Warning signs that a man might be an abuser

Sometimes a man courts or dates a woman and she thinks he is fine. But after they marry he reveals his abusive nature. This can happen to any woman. Whether she has never been married before, or has been widowed, or has divorced an abuser, or has been divorced by a man who dumped her for no good reason.

Any woman can be targeted by an abusive man, especially if she is kind, loyal, dedicated and truthful, as those are the qualities abusive men look for when they are wanting a long-term intimate partner.


I don’t mean to evoke shame or terror in women who are dating or being courted by a man. But the following posts may help you discern warning signs that a man might be an abuser. There are no guarantees because some abusers are so skillful that there are virtually no warning signs until too late. Having said that, it is never “too late to leave an abuser”.

Survivors and DV professionals describe domestic abuse and red flags (Don Hennessy series part 10)

8 Red Flags when Dating

Learning to see red flags

Identifying and establishing healthy relationships

Red Flags — Warning signs in me — A repost from MovedByFaith

Potentially Abusive Personalities: Some Red Flags — by Dr. George Simon, Jr.

Signs of an abusive relationship — where the abuse is hard to recognize

The language of abusers who portray themselves as victims — Vagueness & Contradictions

Discerning the difference between a victim and a liar: lessons from “Pride and Prejudice”

Going from anger to calm in an instant – a Red Flag of an abuser / psychopath

***

Further reading

What about remarriage? — One of our FAQs.

20 thoughts on “Warning signs that a man might be an abuser”

  1. From the original post:

    Sometimes a man courts or dates a woman and she thinks he is fine. But after they marry he reveals his abusive nature. This can happen to any woman. Whether she has never been married before, or has been widowed, or has divorced an abuser, or has been divorced by a man who dumped her for no good reason.

    (Bold done by me.)

    That.

    From the original post:

    Any woman can be targeted by an abusive man, especially if she is kind, loyal, dedicated and truthful, as those are the qualities abusive men look for when they are wanting a long-term intimate partner.

    (Bold in the original post — and also done by me.)

    That.

    From the original post:

    the following posts [listed in the original post] may help you discern warning signs that a man might be an abuser. There are no guarantees because some abusers are so skillful that there are virtually no warning signs until too late.

    (The phrase “listed in the original post” in brackets was added by me.)

    That.

  2. Dear Barbara,

    Thank you so much, ever so much. My journey has been from a childhood of abuse and neglect.

  3. Would highly recommend a couple of articles from the ARMS [AbuseRecovery Ministry Services] website and off.

    15 Warning Signs of an Abusive Relationship — Fifteen Warning Signs of an Abusive Relationship [Internet Archive link]

    Abusive Behaviors Checklist — Abusive Behavior Checklist [Internet Archive link]

    The 8 Types of Abuse and How they Present — Types of Domestic Abuse [Internet Archive link]

    The two we recommend re separation and divorce in abusive circumstances: When is Divorce OK? [Internet Archive link] [What Does The Bible Say About Divorce And Abuse? — By David Instone-Brewer]

    God hates divorce? [Internet Archive link] [By Sam Powell, My Only Comfort.]

    (The second one specifically goes into the Hebrew language and meaning.)

    Hope this helps add to the resources!

    1. Hi Julie Bonn Blank,

      Thank you so much for recommending the articles and including the links. 😊 We already have some of them in our Resources (or in our comments) — and if any of them aren’t already in our Resources, I will add them.

      I hope you don’t mind….I deleted your recommendation about the healing groups from the end of your comment — we haven’t evaluated them, so we are hesitant to include them in your comment.

      1. We are happy to have you add the resources. Whatever you find helpful. Also feel free to come and evaluate our free groups. I do that as well before recommending other groups to people so I completely understand. 😊

        Also, please email me if you would ever be interested in appearing on a blog post on our site. We would love to interview you or have you write a guest post about “A Cry for Justice”.

  4. Sure, I’ll agree it’s not falsehood to make a broad statement like this:

    Sometimes a man courts or dates a woman and she thinks he is fine. But after they marry he reveals his abusive nature. This can happen to any woman.

    But based upon stories from other men and also my own lived experience (still married to the gal) the following can also be true:

    “Sometimes a man courts or dates a woman and he thinks she is awesome. But after they marry she reveals her abusive nature. This can happen to any man.”

