security systems
Determining ways to keep children safe
Creating a plan for where to go should an incident occur
Calling Domestic Violence Crisis Center
Putting aside a bag with money, a change of clothes, identification, and medication.
Putting aside important documents like birth certificates and social security cards.
When you are planning to leave an abusive relationship, making a safety plan of how you will leave is critical. You can speak with a domestic violence hotline or shelter for additional tips, or to find a safe place to stay once you leave. It can also be helpful to consult with a lawyer, depending on your situation. By making a safety plan, you are making sure that you can protect yourself, your children and your pets as much as possible.
Once you have left the relationship, then it will be time for your healing to begin. An abusive relationship is extremely difficult to cope with, even once you have left. That makes finding treatment and a strong support system crucial. Whether you have PTSD or not, finding a therapist or support group specializing in Domestic Violence can help you move on with your life.
If you suspect a friend or family member is in an abusive relationship
Many people who are in abusive relationships are afraid to speak up about what is happening. This is a fear that is well justified based on the typical behavior of abusers. As a friend or family member, you may have noticed some of the red flags mentioned above. You may also notice that your loved one is withdrawing, or spending all of their time with their partner. Or, if they do go out alone, their partner is frequently calling or texting to check in.
According to Save Lives,
So, start conversations gently, conveying your concern. You could ask about things you have noticed, something like: "You haven’t been in touch much lately. Is everything OK?" or "I've noticed you seem a bit down. Has anyone upset you?" or even "I'm worried about you, you seem scared."
Before you have this conversation, make sure that your loved one is alone so that they can speak freely. Also, try not to have the conversation over text or email, because these channels may be being monitored by their abusers. Either a phone call or in-person conversation is best. This way, you will be able to talk to them without there being a record of the conversation.
Having support of friends and family can make a huge difference to someone in an abusive situation. It is important to make sure that you are kind and gentle in your responses. Many victims of domestic violence are treated with shame and blame, which makes it difficult for them to come forward. Offer genuine support, and let them know that you believe them, and that you know what is happening is not their fault.
Once you have listened and gotten some more information, you can help your friend or family member with safety planning, and offer them additional resources. Make sure that you keep the conversation confidential, so that their abuser won't become aware that they have spoken to you. This will help to maintain their safety as well.
Many people are suffering from Domestic Violence on a daily basis. If this is you or someone you know, you can reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline at:
Call 1.800.799.SAFE (7233)
Text "START" to 88788
If you are looking for assistance outside the United States, you can find a list of additional hotline numbers here.
By educating ourselves as much as possible about Domestic Violence, we can help to break the silence and stigma that surrounds this type of relationship. Additionally, by knowing what to look for when dating, we can help to ensure that we aren't getting into this type of relationships. As much as healthy relationships can enrich our lives, violent ones can destroy them.