When you’re wondering “am I in an abusive relationship?” it’s natural to feel confused and overwhelmed. While this is never an easy question to ask, this article will support you in identifying signs of an abusive relationship.
Am I in an Abusive Relationship?
There are many signs of being in an abusive relationship. Some of these signs are typically very clear such as physical abuse including hitting.
However, many other abusive relationship signs are less obvious. When less overt abuse happens in your relationship, it’s natural to feel confused. You may second guess yourself or wonder if you’re being too sensitive. To support you, this article will cover signs of abuse that are typically less discussed.
Abusive Relationship Sign #1: Your Relationship – and Partner – Were Perfect in the Beginning
When you are in a relationship with someone who is abusive, they may initially seem like the perfect person.
It can often seem like this person was exactly who you always wanted to meet. When you met, they may have been be super attentive and supportive. If you had a problem, they would drop what they had going on to listen.
Or they’d surprise you with amazing gifts and plan incredible dates. Or they’d often describe how they have never met anyone like you. They may have went on and on about how you are the most incredible, sexy, etc. person they’d ever met.
They also may have been really quick to get you to commit to them – or even get married.
Love Bombing You at First
All of this intensity and excitement can be used to mask an abusive partner’s true nature. This is love bombing.
This is an abusive relationship tactic because it pulls you feeling deeply connected to them. Then once they have established your loyalty and commitment to them, they act in their true abusive nature. When they are hurtful, offensive, and demeaning, you will naturally question yourself because they are so “perfect.”
Abusive Relationship Sign #2: You Feel Crazy
Abusive relationships degrade your sense of self-trust. This is because an abusive partner actively confuses your reality.
When they start the relationship love bombing you, then you won’t understand when they start mistreating you. It doesn’t make sense based on who they acted like when you first met. Naturally, once you love someone – and they have established a certain personality – when they act hurtfully, you will wonder if you’re seeing things correctly.
You will naturally begin to question yourself – feeling “crazy,” bad, or wrong – for questioning your partner. Over time, in an abusive relationship you will be filled with anxiety and constant self-doubt.
Gaslighting Confuses Your Reality
Love bombing is a form of gaslighting. You don’t know who the “real” version of your partner is. It seems like there is the “good” partner who you fell in love with and some other person they act like at times you don’t know.
When I was in an emotionally abusive relationship with an addict with narcissistic traits, I would often ask him to be the “good” version of himself when we would spend time together. When he would hurt me, I’d say he was acting like the “bad” version of himself. Sadly, this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde situation, kept me in this relationship for much longer than if I understood the reality.
In truth, both versions of him were the “real” version – and he was abusive.
Abusive Relationship Sign #3: You Think You’re the Problem
After love bombing you, an abusive partner will continue to gaslight you. They will act like any concerns you have in the relationship are always actually your fault. For example, if you tell them that they hurt your feelings, they will deflect. They were “only joking”, for example. Or you’re always “too sensitive.”
An abusive partner always makes excuses for why they hurt you. They will always find a way to explain that if only you behaved differently, they wouldn’t need to hurt you. An abusive partner refuses to apologize or take genuine accountability. (This is where you apologize and own the ways your behaviors or words contributed to the problem.)
Abusive Relationship Sign #4: Your Body Keeps Telling You Something is Wrong
When you’re in an abusive relationship often you will feel it in your body. For example, you may feel a nagging sensation in your gut whenever they talk about a coworker. Deep down, you may literally feel that they are hiding something.
But because an abusive partner gaslights you, it then becomes second nature to gaslight yourself. You may know in your bones that they are cheating on you, for instance, but because you don’t have proof, you feel “crazy.” Or you may feel guilty you ever question their loyalty to you.
In my own life, with the abusive addict who acted like a narcissist, my body told me clearly that things were wrong with him in the beginning. Early into our relationship, I would get panic attacks when I was going to see him. Deep down, I knew this was a sign he wasn’t good for me. Yet, I didn’t want to believe myself. He seemed so perfect (remember how love bombing works?) after all.