    Most men will not report receiving abuse out of shame — plus if they try, no one listens to or believes them due to the commonly accepted unbalanced narrative.

    Please make room for balance. Not all perpetrators are men.

    My two cents.

    1. Hi Priestlyscribe,

      You wrote:

      But based upon stories from other men and also my own lived experience (still married to the gal) the following can also be true:

      “Sometimes a man courts or dates a woman and he thinks she is awesome. But after they marry she reveals her abusive nature. This can happen to any man.”

      I agree — some women are abusers, and can be just as deceptive as men who are abusers. My apologies….we used to have our definition of abuse on the side of the blog, and it included the statement that sometimes the genders are reversed. We’ve only recently changed the theme of the blog and are still “playing around” with the appearance, where things are located, etc.

      You might be interested in reading some of our posts under the tag Male Survivors.

      You also wrote:

      Most men will not report receiving abuse out of shame — plus if they try, no one listens to or believes them due to the commonly accepted unbalanced narrative.

      I agree….and I’m so sorry if you’ve experienced this yourself.

    2. Thanks, Priestlyscribe. Reaching Out has already replied to you and I second everything she said.

      I’m curious to hear your feedback….but feel free to not reply. Could you read each of the posts I linked to in this post, and then let me know whether they speak to your experience or they help you in any way.

      Thanks in advance.

      1. Hi, Barbara, thanks for suggesting I read those posts. The last one caught my attention first and as a result I am currently chewing on the Guest Post by James. In the mean time I would suggest this “Ted Talk” by a man who silently endured abuse. His story really validated me. Suffering in Silence — The Emotional Abuse of Men — by Dr. Timothy Golden @TEDx Walla Walla, WA [Western Australia — New South Wales.]. Thanks!

      2. Thanks, Priestlyscribe. As is my normal practice, I watched the video you linked to before approving your comment. The video would indeed be helpful for a man who has genuinely experienced abuse from his wife. I like the way the video talks about men being conditioned in childhood to ignore their emotions and press on regardless of how much pain they are feeling.

  5. One of the reasons I try to follow and read ACFJ is because they tackle a terrible topic like abuse with grace and simplicity. A “short” post like this is still packed with a lot to chew on.

    Abuse is rooted in deception, but on a personal level, I’ve also found that it can often start with confusion. It starts with ambiguous confusions, but I struggle to end the journey with an absolute conclusion.

    I try to steer people who express confusion about abuse to this site, because it is a good place to start. You can’t really go anywhere, unless you know where to start.

    As Julie Andrews in the “Sound of Music” says: “Let’s start at the very beginning.”

    This site is (I think) the first place that actually dared to clearly define abuse. You can witness certain beliefs and / or behaviors, but you cannot properly discern unless you know how to define first. This site is chock full of info and insight that can pave a path through confusion, and onto a path of clarity. There are hard questions, and while they don’t offer easy answers, they acknowledge that such questions need to be addressed. They fundamentally ask and articulate how human beings should (and should not) absolutely NOT treat their fellow human beings. On a deeper level, how the Lord commands how we should (and should not) treat each other.

    Any woman can be targeted by an abusive man, especially if she is kind, loyal, dedicated and truthful, as those are the qualities abusive men look for when they are wanting a long-term intimate partner.

    I suggested we start at the very beginning, because I think there are certain basic, fundamental truths that get unintentionally missed or overlooked when we try to understand and untangle the complexity of abuse.

    Victims who are described as “kind, loyal, dedicated and truthful” are often treated as “winners” in one breath, and “weak” in the next one. They are seen as wonderful when those qualities cause others to be strengthened. But they are seen as weaknesses when those qualities cause an abuser to target them.

    And then the confusion starts, and if left unchecked, it leads to deception. A victim might start to believe that being kind means being “gullible”. Being easygoing means being “easy to lie to”. Being dedicated means being “exploited”.

    And then the victim might wonder: Is seeking to be Christ-like almost “as if” you are seeking to be a victim? Does bearing fruit of the Spirit lead to bearing a lifetime of traumatic burdens?

