How do you recognize you’re in an abusive relationship and reach out to others for help?
Almost 30% of couples report that they are struggling with some sort of abuse or domestic violence, but the issue is often denied, excused, or overlooked by the victim.
This is particularly true if the abuse is psychological rather than physical.
The first step towards getting help is to notice and acknowledge it, rather than avoid it. You should not have to live in fear of the person you love.
Look for the following red flags and, if they’re present in your relationship, reach out to somebody. Remember – there is always help available for you.
Signs you’re in an abusive relationship
How do you know that you’re in an abusive relationship? Well, one sign that you are in an abusive relationship is fear of your partner.
If you feel that you have to constantly watch what you say, and say it in a way to avoid angering or disappointing your partner, then it’s likely that you’re in an abusive and unhealthy relationship.
Other signs of an abusive relationship include your partner trying to control you or belittle you. You may experience feelings of desperation, helplessness, and self-hatred.
Here are a few questions you can answer right now to really know whether you’re in an unhealthy and abusive relationship. The more questions you answer with a yes, the more likely you’re in an abusive relationship.
Are you in an abusive relationship?
- Feel you aren’t sufficient for your partner?
- Feel helpless around your partner?
- Avoid talking about certain topics because you are afraid you may anger your partner?
- Feel afraid of your partner in general?
Is your partner belittling you?
Does your partner:
- Shout at you and humiliate you?
- Treat you badly and make you feel embarrassed in front of your family and friends?
- Put you down and criticize you?
- View you as a sex object, rather than a love partner?
- Ignore your opinions and accomplishments?
Do they display threatening or violent behavior?
Does you partner:
- Threaten to hurt you, or even threaten to kill you?
- Threaten to commit suicide if you say you’ll leave them?
- Have an unpredictable and bad temper?
- Threaten to harm your children?
- Destroy your belongings?
- Force you to have sex?
Are they controlling in the relationship?
Does your partner:
- Try to control you where you go and what you do?
- Act overly possessive and jealous?
- Prevent you from seeing your friends or family members?
- Limit your access to your car, phone, or money?
- Keep an eye on you all the time?
Physical abuse and domestic violence
Your partner may use physical force to harm you. Physical assault is a crime, no matter where it happens – inside or outside of your home.
You can always call the police because they are obligated to protect you.
Sexual abuse is a type of physical abuse
Degrading, unsafe, and unwanted sex are all signs of sexual abuse. Forced sex is an act of aggression and violence.
If you’ve been abused physically and sexually in the past by your partner, then consider it a red flag. You’re at risk of getting seriously injured or even killed.
Emotional abuse is still abuse
Even if you haven’t been physically or sexually battered by your partner, that doesn’t mean you’re not in an abusive relationship.
Your partner may also abuse you emotionally, which can be equally as destructive as physical abuse. Unfortunately, emotional abuse is often neglected and forgotten – even by the person who is suffering it.
Understanding emotional abuse
Emotional abuse destroys your self-worth and independence, leaving you with a feeling that you are nothing without your abusive partner, or that there’s no way you can get out of the relationship.
Name-calling, yelling, shaming, blaming, controlling, intimidation and isolation are all forms of emotional abuse.
In addition to using emotional abuse, your partner may also use physical violence, particularly if you cannot or will not give them what they want.
It might appear that physical abuse is worse than emotional abuse because physical injuries can hospitalize you and leave behind scars. However, the scars of emotional abuse run deeper. In fact, emotional abuse can become as harmful as physical abuse – and sometimes even worse.
Facing the big decision
Not sure whether you should leave or stay? Keep these things in mind.
If you’re not sure whether you should end the abusive relationship or try to save it, keep these important things in mind:
If you’re expecting your abusive partner to
The abuse will most likely happen again. This is an emotional and psychological problem, which isn’t solved easily or quickly – although it’s not impossible to resolve.
Your abusive partner has to take full responsibility for their behavior and may have to seek professional help in order to stop putting blame on you, their temper, their stress, or an unhappy childhood.
If you think you can help your
Of course, you may feel that you can help your partner. You may even think that it’s your responsibility to fix their problems.
But, when you accept their repeated abuse and try to fix it on your own, you actually end up encouraging the abusive behavior. Rather than helping the abuser, you’re actually exacerbating the problem.
Your abuser may get down on their knees and ask for your forgiveness and for you to give them another chance. You may think they actually mean what they say, but in fact, their goal is to stay in control and prevent you from walking away.
