Signs of an abusive relationship — where the abuse is hard to recognize
If your partner is displaying a combination of these behaviors, you may have a potential violent person on your hands.
This list is adapted from “Signs to Look for in a Battering Personality,” from the Project for Victims of Family Violence, Fayetteville, Arkansas, and can be found at the archive of ARMS (Abuse Recovery Ministry Services). [May 17, 2021. An Internet Archive of the list can be found here. The ARMS archive title of the list is Fifteen Warning Signs of an Abusive Relationship. Editors.]
1. A push for quick involvement: Comes on very strong, claiming, “I’ve never felt loved like this by anyone.” An abuser pressures the woman for an exclusive commitment almost immediately.
2. Jealousy: Excessively possessive; calls or texts constantly, visits unexpectedly, prevents you from going to work because “you might meet someone,” checks the mileage on your car, accuses his victim of cheating on him.
3. Controlling: Controls what you do, who you see, controls finances or whether you allowed to work or not. Controls what happens at home. Questions you intensely.
4. Unrealistic expectations: Expects you to be the perfect woman and meet his every need. Expects you to do more than you are able to
5. Isolation: Tries to cut you off from family and friends; accuses people who are your supporters of “causing trouble.”
6. Blames others for problems or mistakes: The boss, you – it’s always someone else’s fault for his abusive behavior or if anything goes wrong.
7. Makes everyone else responsible for his feelings: The abuser says, “You make me angry” instead of, “I am angry”, or “You’re hurting me by not doing what I tell you.” Less obvious is the claim: “You make me happy.”
8. Hypersensitivity: Is easily insulted, claiming that his feelings are hurt when he is really mad. He’ll rant about the injustice of things that are just a part of life.
9. Cruelty to animals and to children: Kills or punishes animals brutally. Also may expect children to do things that are far beyond their ability (spanks a 2 year old for wetting a diaper or may tease them until they cry.)
10. “Playful” use of force during sex: Enjoys throwing you down or holding you against your will during sex; says he finds the idea of rape exciting.
11. Verbal abuse: Criticizes you or says blatantly cruel, hurtful things; degrades, curses, calls you ugly names. This may also involve sleep deprivation, waking you up with relentless verbal abuse.
12. Rigid sex roles: Expects you to serve, obey and remain at home. Doesn’t see you as his equal, nor respects you.
13. Sudden mood swings: Switches from sweetly loving to explosively violent in a matter of minutes or even more confusing, within seconds.
14. Past battering: Admits to hitting women in the past, but says that they made him do it, or the situation brought it on.
15. Threats of violence: Makes statements like, “If I can’t have you, no one will”, or, “I could kill you,” then dismisses them with “Everybody talks that way”, or, “I didn’t really mean it.” If he has come this far, it is time to get help, or get out!
We published this list on our FB page recently, and Victoria commented:
I’m not sure what the answer to this is, but every time I read a “Warning Signs” list I get a little frustrated, not because its not true, but because I know if I had read that list a year ago I would never have recognized that what was going on was abuse. … I did know that our relationship was not healthy. I probably would have believed (if the idea were presented) that I was not respected by my husband, but I never would have been able to read a list like this and say “Ah Ha! He’s abusing me!”. He did all (or most) of these things in such a sly way and had me so programmed to think the best of him in ALL situations that I would have never recognized things like “isolation”. I was terribly upset that after we wed he refused to move back to my home state, but I never saw it as “isolation”, I thought he was afraid… When he shot our dog, he convinced me it was the “humane” thing to do since just dumping it off somewhere the dog might starve. …. The fact that I could not watch my favorite TV shows was presented as his “leadership” since some of the humor was rather “worldly”— yet sex and violence in movies WAS ok for him—… the fact that I was not allowed to hang towels or washcloths anywhere except his prescribed places seemed like a ridiculous thing and I assumed it was his strict upbringing come out in him… Oh, I could go on! But you see, I just don’t know how I would have been able to show me that what I was dealing with was abuse? It was a HARD road to finally SEE that his acts were intentional and part of a pattern of control, domination, degradation and abuse. I just wish there were an easy was to help people recognize these types of situations
We think Victoria’s experience is fairly common. So we’d like to ask you, dear readers, to suggest a list of signs that might have been helpful for those of you whose abusers were so subtle and covert that it was exceptionally hard to see it as abuse. Maybe we can collectively come up with a list of signs that might help victims of the most subtle gaslighting and emotional abuse. What questions would have helped switch the light bulbs on for you?