17 Simple Signs That Someone You Know is in an Abusive Relationship

Red Flags

are easy to spot. They are bright and easy to see. Literally, red flags are used to warn of danger in many different places. At the beach, to warn of dangerous conditions in the water. At the shooting range, to warn of live ammunition. When used with behavior, “red flags” can be warning signs that a person might be abusive in their relationships. 

If you have a friend you suspect might be involved in an abusive relationship, or any friend who is in a new relationship, these red flags can be used to hint at whether their partner might be abusive. It doesn’t matter if your friend or their partner is gay or straight, old or young, male or female, abuse can be found in any type of relationship. Also, in many cases your friend might be too afraid to say anything or to try to get help. Afraid that their actions or pleas for help will only make the situation worse, or perhaps even trying to protect the abuser.

Physical assault is only one method of abuse, and even then is not always obvious. Sexual, verbal/emotional, economic, spiritual, and psychological abuse are all common abuse types and each can take various forms. For example, stalking, humiliation, and bullying are ways abusers manipulate and coerce their victims to suit their own needs. Therefore, looking at your friend, the potential victim is not always the best way to spot an abusive relationship. The best and easiest way to know if your friend is in an abusive relationship is to look at the person they are in the relationship with.

There are many people who might have a couple of these attributes who are not in an abusive relationship, these are warning signs only, not proof. However, the more of these traits someone has, the more likely they are to be an abuser. Like the red flag at the shooting range does not mean you will get shot (just that you need to be careful to avoid being shot), these warning signs mean that you should be cautious about any situation, be aware, and stay vigilant. As always, never confront a potential abuser alone, and always call 911 first in the case of an emergency.

Here are 17 of the most common warning signs of an abuser:

  1. alcohol or drug abuse
  2. has a history of trouble with the law, getting into fights, or damaging property
  3. abusive towards siblings, family members, children or pets
  4. degrading towards others or calls people names
  5. always angry at someone or something
  6. always trying to isolate and control a situation or person
  7. always having the “my way” mentality
  8. accuses the partner of cheating when it is them who is actually cheating
  9. emotionally, physically, or sexually abusive to anyone at any time, even in the distant past
  10. taking money or taking advantage of people
  11. lying about where they have been or who they have been with
  12. disappearing for days without any explanation
  13. making lewd or sexual comments towards others in front of their partner
  14. blames all arguments and/or problems on their partner
  15. threatens suicide to keep the partner in the relationship
  16. experiences extreme mood swings
  17. compares current partner to former partners

Many times the victim in the relationship can try to pass some of these warning signs off as “just joking”, “not serious”, or “they’re not normally like this”. Again, use your best judgment, it is true that everyone can have a bad day and make a rude or inconsiderate comment, this doesn’t make them an abuser. But in many cases too, a pattern of abuse can emerge, especially when more than a couple of these warning signs are seen. Please don’t carry around a checklist of these warning signs. The point is not to score a person to determine how abusive they might be. On the other hand, the point is not to go just on “gut feelings”. This list is meant to help you stay somewhere in the middle. Being aware of the danger signs of abuse, and understanding that these signs are part of a bigger picture, usually relating to control, selfishness, cognitive issues, past trauma, manipulation, and immaturity.

It may seem cliche, but the first step towards separating from abuse is to realize that the actions of the person are actually abusive, and that the person is an abuser. They are not likely to change, and the healthiest thing to do is to separate from them, and change your actions and reactions to their behavior. Many types of abusers need a certain type of reaction to their abuse in order to get out of it what they need. If they are not given what they need, in some cases, they may become disinterested.

The most important thing that can be done is to make a choice. Given certain types of behavior, the choice to see what the behavior actually means beneath the surface, the choice to act or not act to the behavior, and the choice to consistently and reliably separate from the behavior.

Abuse is a disease, passed from one generation to the next. One of the biggest problems in fighting abuse in our culture and among our friends and family is to recognize that many common actions we see are part of a larger picture, part of a pattern of abuse that begins to emerge if we know what to look for and how to look for it.

Literally everyone can benefit from a better understanding of abuse, please share this post. There is always a first action to helping someone you care about. Let this be it! 

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