8 Subtle Signs You (Or A Friend) Are In An Abusive Relationship

Abusive relationships often start subtley.

woman sitting alone in dark room Amirhamzaaa / Shutterstock

Does your significant other constantly chalk his bad mood up to something that you've said or done, then apologize almost immediately?

Is your friend’s new beau always listening in to her phone calls or reading text message conversations over her shoulder?

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These seemingly normal scenarios can also fall into the category of abusive behavior, according to some relationship experts.


"Any action that limits your freedom or self-expression could point to a pattern of control or abuse," says author and relationship expert Maxine Brown.

Here are 8 subtle signs you, or a friend, are in an abusive relationship:

1. They write their jealous behavior off as "concern"

It's normal for your partner to be concerned for your safety, but when their worries start to constantly interfere with plans that you made that don't include them, it becomes an attempt to control you. An example of this behavior according to Maxine is that he or she says they're worried about your health and insists that you stay inside instead of going out in the cold or heat, but you suspect they have another motive.


2. They ask you to make changes to your appearance

While it's perfectly appropriate for your partner to have a dress in mind that he likes to see you in or pair of shoes of yours that is their favorite, constantly commenting on your appearance and asking you to make changes is likely a sign of control and abuse to come, according to marriage and relationship educator David Ament.

"These comments might sound innocuous, but they are also signs that [they are] letting [their] controlling nature sneak into your relationship," Ament says. 

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3. They limit the contact that you have with your friends or family

"Abusive relationships usually begin with an attempt to isolate you from any important people in your life in order to make you solely dependent on your partner," says psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz.


This may start with them not liking it when you go out with your friends, as well as cornering you into making a choice between them or other people that you care about.

4. They constantly question your thoughts and actions

If your day-to-day conversation with your significant other consists of them questioning your opinions, thoughts, clothing choices, or other personal preferences, this pattern can become abusive.  "Abusers systematically place doubt in your head, causing you to question whether you are smart enough or good enough," explains dating and relationship expert Suzanne Casamento.

"All that self-doubt makes a victim accepting of abuse. Because after all, if you're 'so stupid' or 'such a bad person,' you eventually believe that you deserve to be treated that way." 

5. Their need for togetherness feels unnatural and clingy

At the beginning of your relationship, you may have thought it was a sweet idea that the two of you share an email address or the suggestion that you two share a cell phone plan may have seemed like a sound financial decision.


But according to psychotherapist and relationship coach Abby Rodman, once they start using these accounts to track your every move, this behavior becomes abusive. "Open access to your partner’s emails and text messages is a privilege, it’s certainly not in place so that you can monitor each other’s accounts daily," Rodman says.

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6. They insist on managing your finances

While it may feel like a relief to have help managing a budget, Abby Rodman cautions that this behavior may be another way that your partner is seeking to diminish your voice in the relationship. 

Do you really know what's going on with your financial picture? If your partner is unwilling to have an open and honest conversation about your finances, Rodman says that this behavior is a sign of abuse.


7. They constantly place the blame on you

When your significant other consistently places blame on you for things like being late to a party, when he or she is equally at fault for your lateness, this could be a sign of early abuse. 

"Say you're both getting ready to leave for an event and are both headed in the direction of being a few minutes late," says David Ament.  "If your partner then starts hurrying you along, then bolts to the car to wait for you and blames you the whole way to the event, this behavior is abusive."

8. They harshly criticize you, then immediately apologize

If your partner cuts you down only to build you back up a few moments later, this behavior is not only abusive but has a means to an end. 


"[They are] building your addiction to seeking his approval," says Dr. Gail Saltz. "This is a slippery slope — because it's hard to think of someone who can be so loving at times as abusive, but the rapid-fire take-down-build-up is exactly how emotional abuse begins," Dr. Saltz says.

If you or someone you know is experiencing dating abuse or have questions, visit loveisrespect.org and breakthecycle.org

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Danielle Page is a writer and editor whose work has been featured on Woman’s Day, Bustle, Cosmopolitan, The New York Times, Thought Catalog, and Huffington Post.