“Am I in an abusive relationship?”

All relationships have their ups and downs, so sometimes it can be hard to know if you’re experiencing a rough patch or if your relationship is truly unhealthy. What’s more difficult is that abusers often come off as electric, passionate, and attentive, making it easy to get caught up in their charm. However, it’s important to be able to recognize warning signs of abuse. Without intervention, abuse will always escalate and can result in emotional trauma, physical violence, and irreversible tragedy. 

But no relationship is perfect, so how can a person know if they’re experiencing abuse? Here are 10 red flags to look out for:

1. “Love bombing”

Abusers don’t usually show blatant warning signs in the beginning. In fact, they often appear to be perfect at first to hook their partner in. They might do something called, “love bombing” where they shower you with compliments, gifts, and attention to win you over before showing their true colors. Abusers are often quick to get involved, saying, “I love you,” early on and rushing to move in together, get engaged, or have a baby. The more serious they can make the relationship, the harder it is for their partner to leave.

2. Prohibited privacy

Abusers don’t respect their partners’ right to privacy. They come off as paranoid and may frequently accuse their partner of cheating, often because they’re hiding something themselves. If your partner invades your privacy in any of the following ways, they’re not exhibiting a healthy level of trust and respect:

  • Constantly questioning where you’re going and who you’re with

  • Expressing distrust every time you aren’t with them

  • Demanding to know your passwords 

  • Monitoring your phone, email, and social media

  • Expecting you to call or text them around the clock 

  • Telling you to snap pictures to prove your location  

  • Calculating mileage and time frames to verify your whereabouts

  • Asking friends to spy on you or showing up at inappropriate times to monitor you

3. Isolation and possession

In healthy relationships, both people maintain friendships and identities outside of one another. In an abusive relationship, the abuser creates an “us against them” mentality, guilting you for any time spent away from them and vilifying those who you were once close to. They may discourage you from seeing your friends and family or create drama to draw a wedge between you and your loved ones.

4. Compulsive controlling

In the beginning, an abuser will say that their controlling behaviors are for your benefit. “I don’t like you working because I want to take care of you.” “I don’t want you wearing that shirt because creeps will hit on you.” But these concerns are often a ruse for the abuser to gain control. Know that it’s not healthy for your partner to demand their permission for your clothing or appearance, hobbies, employment, or spending.

5. Frivolous fighting

Abusers pick fights over anything, starting small and escalating to test how much their partner will put up with. They tend to have dual personalities, being loving one moment and explosive the next. Unfortunately, abusers often only show their “good side” to acquaintances outside of the relationship, causing some friends and family not to believe that they are capable of abuse.

6. Calling you crazy

“Gaslighting,” or manipulating their partner to think that they’re the problem, is a go-to-technique for most abusers. An abuser will blame you for their actions and make baseless accusations to take the focus off of their actions.   


“You make me like this!”

“I wouldn’t have to cheat if you weren’t such a nag! All guys cheat – you’re the one with a problem.”

“You think I’m abusive? Listen to yourself! Girls can’t abuse guys - your stupid friends are putting crazy ideas in your head!”

7. Constant criticism

In a healthy relationship, both people want to see each other succeed. Abusers, on the other hand, want their partners to feel worthless so they won’t feel empowered to leave them. They achieve this by criticizing and demeaning their partner, telling them that no one else would want them and belittling their accomplishments. Whether or not abuse ever escalates to physical violence, verbal and emotional abuse can create lasting trauma and present a harmful example to children in the home.

8. Violence or intimidation

Violence and intimidation should be deal breakers in any relationship. Examples may include:

  • Forcing you to do sexual acts 

  • Breaking or striking things

  • Abandoning you in unfamiliar places

  • Making you use drugs or alcohol

  • Restricting your eating or sleeping

  • Preventing you from calling police or getting medical help

  • Driving recklessly with you in the car

  • Threatening or harming you, your pets, or people you love

  • Punishing animals or children harshly for not performing beyond their abilities, such as hitting a puppy for not being housebroken yet

  • Using weapons to intimidate

  • Hitting, pushing, shoving, grabbing arms or wrists, hair pulling or any other type of physical force

9. You’ve made excuses for them

“You don’t know him like I do.” “She didn’t mean it.” “It was my fault.”

Many people stay in bad relationships because they think they don’t deserve better or that they can change their partner’s behavior. Others want to leave but are afraid of the consequences. Know that if you’re afraid of what your partner might do if you leave, you are in an abusive relationship and should seek help right away.

There’s a better future waiting for you

If you’re experiencing abuse, you may feel hopeless and think there’s no way out. But it’s important to know that abuse is never acceptable, and there are safe ways to get help and move onto a brighter future. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, call the National Crisis Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233

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Koehn, B. (2017, October 31). Early Signs of an Abusive Relationship. Retrieved from

National Domestic Violence Hotline: Get Help Today: 1-800-799-7233. (n.d.). Retrieved 


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Signs of an abusive relationship. (n.d.). Retrieved from

How to Cite This Blog Article:

Shinn. M.M. (2019). Am I in An Abusive Relationship? Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from