A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

10 Early Warning Signs of an Abusive Relationship

According to recent statistics, nearly 20 people are physically abused by an intimate partner every minute. If that's not startling enough, one in three women and one in four men have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. But abuse isn't always physical—and it's not always easy to detect, especially if you're in the relationship yourself.

1 / 10
WAYHOME studio/Shutterstock

Extreme possessiveness

While the idea that your partner is yours and you are his can be charming and even sweet, when taken to extreme levels, it can be an extension of one partner not trusting the other. “The message of frequent jealous behavior is ‘I don’t trust you—and I don’t want you to talk to anyone I don’t approve of,'” explains Friedemann Schaub MD, PhD, author of The Fear and Anxiety Solution. In other words, the key sign of a possessiveness beyond the norm is isolating you from those you love—those who could possibly convince or talk you out of being with your partner.

2 / 10

Disregarding boundaries

Boundaries are an important attribute of a healthy relationship—they not only keep us sane when we’re living in close quarters with a significant other, but they provide an outlet for each person in the relationship to maintain his or her individuality. “Boundaries are natural and necessary demarcations of a person’s comfort zone,” Dr. Schaub says. “When your spouse ignores your boundaries—i.e. barging into your home office while you’re answering emails or opening the door to the bathroom without knocking—it indicates that your needs and preferences are not as important as his, which again undermines your self-worth.” On the flip side, here are signs that you’re in a healthy relationship.

3 / 10
Dean Drobot/Shutterstock

Controlling behavior

Control can infiltrate itself into every facet of your relationship—financially, physically, emotionally, and mentally. While each area of control may look different, the constant assertion of control is a sign that your partner doesn’t respect your ability to handle anything. “Financial control may look like a partner restricting access to your money or credit cards, attempting to control what you spend your money on, or preventing a partner from getting or keeping a job,” explains Kathryn Moore, PhD, psychologist at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California. “Physical control could be a partner limiting your access to a car, telling you where you can and can’t go or checking the GPS on your phone or your car to see where you have been.” You’ll want to avoid these other habits that destroy trust in a relationship.

4 / 10

Physical aggression

This doesn’t have to be physical touch or action—it can also be aggressive behaviors using looks, gestures, or words. It may also look like throwing or smashing things, punching walls, or destroying property, adds Dr. Moore. “Sometimes the aggressor might brush off violent behavior as ‘play fighting,’ but the behavior is meant to show that he/she has power and strength over the other person.” Another major sign that tends to fall on the early spectrum of abuse is forceful sex, Dr. Moore notes. “Forcing you to have sex when you don’t want to or expecting sex after your partner has spent money on you is not normal,” she adds. “Neither is manipulating you into having sex with guilt trips, threats, or threatening to break up.” Here’s what domestic violence experts wish you knew.

5 / 10
Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock

Keeping secrets

While some things are personal and don’t need to be shared even with your significant other, lying or withholding important information from your partner spells doom for the relationship, says Stan Tatkin PsyD, MFT, leading couple therapist and author of Wired for Love. “It damages the relationship’s safety and security system.” He does note that partners who agree to keep certain things a secret, whether that’s conversations they have in the workplace or what they do on the weekends when one partner is out of town, is different. “If one partner wants transparency and the other doesn’t, however, it’s time for a serious sit-down to discuss this principle.” Find out more signs that you may be in an emotionally abusive relationship.

6 / 10
Rocketclips Inc/Shutterstock

Ignoring you in a time of need

One popular form of manipulation that occurs in abusive relationships is when one partner ignores the other or gives them the silent treatment when that partner is in need, explains Paulette Sherman, PsyD, psychologist. “In addition, a relationship is abusive when you are in pain or need your partner and they act apathetic and ignore your requests as if they don’t matter.” Bottom line: If your partner acts as though your feelings and thoughts are not important or are never justified no matter the issue, it may be a sign of abuse. Check out the signs that you may be in a toxic relationship.

7 / 10
Fergus Coyle/Shutterstock


Gaslighting is a major form of emotional abuse and is a term that’s used to describe when one partner brainwashes the other to question their own sanity or the reality of the world around them. “It’s a particularly heinous tactic to misdirect, lie, and deny a truth to another person by making them doubt their perceptions, memory, and sanity,” says Dr. Tatkin. “If your partner uses gaslighting to escape from being found out, that should be a deal breaker.”

8 / 10
Marjan Apostolovic/Shutterstock

Unpredictable mood swings or angry blow ups

While it’s normal for couples to fight—and not abnormal if one partner gets more worked up over the argument than the other—aggressive explosions are not. “Sometimes abusive partners try to dismiss these blow ups as being ‘passionate,’ but it could be an early warning sign,” says Dr. Moore “Without reason, the partner becomes withdrawn, sad or angry and blames the other partner for their negative emotion.” If these intense rages are coupled with name-calling or other abusive language, there’s even more cause for concern, she says. These clues could signal you’re headed for divorce.

9 / 10
Marjan Apostolovic/Shutterstock

Excessive worry

Presumably, your partner cares a great deal about you, so, of course, he or she is going to be concerned for your health and safety. But if this worrying becomes a constant, and your partner is getting so carried away with their “concern” that he or she freaks out if you don’t text them back immediately or let you know when you’ll be home when the clock strikes 6 p.m., this may be a sign of early abuse. “Your sense of freedom and power over your own choices is slowly diminished, as you begin to accommodate his needs to keep tabs on you,” says Dr. Schaub.

10 / 10
Olena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock

Not saying sorry

If every single time you have an argument, your partner refuses to apologize or thinks he or she is in the right, don’t immediately consider yourself always wrong. In fact, this type of behavior is borderline abusive, experts say. “It is very one-sided, and it won’t change because the abusive partner refuses to grow or be introspective about what he or she can work on,” says Dr. Sherman. “You are always wrong and they are right, whether you agree with it or not, regardless of whether the facts support it.”

Jenn Sinrich
Jenn Sinrich is a freelance writer and editor with a passion for health, wellness and all things beauty. She has written for Women's Health, Shape, Self, Men's Health, Glamour and Healthline. Jenn holds a degree in journalism from Northeastern University, and she currently resides outside of Boston with her husband and two children. When she's not working, you can find her exercising, trying out new healthy recipes or exploring the city with her family.