Abusive Relationship Sign #5: They Expect Sex
In a healthy relationship, partners understand that it’s completely common to desire sex at different times or frequencies. They can talk about these differences openly and negotiate around sex in a way that feels respectful to each person’s needs and desires. Sex provides couples an opportunity to connect intimately.
Yet in an abusive relationship, sex is often a tool. An abusive partner will see sex as a way of validating themselves i.e., feeling sexy and getting their own desires met. Abusive partners may be selfish in sexual interactions and entitled.
When a partner declines to have sex, an abusive partner will become hurtful. They may pout, give the silent treatment, or later withhold sex to “punish” their partner. Or an abusive partner may even sexually assault their partner. (If this happens, please seek outside support such as in therapy or you may call or chat online for free, confidential support at RAINN 1-800-656-HOPE or chat online.)
Abusive Relationship Sign #6: They Control or Steal Your Money
Financial abuse which includes controlling, stealing, or limiting your ability to earn money is very common in abusive relationships.
Ways that this may manifest include your partner telling you that they “need” you to stay home longer without a paid job. Or they may expect you to deposit your full paycheck into a shared account but they consistently spend money without talking to you. They may “borrow” money by logging into your bank account. Or an abusive partner may suddenly find themselves out of work and refuse to get another job. They then expect you to pay for everything without contributing. They may act entitled to your money.
If You’re in an Abusive Relationship
As you read these 6 signs of an abusive relationship, what did you notice?
Can you relate to 1 or more of these signs? The more signs present in your relationship, the more confirmation your relationship is abusive. If your relationship is abusive, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. Yet you are doing an incredibly courageous thing by being here. Truly, the first step to healing is to identify the truth that your relationship is abusive.
To heal your relationship, it’s important to see if your partner is willing to do couples therapy with you. If they are, this is wonderful news. To support you for your first session, you may want to review 5 Tips for Your First Couples Therapy Session.
You Can Heal
If your partner is unwilling to attend couples therapy with you, it’s still wise to seek therapy if at all possible. You deserve a support, ally, and guide as you navigate this abusive relationship.
If you can’t afford therapy, you can still heal. The first step to heal you are already doing – you are honoring the truth your relationship is abusive.
If You Aren’t Safe
If you are in an unsafe situation, work towards letting someone in your life know about this – you truly deserve a support.
Also, try to create an emergency bag with access to some money so you can leave immediately if necessary. You may also need to plan around your children or pets. You can create a detailed safety plan here. (You may need to access this website on a computer that your partner doesn’t have access to like at the library since computer usage can be tracked).
Now if your partner is unwilling to do therapy with you, then you must focus on your own healing. This doesn’t mean you have to be ready to leave your partner. Instead, focus on building up your own self-esteem and figuring out your boundaries.
There are many articles on this blog to help with your healing journey! Take some time to really review these articles – and keep coming back to review them/find new ones – to help guide you:
- How to Get Over Someone You Love – But is Toxic: 5 Steps to Heal
- An Essential Therapy Skill: Wise Mind from DBT
- Self-Esteem Positive Affirmations: Why They Help & a List to Use Now
- 4 Practical Tips to Learn How to Be Nice to Yourself
- Self-Worth Journal – Free Daily Journaling Worksheet
- Building Self Confidence in Your Relationships: 4 Simple Steps and,
- Can You Heal Trauma on Your Own? 4 Clear Steps to Heal
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About The Author
Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist and author with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to find their voice, deepen their ability to self-love, and improve their relationships.
Her newest book, Setting Boundaries: 100 Ways to Protect Yourself, Strengthen Your Relationships and Build the Life You Want…Starting Now! (Therapy Within Reach), gives you the tools necessary to identify, set, and stay firm with your boundaries.
Her other books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many overcome people pleasing, self-neglect, and resentment to have a healthier relationship with themselves and others.
If you have any personal dating or relationship questions, Krystal is happy to provide advice using her expertise and compassion. If you feel comfortable, feel free to leave any questions in the comments of this post. Otherwise, you may send an email to email@example.com or DM her on Instagram. Your name and any other identifying information will always be kept confidential.