The following are warnings signs, also known as "red flags," that indicate that a person or a relationship is at least potentially abusive. Scroll down for descriptions of what these indicators can look like. This list is fairly comprehensive but not definitive, and it is presented in alphabetical order, rather than in order of significance. Anywhere from one to all of these things is something to take seriously.
• Addiction • Blames Others for Own Problems • Controlling Behavior • Cruelty to Children and Animals • Forceful about Sex • History of Abusive Behavior • Hypersensitivity • Isolation • Jealousy • Jekyll & Hyde • Quick Involvement • Rigid Gender Roles • Striking or Breaking Objects • Threats of Violence • Unrealistic Expectations • Uses Force during an Argument • Verbally Abusive
Addiction Not only does addiction significantly increase the level of instability, stress, and physical danger in a relationship, the substance is the primary relationship, no less destructive than an affair. Ultimately, untreated addictions overwhelm any relationship and undermine true intimacy along with safety.
Blames Others for Own Problems If the person who is abusive is chronically unemployed, someone is always doing them wrong or out to get them. They may mistake and then blame their partner for upsetting them and keeping them from concentrating on doing their job. The person who is abusive will find their partner at fault for anything that goes wrong.
Controlling Behavior At the onset, the person who is abusive will say that this behavior is because they are concerned for their partner’s safety, their need to use their time well, or their need to make good decisions. The person who is abusive will be angry if their partner is late coming back from the store or an appointment, they will question their partner closely about where they went, whom they talked to. As this behavior gets worse, the person who is abusive may not let their partner make personal decisions about the house, clothing, going to faith services, or out with friends. The person who is abusive may keep all the money or even make their partner ask permission to leave the house.
Cruelty to Children or Animals This is a person who punishes, is brutal and insensitive to the pain or suffering of others; they may expect children to be capable of doing things far beyond their ability (e.g. hits a two year old for wetting his diaper). They may tease children or younger siblings until they cry. They may not want to eat at the table with children, or expect children to stay in their rooms all evening.
Forceful about Sex Considering sex with their partner to be a right or obligatory, showing little concern about whether their partner wants to have sex (or a particular kind of sex), becoming angry, sulking, or using guilt to manipulate or coerce a partner into sex is abusive. They might impose their sexual needs on a partner when they are asleep, tired, or not feeling well.
History of Abusive Behavior History has a way of repeating itself. Immediate differences between your relationship and what happened in your partner’s previous relationship can be very misleading. There is cause for concern if your partner speaks about previous abuse in a way that blames the ex-partner rather than acknowledging their own wrong-doing or you find out from friends and relatives that there’s more to the story than your partner is telling you (another reason not to rush into a relationship).
Hypersensitivity The person who is abusive is easily insulted, they claim their feelings are hurt when they are angry. They take the slightest setback as a personal attack. They will rant and rave about the injustice of things that have happened that are really just part of living, like being asked to work overtime or getting a speeding ticket.
Isolation The person who is abusive tries to cut their partner off from all resources. If their partner is heterosexual and has friends of the opposite sex or is gay or lesbian and has friends of the same sex, they are a called a “whore.” If they have close family connections, they are accused of being “tied to apron strings or childish.” The person who is abusive accuses people who are part of their partner’s support system of being “trouble makers.” The person who is abusive may want to live in the country or without a phone. They may limit their partner’s use of the car or prevent them from going to work or school.
Jealousy At the beginning of a relationship, the person who is abusive will often say that their jealousy is a sign of love. In fact, jealousy is a sign of insecurity, possessiveness, and objectification. The person who is abusive will question their partner about whom they talk to, accuse them of flirting or be jealous of time they spend with their family, friends, or children. As the jealousy progresses, the person who is abusive may call their partner frequently during the day or drop by unexpectedly. The person who is abusive may refuse to let their partner work for fear they’ll meet someone else, or even engage in strange behaviors such as checking their partner’s car mileage or asking friend to watch them, or asking the children to report on them. Jekyll & Hyde Many people are confused by their abusive partner’s sudden changes in mood – they often describe that one minute they are nice, and the next minute, they explode…as if they have a mental problem or are “crazy.” Explosiveness and mood swings are common for people who abuse their partners. These behaviors may or may not be related to other characteristics such as hypersensitivity and substance abuse. Quick Involvement Many people who were abused dated or knew their partner for less than six months before they were engaged or living together. The person who is abusive come on like a whirlwind, “You are the only person I could ever talk to,” “I’ve never felt loved like this by anyone.” The person who is abusive needs someone desperately and will pressure their partner to commit to them.
Rigid Gender Roles The abusive partner may expect to be served, for their partner to stay home and demands compliance, reprimanding their partner for asking any questions (even if it requires breaking the law). The person who is behaving abusively may see their partner as inferior, stupid, and unable to be a complete person with the relationship.
Striking or Breaking Objects This behavior might be used as punishment (e.g. breaking something of value to the partner) but also sends the message that this could be you, thus intimidating and/or terrifying the partner into submission. Pounding on a table, punching walls and doors, or throwing objects all are cause for concern.
Threats of Violence This would include any threat of physical force meant to control a partner. “I’ll kill you,” “I’ll kill you if…,” I’ll break your neck.” A person saying these things may mistakenly justify their behavior by saying that everyone says things like that when they’re angry. Unrealistic Expectations The person who is abusive is very dependent on their partner for all of their needs – they expect their partner to be the perfect mate, spouse, lover, and/or friend. They will say things like: “if you love me, I am all you need – you are all I need.” Their partner is suppose to take care of everything for them in the home and emotionally.
Uses Force during an Argument People can be come abusive when they “just want their partner to listen” or to “finish the conversation,” but holding down a partner, restraining them from calling for help, leaving the room, pushing or shoving them all are serious incidents of abuse. Verbal Abuse In addition to saying things that are meant to be cruel and hurtful, this can be experienced when the person who is abusive degrades their partner, swears at they, or minimizes their accomplishments. The person who is abusive may tell their partner that they are stupid and unable to function independently. This can take place with sleep deprivation, where the person who is being abusive wakes their partner in the middle of the night to verbally assault them, interrogate them, or undermine their optimal functioning.