Real talk. There are tons of people out there in abusive relationships who don't even know it. People who don't see the signs of abuse, or don't realize that what they have isn't healthy. That doesn't sound right, does it? I mean, abuse seems like something anyone with common sense would avoid. But that's just not true. Abuse is something that can happen to any person at any time. And because abusers are often master manipulators who chip away at self-esteem, it's often a very gradual shift from perfect sweetheart to occasional monster. It's so subtle that sometimes you're years deep before the realization hits you.
I used to work in a women's shelter as a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate (I'm also trained in healthy relationships as a Planned Parenthood Certified Responsible Sexuality Educator), and it happened to me. I lived and breathed healthy relationships day in and day out while I was in an abusive one one. And I had no clue until one day a coffee pot thrown at my head shattered against the wall, along with all my illusions about how great my relationship was. Abuse isn't just something that happens to weak or dumb women (as if weak or dumb women even exist).
I'm not ashamed, and if any of the signs below apply to you, don't be ashamed either. Better to realize and get out while you can than to continue to stay in the relationship and end up mentally, physically, sexually, or emotionally violated — or worse. And that's not drama-talk. Domestic violence leads to 2 million injuries and 1,300 deaths annually, according to The Center For Disease Control and Prevention. That's alarming, to say the very least. So what should you look out for? Here are seven signs of abuse.
Everyone thinks jealousy is normal and kind of flattering. It has its moments. But more often than not, it's a red flag that you're Prince(ss) Charming is a villain in disguise. The difference between cute, normal jealousy and dangerous jealousy is hard to discern, but here are some rough guidelines. If your partner's jealousy is more than an occasional fleeting feeling, you should worry. If your partner is jealous all the time, like any time you leave the house at all, you should worry. If your partner's jealousy comes with any type of control, like trying to get you to stay home, not hang out with certain friends, not wear certain clothes, or not have any friends on social media that he or she disapproves of, then you should worry. If your partner wants to fight anyone who even looks at you in passing, you should worry. Jealousy fueled by a need for power and control can turn to anger and violence in the blink of an eye.
If your partner is quick to anger, that's a serious and potentially dangerous red flag. You'll know if your partner is quick to anger if you feel like you have to walk on eggshells sometimes to keep the peace in check or avoid to massive anger tornado. That anger doesn't have to be directed at you all the time, either. Anything can set off someone with an anger problem from your dog being in the way to the Internet being too slow. Anger is often used as a means to control. If it's regularly directed at you, your partner could be "training" you to do what he or she wants by flying off the handle when you don't do what's expected. Not to sound like a broken record, but anger can also turn to violence in a nanosecond.
I don't know a single person who hasn't said "OMG, I'm going to kill you" to someone they love, but when those threats carry a little bit (or a lot) of weight, you have to take them seriously. Abusive threats can range from a constant stream of "playful" threats to more serious ones. It doesn't matter if your partner has threatened to harm you and never done it, because the possibility is always there. Plus, you know, threats are never a kind, supportive means of communication.
4. Name Calling
This is not your average 4th grade name calling or the occasional playful banter of "dork" or "weirdo." Abusive partners need to break you down and they do that by convincing you that you're dumb, stupid, a terrible cook, a crappy housekeeper, a bad parent, or a total whore. In an abuser's mind, if you feel worthless, then you're easier to control and easier to keep.
Since abuse is all about power and control, there are too many controlling behaviors to list here. Control isn't always as obvious as your partner taking your car keys or not letting you hang out with certain people (although that, too, is abusive). Sometimes your partner convinces you to quit school or your job and stay home with the kids, when really it's about you not having the money or education to escape. Sometimes it's only buying health food, even if you don't like them, so you don't gain weight. Control involves more manipulation that force, but it's just as dangerous.
6. Sexual Abuse
Your partner can absolutely sexually abuse you. If you don't want to have sex and you are forced, that is rape, no matter what your relationship status. If your partner makes you have unsafe sex, sex with multiple partners, sex you don't like, or sex that makes you uncomfortable, that's abuse. Hands down.
There are so many ways to threaten you without doing or saying a word. This kind of passive-aggressive (and sometimes directly aggressive) behavior is just as potentially dangerous as move obvious abuse. Does your partner give you "the look" when you've done something "wrong?" Does she or he position his body in front of the door so you feel like you can't leave?
If any of these apply to you, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Even if you're not ready or safe to leave, they can give you resources in case of an emergency, or just a kind ear.
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