    Of course not. But I can honestly say that even with knowing the absolute truth, I could not absolutely believe it. Worst of all, those that profess Christ are “foggy” when it comes to how they confess Christ. They might say things to the victim like: “You are a giving person but you “let” him walk all over you. You either caused or contributed to the abuse. Be more stubborn in your ways.”

    You might hear the opposite! “You are a giving person, but you “let” your pride get in the way. You either caused or contributed to the abuse. Be more submissive in your ways.”

    (If you are like me, you are also wondering where I am going with all this. Bear with me!)

    First, no matter what the victim is or isn’t like, what the victim should or shouldn’t be like, it is fundamentally unrighteous to target any human being, an image bearer of the Lord, in order to victimize them. Period. No room for discussion on this point means no room for deception on any point.

    Second, no matter what kind of abuse, however long it was occurring, whatever the conditions and circumstances involved, abuse is never caused by the victim, it is inflicted on the victim. Period. No room for discussion on this point means no room for deception on any point.

    Third, no matter how many “warning signs” and “red flags” that are realized and recognized in hindsight, an abuser unrightfully obtained and then exploited the victim’s trust. He created a false pretense of a bond in order to cage her in bondage. It is fundamentally unrighteous to beat up a victim for daring to trust, when it is the abuser who dared to beat up her trust in the first place. Period. No room for discussion on this point means no room for deception on any point.

    It is a fundamental Biblical commandment for all of us to seek to grow in wisdom and discernment, not just those who have been victimized. It is easy to further target a victim for a supposed “lack” of wisdom, but neglect to realize how much each and every one of us should desperately cry out for wisdom.

    There are no guarantees because some abusers are so skillful that there are virtually no warning signs until too late. Having said that, it is never “too late to leave an abuser”.

    A good word for an abuser is an “actor”. We’ve all seen actors who play a character so well, and so convincingly, that we may have a hard time separating the real person from the fictional one. We have to remind ourselves that they were performing for us, in order to communicate with us. It was an intentionally well-studied, well-practiced, well-performed illusion.

    With an abuser, however, there are no illusions. They are trying to create as much confusion as possible, in order to solidify as much deception as possible. Even when I had strong hunches and large glimpses of hard reality, I still remained in limbo, so I struggled to discern the person from the performer. BUT, it is always worth the confusing struggle to reach the proper conclusions. Sooner or later, the curtain comes down, and then you realize it was all for show.

    One thing that has helped me is to listen to actors talk about what it was REALLY like to play some of their most famous parts. How hard they worked, and how long it took, and what is actually took, to create the most convincing of illusions.

    I’ll share one from “The Sound of Music”. Remember the opening scene of Julie Andrews singing and twirling around? Well, apparently in order to create those iconic shots, a helicopter had to fly around her. The poor woman was thrown down onto the grass and dirt, multiple times, in order to get those prized shots.

    Imagine the person of Julie Andrews covered in dirt and expressing real pain as the wind threw her down, and then playing the part of Maria without an ounce of dirt to be seen and certainly showing no pain, singing as if nothing could get her down. But I am sure the wear and tear got to her, in between takes.

    That is important to keep in mind. An abuser works hard, studies long and prepares well in order to play the part, but sooner or later the wear and tear will get to him, and it will show.

    By the way, this can applied to the victim as well, who is desperately playing the part as well as playing along with the abuser, in the name of sheer survival. The victim may be encouraged to keep up the show, keep the curtain from coming down for as long as possible. That one must perform in order to profess Christ.

    I don’t have an easy, exact answer to that, except for this: Lies are always rooted in bondage. He did not rescue me from bondage in order to live with more bondage. That fundamentally goes against the fundamentality of His righteousness.

    1. Helovesme,

      You wrote (11th May 2023):

      Abuse is rooted in deception

      That.

      Victims who are described as “kind, loyal, dedicated and truthful” are often treated as “winners” in one breath, and “weak” in the next one. They are seen as wonderful when those qualities cause others to be strengthened. But they are seen as weaknesses when those qualities cause an abuser to target them.

      That.

      no matter what the victim is or isn’t like, what the victim should or shouldn’t be like, it is fundamentally unrighteous to target any human being, an image bearer of the Lord, in order to victimize them. Period.