Once they sense they have been forgiven, they’ll soon return to their same abusive behavior because they’re no longer afraid that you’ll leave them.
If your partner is taking a counseling or
program for batterers…
Even if your abusive partner is taking counseling, it doesn’t guarantee that they’ll change.
Many abusers who go through counseling often tend to be abusive, violent and controlling. If they stop giving you excuses and stop creating problems, then that’s fine.
But you still want to make your decision based on how he or she is now, rather than hoping how they will become in the future.
If you’re scared what’ll happen to you
if you leave…
You may be hesitant to leave your abuser, thinking about what he or she will do, where you’ll go, and how you’re going to support for yourself.
Don’t allow the fear of the unknown keep you in an unhealthy, dangerous situation.
Protecting yourself from abuse
Even if you’re not sure whether you’ll stay with your abusive partner or leave them, there are certain things you can do in order to keep yourself safe from harm.
These simple safety tactics will help you protect your life from a potentially dangerous situation.
Preparing for emergencies
Know safe areas in your house
Identify safe places in your home and take shelter there whenever your abusive partner attacks you or starts an argument.
Avoid rooms that contain weapons (like your kitchen), or small enclosed spaces (such as your bathrooms or closets).
If possible, take shelter in a room that has a phone and a second door or a window so that you can easily escape or call for help if the situation gets out of control.
Establish a code word
Come up with a word, a phrase, or a signal that you can say to let your kids, family members, friends, and even co-workers know that you’re in danger and they need to call the police immediately.
Watch out for any red flags. Identify what triggers them to become upset with you or burst into violence.
Once you’ve spotted these signs, come up with some believable reasons why you must leave your home for a while – without letting them know the real reason, of course – so that you can remove yourself from a potentially dangerous or abusive situation.
Your escape plan
Keep your car’s fuel tank filled up, park it on the driveway facing road, and don’t forget to unlock the driver’s door. If you have a spare key, hide it somewhere where you can access it quickly and easily.
Likewise, have some extra cash, some clothes, emergency phone numbers and important documents stashed in a safe place (like at a friend’s place).
Rehearsing your escape plan
Practice your escape plan several times so that you know exactly what to do and where to go in case you are in danger from your abusive partner.
If you have kids, practice escaping with them as well.
Memorize the numbers of emergency contacts
Ask several trusted people if you can contact them to help you find a place to stay, a car ride, or to help you get in contact with the police.
Memorize the numbers of these people and of local shelters, emergency numbers, and domestic violence offices, if possible.
Covering your tracks
You may be considering ending the relationship or asking for help from a trusted individual, but you don’t because you are scared your abuser will get angry, find you and retaliate.
But there are a few preventative measures available to keep you safe from your abuser, even if they find out what you’re up to.
When seeking help for abuse and domestic violence, you need to protect your privacy first – particularly if you’re using a phone or computer that your partner has access to.
Protecting your phone
Try to use a public phone
When seeking help, try to use a public phone or a phone that your partner cannot access.
If you’re living in the United States, you can dial 911 (which is free of charge on most public pay phones) and call the police to intervene in your case.
When you’re in emergency situations, make sure you know where the nearest public phone is.
Turn off your cell phone when fleeing
Your abuser can use certain cell phone technology to listen to your calls or identify your location. This is particularly true if the cell phone has a GPS system, is set to auto answer, or is in silent mode.
So make sure you turn off your cell phone or leave it behind before fleeing from your home.
Use a corded phone, if possible
If you’re calling for help from your home, make sure to use a corded phone and not a cordless phone or cell phone. Calls made on cordless phones are easier to tap or listen in on.
Get an extra cell phone
Get another cell phone and keep it secret from your abuser. Many domestic violence shelters offer a free cell phone for battered women.
Computer and internet safety
Abusive partners usually monitor all of their partner’s activity, including their computer and internet usage.
Although you may be able to delete your internet history easily, doing so can cause problems in itself by making your abuser suspect that you’re trying to do something behind their back.
So delete your internet history infrequently or selectively.
Keep in mind that unless you’re a computer expert, it’s next to impossible to wipe out all traces of the websites you have visited.
Use a different computer
Avoid using your home computer when seeking online help. Instead, you can use a safe computer at your friend’s house, work, local community center, local library, or even at the local domestic violence center.
