What Are Signs Of An Abusive Relationship?

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    It's usually easier for us to see other people’s problems than it is to see our own. This is especially true when it comes to seeing the signs of an abusive relationship. It's much easier to spot an abusive relationship when you're on the outside looking in, than it is when we're in the middle of one.

    Read the following submission I received from a man named Scott and see what signs of an abusive relationship you can spot in his situation:

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    Hi my name is Scott. I recently moved in with my fiancée. But I think she can be my common law wife? She has two older kids of her first marriage. 15 year old son and a 19 year old daughter. She has a strong temper. It's very hard to adjust since I never had kids of my own. I am planning to have my first child with her though. Anyway, we both have hurt each other emotionally and sometimes physically. When we fight it's all about insults. I am the one who always apologizes, but she keeps fighting, insults, orders me around. She gets anxiety attacks when she fights. My problem was that I tried to stop her leaving the house. That's when she gets violent and throws things at the floor, uses anything to hit me, injures me. When we don't fight it's great. I want this relationship to work. We just got a new house, I got her a vehicle, some furniture. I have her very spoiled. I can't say no to anything she wants." - Scott

    So how many signs of abuse did you find in their relationship?

    What The Signs Of An Abusive Relationship Can Look Like

    Reading Scott’s submission, I think there are at least 13 signs he’s in an abusive relationship, and potentially even more depending on how hard you look. That may seem like a lot, but actually having that many isn’t that unusual.

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    Abuse in relationships is typically very subtle and yet complex in the ways it occurs.

    Here are the abusive relationship signs I see in Scott's relationship and why:

    • "She has a strong temper" – Saying someone “has a temper” is a veiled way of saying there are anger issues present. Anger problems are common in an abusive relationship.
    • "We both hurt each other emotionally and sometimes physically" -- Abuse is not always one sided or just physical. Emotional abuse, verbal abuse, and psychological abuse are more typical and harder to recognize.
    • "When we fight it's all about insults" -- Becoming verbally abusive is common in abusive relationships. Notice how it gets personal and not just about the original subject of the fight.
    • "I am the one who always apologizes" -- Abusive relationships typically have one person who seeks to keep the peace. One of the ways to try to do this is to over-apologize. This can also occur because of manipulation by the other partner, which can be part of an abusive pattern.
    • "She keeps fighting" -- Abusers almost always continue until they win.
    • "Orders me around" -- Control and manipulation are common tools of an abuser.
    • "I tried to stop her leaving the house" -- Victims of abuse can resort to using control too, for good reasons, but with bad results.
    • "She gets violent and throws things at the floor" -- Aggression isn't a requirement for a relationship to be abusive, but it often occurs.
    • "She uses anything to hit me, injures me" -- Physical aggression can easily turn into domestic violence.
    • "When we don't fight it's great" -- People in relationships with abuse often tell themselves the relationship is really good despite the level of abuse. This is one of the ways they justify staying in an unhealthy relationship.
    • "I want this relationship to work" -- There can be desperation, not just desire, to hold on to the relationship. This can come from a fear of being alone.
    • "We just got a new house, I got her a vehicle, some furniture. I have her very spoiled" -- Trying to please an abuser with the hope that by doing so the abuse will stop never works.
    • "I can't say no to anything she wants" -- Being controlled is a sure sign of an abusive relationship.

    Scott is like a lot of people in relationships with abuse, he knows something's not right, but he’s not quite sure what. Many either have no idea they're in an abusive relationship or how bad the abuse really is. It's also important to note that men can be just as likely to be the victim of abuse, like Scott, as they can be to be the abuser.

    How Many Signs Does It Take For A Relationship To Be Considered Abusive?

    A question I often ask partners in counseling is whether the problem behaviors in their relationship should be considered abuse. Most are surprised that I would ask since they’ve never considered that possibility themselves.

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    If your husband yells at you once does that make it relationship abuse? No, but yelling at someone is still an abusive behavior – regardless of the provocation, intent, or how infrequently it occurs.

    And if your wife called you an idiot and gave you the silent treatment for a few days a year ago, does that mean you’re in an abusive relationship? Not necessarily, but again these behaviors are still forms of abuse.

    The problem is that in some relationships once these behaviors emerge, they can multiply and escalate over time. It’s the accumulation of abusive behaviors, their frequency, severity, and effect on the partner that needs to be considered.

    One bad day doesn’t need to brand your relationship as an abusive one, BUT one bad day when the behaviors are out-of-bounds and go unaddressed will very often lead to other days with similar behaviors, and it only gets worse as time goes on.

    It typically takes a trained professional counselor to spot all the signs of an abusive relationship. And a counselor is definitely needed to navigate the difficult path to changing or exiting one. So don't resist asking for help. It's not possible to do it alone and keeping silent is another sign you're in an abusive relationship.

    Editor's Note: This post was originally published October 12, 2013 and has been updated with new information for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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