      That.

      no matter what kind of abuse, however long it was occurring, whatever the conditions and circumstances involved, abuse is never caused by the victim, it is inflicted on the victim. Period.

      That.

      no matter how many “warning signs” and “red flags” that are realized and recognized in hindsight, an abuser unrightfully obtained and then exploited the victim’s trust….It is fundamentally unrighteous to beat up a victim for daring to trust, when it is the abuser who dared to beat up her trust in the first place. Period.

      That.

      the victim….who is desperately playing the part as well as playing along with the abuser, in the name of sheer survival.

      That.

      He [Jesus] did not rescue me from bondage in order to live with more bondage. That fundamentally goes against the fundamentality of His [Jesus’] righteousness.

      (Jesus in brackets added by me.)

      That.

      1. Thank you so much for your reply and kind words! The encouragement means a lot.

        My main abuser was my parent, but no matter who abused you, it messes up a victim on every level imaginable, even in ways you might not have even imagined. I certainly found that out the hard way, over a lot of hard times and hard years.

        The foundation of any relationship is trust. When trust is abused, it can be very hard for a victim to lower their guard to attempt to trust again. They fear getting hurt again. I can certainly relate to that; I formed a hard shell in order to protect myself.

        However, on the flip side, I found myself in situations where I was so desperate to trust someone, that I found myself willing to trust just about anyone. Being abused impaired my judgment; not in being “too” discerning, but not discerning enough. I wondered if I needed to be more “fearful” in order to stop getting hurt.

        But the thing I think I feared the most, was being alone. No just being lonely (that can be pretty hard, too). But being alone, left alone — that goes much deeper. That is a state of being that as a victim, I wrestled with. I wanted to be left alone because that was the only way to NOT be abused. But I also feared being left alone because that too, is a form of abuse: neglect. No one is perfectly, 100% self-sustaining. We do need each other on some basic, interactive level.

        But no matter what, qualities like being “kind, loyal, dedicated and truthful” require a person to take a certain amount of risk. You cannot possibly attempt to bond with a person if you do not attempt to open yourself up to forming one in the first place.

        Even as I understood this, especially after the Lord got a hold of me, I faced a lot of mixed messages from professing Christians that only fed the confusion that I was so desperate to be rid of.

        It would go like this: I feared being “too nice” (aka, “no wonder you got hurt”). I feared being “too nasty” (aka “no wonder you got hurt”). No matter what, I felt like I was to blame for being “too” trusting, or not trusting enough.

        Sound familiar? This was often the exact message I experienced when being abused as a child. Please people in order to appease people. Please people in order for people to not hurt you. Please people in order to be loved by people.

        Since those are 100% impossible expectations, I had zero expectation of never being abused. In fact, it was 100% guaranteed that abuse would not only continue, but worsen. The more and more obvious it was that those expectations were impossible to meet, the more and more obvious it was that I “deserved” to be abused.

        It’s a non-stop “shooting” gallery. I tried and tried not make myself “stand out” as a target, but nothing I did made that possible. In order to survive, all I cared about was dodging as many “bullets” as possible.

        This became the system of “people-pleasing” that was created for me via abuse, that I created for myself via being abused, and one that I desperately wanted to be freed of. But I found it carried right into my walk with Christ, partly because it was so embedded in me, but also because people-pleasing is often encouraged among professing Christians. It is mistakenly portrayed as “Biblical servanthood”.

        People-pleasing is 100% devoid of Christ even if it seems Christ-like on the surface because acts of service do run rampant. But in reality, it is a system of “bartering” and “bargaining” in order to get something for yourself, get something from someone, or get away with something. It is rooted in idolatry and self-idolatry. It is based on being feared or being fearful. It is founded on feeding the entitlement that others are allowed to hurt you, in order to safeguard your own lack of entitlement in not being allowed to get hurt. In short, it does not trust in Christ’s perfect and perfectly finished work on our behalf on the cross. It promotes the lie that we need to complete what He already completed for us. It puts us on a perpetual treadmill of running to, running away, running in vain in order to earn what can never be earned: to be treated as an equal member of the human race.

