Early Warning Signs of an Abusive Relationship

When it comes to abuse, the most important thing we can do to help ourselves and our children is to educate ourselves on the early warning signs of abuse. We need to know what to look for beyond name-calling, lying, and hitting. We also need to know how to spot an aggressive and controlling relationship, because while there are no physical scars, psychologically abusive relationships can slowly strip away a person’s self- esteem, self-worth, and quality of life.

By the time the obvious markers of abuse are met, the victim of abuse is already ensnared in a tangled web of emotions, including a strong attachment to the abuser. This attachment makes it all the more difficult to leave the abusive dynamic, making the victim more susceptible to escalating forms of abuse.

Here are some things to consider early on in a relationship:

  • Your partner is intense and over-involved.
  • Your partner has a need for constant contact.
  • Your partner gets too serious too quickly about the relationship.
  • Your partner is overly friendly or seems insincere.
  • Your partner tries to keep you all to himself/herself or discourages you from spending time with others, especially if he/she senses that they do not like him/her.
  • Your partner speaks disrespectfully about his/her former partners.
  • Your partner has a history of not cooperating with others.
  • Your partner is disrespectful toward you.
  • Your partner does favors for you that you don’t want or that make you feel uncomfortable.
  • Your partner calls you several times in a night or “checks up on you.”
  • Your partner is controlling.
  • Your partner is possessive.
  • Your partner is jealous for no reason.
  • Nothing is ever your partner’s fault.
  • Your partner is always right.
  • Your partner is self-centered.
  • Your partner abuses drugs or alcohol.
  • Your partner pressures you for sex.
  • Your partner intimidates you when he/she is angry.
  • Your partner has double standards.
  • Your partner has negative attitudes toward women.
  • Your partner treats you differently around other people.
  • Your partner makes fun of or humiliates you in private or in front of others.
  • Your partner puts down your accomplishments or goals.
  • Your partner constantly questions you and your decisions.
  • Your partner always takes a view opposite of what you say.
  • Your partner appears to be attracted to vulnerability.
  • Your partner never seems to be happy with you no matter what you do or how hard you try.
  • Your partner tries to isolate you.

The dynamics in any relationship can be difficult to observe objectively for those who are in it, and this is particularly the case in abusive relationships. The ups and downs you may feel in your relationship resemble a roller coaster ride, leaving you feeling unsure and continually questioning reality. Abusive behavior is not always overt and is often subtle. The most important thing is to pay attention to how you feel in the relationship.

If you can relate to any of these behaviors, you need to take a closer look. Each relationship is different and therefore, will have a different combination of behavioral patterns. Though ending a relationship is never easy, especially with an abuser, the sooner you get out of a toxic relationship and distance yourself from an abuser, the better. The longer you stay, the more your confidence and strength will diminish, the more isolated you will become, the more dependent you will be on your abuser and the more power and control he or she will have over you.

Excerpt from If He’s So Great, Why Do I Feel So Bad?


Avery Neal, PhD is a practicing psychotherapist, international author and speaker. In 2012 she opened Women’s Therapy Clinic, which offers psychiatric and counseling support to women. She specializes in depression and anxiety at all stages in a woman’s life.

Dr. Neal is the author of, If He’s So Great, Why Do I Feel So Bad?: Recognizing and Overcoming Subtle Abuse, which has been translated and published in twelve languages. Her articles and interviews have been published by Oprah.com, American Counseling Association, Counseling Today, BookTrib, Best Self Magazine, Hitched Magazine, Bustle, POPSUGAR and PKWY Magazine, and her courses have been taken by over 18,000 people worldwide. The International Association of HealthCare Professionals nominated her as one of the top psychologists in Houston.