Avoid email and instant messaging
When asking for help for abuse and domestic violence, avoid using your email or instant messaging program because it offers little protection for your privacy.
Your abuser may know how to login to your account, scan through your messages, and find out what you’re up to.
If you really need to send an email, open a new email account, never mention it to your abuser, and make sure to remove traces of that website from your browser history.
Set new usernames and passwords
Set new usernames or passwords for all of your accounts, including your email, online banking, and other important accounts.
Even if your abuser doesn’t know your usernames and passwords, they may soon get them either by guessing or by using password hacking software.
Make sure you choose strong passwords so that your partner can’t figure them out – and avoid using your nicknames, birthdays, and other personal information.
Seeking refuge in domestic violence shelters
A domestic violence shelter is a place where battered or abused women go to find a shelter from their abusive partner. The location is kept secret so that your abuser won’t be able to locate you.
Domestic violence shelters offer everything you may need, including rooms, food, childcare and other basic living needs.
You can usually only stay there for a limited time, but they can help you find a new permanent home, a job, and other needs necessary for living if you want to start anew.
The shelter can help you find other services, such as:
HEALTH RELATED SERVICES
Protecting your privacy at the shelter
We have seen some sources suggest that you do not have to submit your identity at a domestic violence shelter, even if they ask you for it.
However, this may not be a wise strategy. Domestic violence shelters make your safety and privacy their top priorty, doing their best to protect the women and children they shelter. According to Marine, Deputy Manager at Jersey Women’s Refuge, “Most of our clients will require assistance with legal proceedings and administrative tasks which will require that we write letters of support on their behalf. For obvious reasons these need to have their real name on them. Giving a false name would also jeopardise their ability to retrieve their notes from our services in the future if they wish to use them as evidence in court processes.”
Keeping yourself safe after you’ve left
Even after you leave your home, it is still important to be vigilant and keep yourself safe from your abusive partner. That means relocating to a new place so that your abuser can’t find you again.
Mothers with children may have to change their children’s school.
Here’s how you can keep your location a secret:
- Stop using your old bank accounts and credit cards, particularly if you have shared them with your abuser. When opening new accounts, ensure you choose a different bank.
- Avoid using your home address. Rather, use your post office box.
- Get a new phone number.
If you’re living near your abuser, make sure to change your routine. Drive on a completely different road to work. Avoid going to places – bars, social clubs, and grocery stores – where your abuser may see you. Instead, find new places to socialize, shop, and run your daily errands.
Keep your cell phone handy all the time and don’t hesitate to call 911 in the event that your former partner shows up or gives you trouble in some way.
Getting a restraining order against your abuser can be a wonderful measure of your security. However, keep in mind that the police won’t be able to enforce a restraining order unless your abuser violates it or you report the violation.
In other words, you must be threatened in some way before the police can really step in and help you.
So do your research carefully.
Find out how the restraining orders are imposed in your neighborhood. Will your abuser be given a citation or will they be taken behind bars?
If the police simply give a citation or talk to the offender, then the offender may feel the police will do nothing, and thus be emboldened to hassle you. Or, they may become resentful and retaliate.
Don’t rely on the restraining order
Even if you have a restraining order or protection order in place, you’re not necessarily a hundred percent safe from your victimizer.
Your abuser may ignore it or the police may fail to enforce it.
Healing and moving on with your life
The trauma of abuse and domestic violence runs strong and deep, even long after you’ve cut all ties with your former partner.
To build new and healthy relationships and recover from the trauma, you might want to join a support group or seek counseling or therapy.
Even after you’ve gotten out of the abusive relationship, you may still find yourself struggling with frightening memories, upsetting emotions, or a sense of continual danger.
You may feel disconnected, numb, and unable to trust other people easily.
When horrible things happen in your life, it can take quite a while to overcome the trauma and begin to feel safe again.
But support and therapy from friends, family, and co-workers can speed up your recovery from psychological and emotional trauma.
Whether the frightening event happened several years ago or yesterday, you can always heal and move on with your life.
Forming new and healthy relationships
Once you feel you’ve recovered from your trauma, you may find yourself wanting to meet a new partner, form new relationships, and finally get the love and support that you’ve been missing for so long.
But hold your horses, and take your time.
Get to know yourself better this time and think about the things that lead to your previous abusive relationship.
If you don’t take the time to heal and learn from your past experiences, you risk falling back into abuse.
Give yourself the time you need.