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How to Recognize an Abusive Relationship

Updated on February 18, 2019
WiseRabbit profile image

Robin has her Bachelor's degree in Psychology, and has personal experience in applying knowledge of Psychological concepts.


Remember when you were a little kid playing with your friends and everything was fun? You shared laughs over silly things, rode bikes together, traded ideas and secrets and took turns deciding what fun thing to do next. Somewhere down the line though, there was a time when relationships got complicated. And this did not necessarily happen because you got older. Sometimes there was a kid who always wanted to have their way, or would not play fair, or one who was a bully. Back then, hopefully there were parents and teachers who intervened and set things straight. But the truth is, while everybody grows up, not everybody learns to be a better person. Sometimes the whiners and the cheaters and the bullies just hone their skills as they get older. You are bound to run into them as you navigate the world of relationships. The following guide can help you determine whether or not what you are experiencing in your relationship is healthy or safe.

Do Fights Happen in All Relationships?

Going back to childhood again, remember the bully who got their group of friends by beating kids up first? I’m sure you’ve seen this phenomenon. In case you haven't guessed, this is NOT a healthy or safe way to start a friendship or relationship. The bully usually ends up becoming the boss and the subordinate “friend” usually obeys out of fear while harboring resentment.

The healthiest relationships end up being formed because of shared interests and common values. Enjoying a hobby together, working well together, going to places you both love and having a basic agreement on what is important in life can create a strong bond. Good relationships are built on things like:

  • Respect
  • Caring
  • Supportiveness
  • Encouragement
  • Comfort
  • Hope
  • Trust
  • laughter

Many abusive relationships can start out with some or all of those elements, but somehow devolve into something dark and strange.Of course people will disagree and get angry with one another, but there is a difference between having an argument and having a fight.

Healthy debate is fine, but yelling and intimidation are not healthy forms of expression. Anyone who consistently makes you feel afraid, insults you, threatens you, yells at you, manipulates you into doing things that make you uncomfortable, plays too rough, makes you think everything is your fault, makes you feel guilty to get their way, hurts or hits you is abusive.

If you are left wondering what happened to the wonderful person you started a relationship with, it may be they have just relaxed enough to show you who they really are.

Does Selfishness Belong in a Relationship?

Remember the kid who wouldn’t share? No one likes to be around a greedy person. Still, some people seem to think that it is acceptable to always expect to get their way in a relationship. While it is important to respect and honor each person’s individuality and needs, it is not necessary or acceptable for the relationship to be all about one person. Selfishness is a common trait of an abusive person. Most of the time, a selfish person tends to:

  • be overly possessive
  • be demanding
  • get jealous easily
  • be unconcerned about your needs
  • think that their way is always better
  • interrupt a lot
  • use the words "I" and "me" excessively

Relationships should be like a two way street, where each partner seeks to respect and meet the other one's needs as much as possible. Each person should seek to bring out the best in their partner. Each individual in a relationship should also have their own life, work and interests. This makes it more interesting when time is spent together. Overall, there should be a healthy balance between what is done for self and what is done out of cooperation.

What are Relationship "Deal Breakers" ?

If one person in the relationship keeps the other person from having a life of their own, something is wrong. Each person should be able to have a job, normal relationships with family members and friends, hobbies and activities. Most importantly, NO ONE should ever coerce you or force you to cut ties with your loved ones or friends in order to have all of your attention. This can happen when a partner does things like:

  • disrespects your family or friends
  • talks trash about them
  • stirs up trouble or drama frequently
  • shows no desire to resolve issues
  • says hurtful things designed to divide
  • demands excessive amounts of your time in exclusion to others
  • threatens or punishes you for spending time with others

Another tactic of an abusive person will be to try to convince you that all of your time, love and devotion should belong only to them. They may even use religion to persuade you to cut ties with good people that you care about. An abusive person sometimes tries to create the idea in your mind that perfection of life lies solely in your relationship with them or that it is, “you and me against the world baby.” If they succeed in cutting you off from family and friends, their ability to control you is increased as you will end up with little or no support to speak of.

