February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and in honor of this, I’ve decided to develop an Intimate Partner Violence Series that is intended to equip individuals with the information necessary to 1) determine if they are in an abusive relationship, 2) develop a safety plan for while they are in the relationship, 3) seek support and resources to help them get out of the relationship and finally 4) identify signs of healthy relationships. This series is intended to be educational in nature and is not a substitute for seeking professional help. Please seek the help of a therapist in your area. Today’s post is Part One of this series. If this is a topic that has special relevance for you, stay tuned for future posts.
It can be tough to know what is just normal fighting or a few harsh words within a relationship and what defines intimate partner abuse. A main component of being in an abusive relationship is the denial that one experiences in relation to their partner’s behavior, making it challenging to identify potential abuse. Another common component to an abusive relationship is the alienation of the abused partner’s support system, meaning that those who may have wanted to speak out about the violence are now estranged friends and family members. If you’re concerned about behavior within your relationship I recommend you read through the following list of signs and see if any resonate with your experience:
1 | You feel on edge around your partner
If you feel you have to watch what you do or say in front of your partner to prevent a blow-up, that is a red-flag. We should be able to feel comfortable, safe and able to be honest and vulnerable in the presence of our partner without fear of setting them off.
2 | You constantly feel like you’re “in trouble”
In abusive relationships, the abuser constantly wants the abused to feel that they are in the wrong and that they’ve done something bad to “deserve” the abuse they’re receiving. I’m going to clear this up right now – no one EVER deserves abuse of any kind, whether it’s physical or verbal.
3 | Your partner spends a lot of time apologizing
Part of the cycle of violence involves the abuser apologizing profusely after an episode of abuse. For example, many abusers may drink or use heavily, engage in abusive behavior while intoxicated and the next morning (once they’ve sobered up) apologize and try to take back what they said.
4 | Your partner buys you expensive gifts
Especially in the beginning of an abusive relationship, the abuser will attempt to gain favor and control of their partner through the use of buying expensive gifts. Abusers also will buy their partner gifts or flowers as a way of asking for forgiveness following abuse.
5 | Your partner denies the truth
Often, abusers will completely deny saying or doing something abusive. This is why many survivors of abuse will claim that they felt they were “going crazy” in the relationship – in other words, abusive partners will manipulate the truth so often that you may begin to doubt your own memory or sanity.
6 | You have fuzzy or incomplete memories
Abuse is traumatizing and while experiencing traumatic events, the brain will often dissociate from the present moment or the physical experience of the trauma, making it more challenging in the future to recall abuse. If you have a difficult time remembering certain events, this could be an indicator of abuse.
7 | Your partner alienates you
This will often manifest as all your friends being your partner’s friends (so that you have no outside support) or could present as you having fewer and fewer relationships over time. An abusive partner will slowly erode away your other support and resources so that you don’t feel you have the option to leave.
8 | Your partner throws objects
Most people know that any form of non-consensual physical violence perpetrated against someone else is a form of abuse. But a lesser-known sign of abuse is a partner throwing objects around the house. Although one might say this is benign behavior, objects can inflict physical pain if thrown carelessly.
9 | Your partner talks down to you
If your partner belittles you, makes fun of you, calls you names, denigrates you, or in any way makes you feel badly about yourself as a regular practice, this is highly concerning. The way that abusive partners assert their control over their mate is through over time chipping away at their sense of self-worth.
10 | You make excuses for your partner
You may find yourself constantly explaining away your partner’s behavior such as “oh, he was just drunk,” or “he’s not usually like this,” or “she’s going through a really tough time right now,” in order to manage people’s perceptions of your partner. But in a healthy relationship, no excuses are necessary.
Although this list is far from exhaustive, it’s a good start to take the temperature of your relationship and see if there are any concerning attributes. If you'd like to learn more about warning signs of domestic violence, I suggest you visit this link. If you feel that you are in imminent danger, please seek help immediately, by calling The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or by calling 911. If you are not in immediate danger, but would like to find someone to talk to, you can find a therapist at PsychologyToday.com or if you are in the Los Angeles area, feel free to contact me for therapy. I hope you found today’s post informative. Please leave a comment below if there’s anything you’d like to add or ask. Stay posted for future articles in this series. Be safe and be well.
about the author
Hi! I'm Natalie. And I'm passionate about helping people create healthy relationships in their lives. Through couples counseling in Pasadena and here on the blog, it's my mission to help foster stronger connections, healthy communication and life-long love.