15 Often-Overlooked Warning Signs You're In An Abusive Relationship

There is a life of happiness and love outside of abuse.

Last updated on Jul 05, 2024

Overlooked warning signs stressed woman realizes she is in abusive relationship Nomad_Soul | Shutterstock

No one plans to enter physically or emotionally abusive relationships. Many survivors of domestic abuse swear to themselves after they've escaped, now they know the signs of an emotionally abusive relationship and potential violence, they'll never enter another abusive relationship again, only to find the cycle repeating itself with the next person.

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, "On average, it takes a victim seven times to leave before staying away for good." It's easy for others to ask why someone doesn't just avoid entering into an abusive relationship in the first place but detecting early signs of abuse can be far more difficult and complex than it seems.


Especially when there are several types of abuse to look out for Physical, sexual, verbal/emotional (which has three categories of gaslighting, retaliation, and projection), mental/psychological, financial/economic, and cultural/identity. (Important note: Though women are the primary victims of domestic violence, it's not always the case; both victims and abusers of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse can be of any gender.)

The Women's Center, a non-profit organization that provides mental health counseling, support, and education to women, men, families, young adults, and children in Virginia and Washington, DC., distributed a version of the following list of red flag behaviors for women seeking domestic violence counseling to be aware of. If your partner displays the following behaviors, they may be signs of an abusive relationship.


Here are 15 often-overlooked warning signs you're in an abusive relationship:

1. They push for quick involvement

They come on strong, claiming, "I've never felt loved like this before by anyone." You get pressured for an exclusive commitment almost immediately.

2. They are constantly jealous

Your partner is excessively possessive, calls constantly, or visits unexpectedly.

3. They are controlling

In an abusive relationship, they show signs of controlling behavior. For example, they interrogate you intensely about who you talked to and where you were, check the mileage on the car, keep all the money or ask for receipts, and insist you ask for permission to go anywhere or do anything. If your partner feels out of control and scares you, it's time to leave.

Couple disagree, is it a sign of an abusive relationship Krakenimages.com via Shutterstock


RELATED: Why Do Women Stay In Abusive Relationships — And How To Leave Safely

4. They have highly unrealistic expectations

They expect perfection from you, and for you to meet their every need.

5. They isolate you

They try to cut you off from friends and family members, deprive you of a phone or car, or try to prevent you from holding a job.

RELATED: The Truth About Whether Abusers Can Ever Change & Stop An Abusive Relationship

6. They blame others for their mistakes

The boss, family, you — it's always someone else's fault if anything goes wrong.

7. They make everyone else responsible for their feelings

The abuser says, "You make me angry," instead of, "I'm angry," or, "I wouldn't get so mad if you wouldn't..."


8. They are hypersensitive

They are easily insulted, and will often rant and rave about injustices that are just part of life.

9. They are cruel to animals and children

They kill or punish animals brutally. They also may expect children to do things beyond their ability or tease them until they cry.

10. They use force during sex

They enjoy throwing you or holding you down against your will. They find the idea of rape exciting. They intimidate, manipulate, or force you to engage in unwanted sex acts.

11. They subject you to verbal abuse

They constantly criticize you or say cruel things. They degrade, curse, and call you ugly names. They will use vulnerable points about your past or current life against you.


12. They insist on rigid gender roles in the relationship

They expect you to serve, obey, and remain at home.

13. They have sudden mood swings

They switch from loving to angry in a matter of minutes.

She turns away from tension with abusive relationship partner fizkes via Shutterstock

14. They have a history of battering others

They admit to hitting partners in the past but state the other person or the situation brought it on.


15. They threaten violence

They make statements such as, "I'll break your neck," but then dismiss it with, "I didn't mean it."

If you've experienced any of these signs, you may be in an abusive relationship which can have harmful effects on your mental and physical health, including PTSD, high anxiety, and broken bones.

If you've decided to leave an abusive relationship, here's how to do so safely

1. Make sure you're ready to leave

If you try to leave before you're ready to, doubts and fantasies can sneak in and persuade you to go back to your abuser. Make sure all those doubts are gone and that you are ready to say goodbye to your abuser for good before you make your escape. You can always seek professional help if you're unsure whether or not you can move forward.

2. Have a plan in place to keep you safe

You’ve seen it in movies, but this is one of those times where it’s OK you got the idea from films. It's called a safety plan. Start collecting the necessary items you will need when you flee. For example, have cash ready to go, and copies of important documents like passports, driver’s licenses, and insurance. Do your best to keep these in a place where your abuser won’t find them, like a trusted friend’s house. Have a place where you will go where your abuser will never find you.


Lastly, memorize important phone numbers like your local women’s shelter, domestic violence hotline, and friends who are willing to help you leave. Calling the police might also be beneficial, depending on your situation.

3. Leave as soon as you're able to

Once your plan is in place, leave. Waiting around won’t do any good and will only put you in more danger. Plan to leave and do it immediately after your precautionary steps are complete. This way, it limits the time your abuser has to uncover what you're doing. Ask a friend to be with you when you leave to make the process easier and, more importantly, safer for you.

4. Don’t look back

The biggest mistake people who are escaping an abusive relationship make is staying in touch and reminiscing about fond memories they had with their abuser. But all it will do is keep you in the constant cycle of abuse. So, remove your abuser from your life for good. Delete him from your social media accounts. Block his number from your phone. Even better, get an entirely new online/digital identity.


Even if it was never physical abuse or violence your abuser used against you, abuse can take many shapes and forms. A healthy relationship shouldn't make you feel like you have to walk on eggshells or be in constant fear every time your partner walks through the door.

If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic abuse or violence, there are resources to get help. For more information, resources, legal advice, and relevant links visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline. For anyone struggling with domestic abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). 

RELATED: 8 Brutal Truths Domestic Violence Victims Wish They Could Tell You


Wendy Kay is a life strategy coach and author of Mastering the Art of Feeling Good, an inspirational and practical guide on enriching one’s life by learning how to feel good at will.