Domestic Violence Documentary

Is There Hope for an Abuser?

Often, but not always, an abusive person also has an addictive personality. In many cases, abusers are alcoholics, substance abusers, gambling or gaming addicts. Sometimes their erratic behavior can be a result of their love for whatever they are addicted to. Even people who deny any drug or alcohol abuse can be secretly using and will readily lie about it if they are. Still, this should not be looked at as a good excuse for being abusive. Many people are emotionally and physically abusive before they are ever addicts.

The important thing to keep in mind about an abusive person is that they are not likely to change anytime soon or without lots of help. The majority of the time, your dedication, patience, pleading and attempts to set a good example will be all but lost on an abusive person. If you are successful at getting the abuser to go to counseling, you will have a lot of work ahead of you and it is likely the person will require support for the rest of their life. At times, even with counseling, an abusive person may learn to mask their unhealthy behaviors and eventually they may revert to them under stress.

This is not to say there is not any hope for an abuser, but the abuser must truly desire to change, and be willing to faithfully work at it. Do not accept hasty apologies, gifts, and promises, and do not let your guard down. Be aware and alert, especially if the abuser has been physically violent or has put you in danger.

Should I Confront my Abusive Partner?

Many times, an abusive relationship goes undetected for a long period of time. An abuser is good at hiding things in the beginning, and convincing their victim to keep quiet once the abuse has started. Abuse also tends to happen in waves, with periods of calm and even loving behavior in between. When abuse happens, victims can be fearful of retribution from their abuser. A victim may also be feel embarrassed for having let themselves get into this situation. Sometimes there are other reasons, including financial hardship that will cause a person to stay in an abusive relationship. But when you do get the courage to stand up for yourself, you need to use caution.

A number of different things can happen when an abuser is confronted about their behavior. First, keep in mind the confrontation does not have to be angry, or demeaning to your partner. However gently you put it, it will be necessary to assert yourself, and explain your realization that the relationship is unhealthy. Providing examples of inappropriate behavior or the pattern that you have seen developing can be helpful. Having educational literature can also help. But beware. Results can vary with each individual but in every case, it is advisable to think things through and proceed with caution. An abuser's reactions can include:

  • denial
  • pouting and sulking
  • giving reasons why you are to blame
  • telling you you're judgmental
  • blaming other people
  • tears and begging
  • a show of remorse that could include gift-giving
  • making resolutions and going through a period of reformed behavior
  • explosive outbursts
  • threatening and demanding that you not expose them
  • physical violence

Unfortunately, in some cases an abuser simply does not want to change. Sometimes, even after a period of reform, once the abuser feels comfortable again, the cycle of abuse can begin anew. It can be necessary to get professional help, but keep in mind it may never work out, and if your safety is threatened, you need to take care of yourself.

Men Can be Victims, Too

When do I need to take Action in an Abusive Relationship?

When deciding whether or not your relationship is healthy, ask yourself how many “red flags” are already flying. Have your friends or family members raised eyebrows or asked concerned questions about certain behaviors? Have you had feelings of doubt or fear about this person? Have you been manipulated, threatened or hurt, or has this person borrowed excessive amounts of money or possessions from you? Usually you can trust your ‘gut’ when it comes to relationships. If someone is creeping you out, making you feel bad or you are always in a fight, it might be a good time to take a step back and re-evaluate your situation. It may be time to move on. If there is a long-standing pattern of abuse and you feel frightened or trapped, reach out to family members, friends or the community for support. You may have to be very careful in doing this, so as not to let the abuser know you are doing so. It may be difficult, but never give up. Keep in mind that you deserve a healthy relationship and happiness.

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2011 BringingSpring


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    • WiseRabbit profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Western North Carolina

      Thanks. I only hope it can help someone.

    • profile image

      Aunt Mollie 

      8 years ago

      Very important information on this Hub. So glad you took the time to write it!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      this is great!


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