Domestic Abuse: How to Spot Relationship Red Flags
Domestic violence takes many forms, including financial, verbal, emotional and sexual. But it’s always about power and control. Learn how to identify and free yourself from abusive relationships.
When you hear the words “domestic violence,” do you think of physical assault?
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Most people do; however, relationship abuse can go beyond the physical. If any intimate partner belittles you or tries to control you, that is also abuse.
“It can be difficult to break the power and control dynamic found in a domestic violence,” says social worker Karen Salerno, MSSA, LISW-S. “It’s important to know that the abuse is not your fault even if your partner tries to make you feel like it is.”
More than 12 million women and men are abused annually in the United States, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
“Knowing the early warning signs can help you avoid a potentially abusive relationship,” says Ms. Salerno. Be wary of any partner who:
“There tends to be a cycle of abuse,” she explains. “In the first phase, tension builds and a person may feel like they are ‘walking on eggshells.’ In the second phase, the abuse occurs.
“In the third, or “honeymoon,” phase, the abuser may apologize and all may seem well — until the cycle repeats.”
Abuse comes in many different forms, says Ms. Salerno. There are four main types:
Spotting clues in your partner’s past can help you avoid physical harm.
“If your partner has been violent with someone else, there is a higher likelihood that they will get violent with you,” says Ms. Salerno.
You also have cause for concern if your partner:
Less commonly, abusers can block your access to food or medication, or force you to drink or use drugs.
Do you worry about a friend with unexplained injuries, anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts? These may be signs of physical abuse.
Other signs include dressing inappropriately for the weather (for example, wearing a heavy sweater in the summer) and wearing heavy makeup (to hide bruises).
Although it may be less familiar, some abusers can use financial means to try to keep you dependent in the relationship. Be concerned if your partner:
If a friend or loved one says they must ask permission from their partner to meet you for lunch or to make small purchases, that can also be a sign of financial abuse.
Emotional, or verbal, abuse is intended to make you feel bad about yourself, Ms. Salerno says. An abusive partner may:
“Outsiders can usually recognize emotional and verbal abuse,” she notes. “It makes people uncomfortable.”
Sexual or reproductive abuse can begin early in a relationship and then escalate, says Ms. Salerno. An abusive partner may:
If you recognize any of these behaviors in your partner, know that help is available. It is important for your own safety to plan your exit strategy carefully. “Only you know when it will be safe for you to leave,” says Ms. Salerno.
She recommends taking these measures for safety:
Fortunately, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
“There is hope and help for people in abusive relationships,” says Ms. Salerno. “You can live a happy and healthy life, free of domestic violence.”