        My ultimate goal was to form actual bonds with actual people around me, but the biggest lie I told myself (and others told me) was that being a people-pleaser would accomplish that. It did the exact opposite. I was more alone and lonely than ever. I also got hurt a LOT, because as in my childhood, I kept falling short of the expectations of others, and I kept getting blamed for falling short. Worst of all, it damaged my walk with the Lord. I was actually pushing Him away by my lack of trust in His finished work for me.

        I once read something wonderful: that the Bible is all about the revelation of Jesus Christ. So it’s not a “How-to” manual, it’s not a list of do’s and don’ts, it’s not even a relationship “help” book. Everything in it is meant to point to Christ Himself.

        Ironically, as we walk in Christ, that can be the ONE thing we leave out of that very walk! Being changed from glory to glory by Him, for Him and back to Him. Being born again means reckoning the old person as dead and being reborn in Christ’s image. Everything we aim for in Him starts with abiding in Him first. Isn’t the One who fills the whole universe also the One that fills my own heart? I may feel alone, but I am never truly alone.

        Being a “recovering” people-pleaser means taking it one day at a time, much in the same way that His mercies are new every morning.

        Most of all, I remember His life in the Gospels. He did everything perfectly right, no sin was found in Him, and He was betrayed by His own people. Abuse, at its heart, is not only murder, but betrayal as well. Aside from abuse, being with Him does carry the risk of being hurt like Him.

        One more thing: I take responsibility for believing and behaving as a people-pleaser, but I am not responsible for those who took advantage of me as a people-pleaser. It is too easy to blame myself, as if I was “asking for it”. But the truth is, anyone who is “asking” to be treated with any measure of indignity, is someone who is actually “asking” to be treated with the full measure of dignity they deserve.

      2. Helovesme,

        You wrote (14th May 2023):

        The foundation of any relationship is trust. When trust is abused, it can be very hard for a victim to lower their guard to attempt to trust again.

        That.

        being alone, left alone — that goes much deeper.

        That.

        being left alone….that too, is a form of abuse: neglect.

        That.

        No one is perfectly, 100% self-sustaining. We do need each other on some basic, interactive level.

        That.

        require a person to take a certain amount of risk. You cannot possibly attempt to bond with a person if you do not attempt to open yourself up to forming one in the first place.

        That.

        No matter what, I [Helovesme] felt like I was to blame for being “too” trusting, or not trusting enough.

        (Helovesme in brackets added by me.)

        I’m so sorry, Helovesme. 😢

        people-pleasing is often encouraged among professing Christians. It is mistakenly portrayed as “Biblical servanthood”.

        That.

        puts us on a perpetual treadmill of running….in vain….in order to earn what can never be earned: to be treated as an equal member of the human race.

        That.

        I [Helovesme] was more alone and lonely than ever. I also got hurt a LOT, because as in my childhood, I kept falling short of the expectations of others, and I kept getting blamed for falling short. Worst of all, it damaged my walk with the Lord.

        (Helovesme in brackets added by me.)

        I’m so sorry, Helovesme. 😢

        the Bible is all about the revelation of Jesus Christ….Everything in it is meant to point to Christ Himself.

        That.

        Being born again means reckoning the old person as dead and being reborn….Everything we aim for in Him [Jesus] starts with abiding in Him first. Isn’t the One who fills the whole universe also the One that fills my own heart? I may feel alone, but I am never truly alone.

        (Jesus in brackets added by me.)

        That.

        He [Jesus] did everything perfectly right, no sin was found in Him, and He was betrayed by His own people. Abuse, at its heart, is not only murder, but betrayal as well. Aside from abuse, being with Him does carry the risk of being hurt

        (Jesus in brackets added by me.)

        That.

        I [Helovesme] am not responsible for those who took advantage of me as a people-pleaser. It is too easy to blame myself

        (Helovesme in brackets added by me.)

        That.

  6. Glad to have found this blog. There are women in my life that have been targeted by abusive men and it is incredibly disturbing when I can recognize certain aspects of that behavior that they cannot. The adage “Love is blind” can have warm fuzzies attached to it, but in reality, it can also be very dangerous. Thanks for writing about this!

    1. Hi Charles,

      For the safety and protection of you and the women in your life who’ve been targeted by abusive men, I’ve changed the screen name you submitted with your comment. If you’d prefer a different screen name, please email me at reachingout.acfj@gmail.com.

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