10 Signs of Domestic Violence

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“I should have recognized the signs of domestic violence,” she says to herself.

She touches her bruised cheek gingerly and says softly,

“It was so good in the beginning! I never thought it would end like this.” She has just fled an abusive relationship following a vicious assault.

When she tells the story of the relationship, she is sad. She talks of its exciting, whirlwind beginning, of how charming and forceful he was, how he swept her off her feet and wouldn’t take no for an answer.

She talks of the things that made her uncomfortable – the things she ignored – and how she had reservations.

She thinks about how she had thoughts of ending the relationship – and the reasons she didn’t. She blames herself for ignoring the signs of domestic violence and the red flags she so obviously ignored.

She remembers the times others expressed concern – or made dire warnings, the times she was afraid, the times she actually tried to end the relationship and the reasons it continued.

She pauses and says reflectively, “I know now that there were signs of domestic violence…some of them I didn’t see and some, I just ignored. I just wish I’d never gotten into this relationship.”

What would have made a difference for her? What knowledge or information might prevent someone else from getting into a similar relationship? What are some of the early warning signs that a relationship may be unhealthy or even violent and abusive?

These are all important questions she asks herself, and they are important questions you should ask yourself too.

Signs of Domestic Violence

In the context of a new or existing relationship, there are many different red flags that may indicate a potential for abuse within the relationship.

Some of these red flags are alarmingly obvious, while some are subtle and easily dismissed.

But being aware of their existence and recognizing that they are present – before becoming attached or deeply invested in the relationship – provides an opportunity to take a step back and reconsider a potential relationship or the direction in which a present relationship is moving.

The following are considered to be indicators of an unhealthy or potentially abusive relationship:

(It should be noted that statistically, an abusive partner is most likely to be male, so the terms “he”, ”him”, and “his” are used, however, it is recognized that female partners can also behave abusively.)

1. Immediate intensity in the relationship

This includes premature declarations of love, “love bombing” love expectations of intimacy, i.e. claiming “love at first sight” and wanting to plan a future together or move in after one or two dates.

When an abusive person first meets someone, they tend to show an overwhelming amount of affection very early on.

2. Blames others for his negative behaviours.

These negative behaviours include feelings or life situations. This behaviour initially implies the new partner is great by comparison, i.e. “you’re the only one that really understands me”, then later, the blame is assigned to a new partner.

Abusive people also refuse to accept responsibility or be accountable for behaviours, choices, mistakes.

3. Refuses to respect others boundaries

This can include pushing for more time together and sex. They also tend to be possessive, and also resent any time spent with others. They expect the other to account for all their time apart or constant texting or calling when apart.

They also show unreasoning jealousy, including accusations of unfaithfulness.

4. Attempts to control all aspects of the others’ life

This includes who they see, where they go, what they do, what they wear, when they sleep, when and what they eat.

Abusive people also believe that they have a right to all the power and all the control in the relationship.

He also believes that his wants, needs, feelings, desires, and opinions are more important than those of others and that everything must revolve around him.

5. Treats others exploitatively

Others are valued only as they fulfill a useful purpose or meet his needs He has little awareness of, or care for, the feelings of others and little concern for how his behaviours might impact others – unless there is a corresponding impact for him.

For example, when his abuse leads a partner to flee the relationship, the abusive partner becomes remorseful but only because of the discomfort or inconvenience this has caused him personally, not because of the pain or fear he has caused others.

6. Believes that he is entitled to, or deserving of, special privileges and special treatment.

He believes he has the right to rest, relaxation, “toys”, vacations, freedom from responsibility or consequences, and to subservient and unquestioning obedience and compliance with their demands or expectations.

He is controlling and expects his demands to be reached. He may expect constant attention, admiration, unlimited praise.

He expects acknowledgment and an on-going focus on, not only meeting but anticipating, his needs and wishes.

7. Believes he is superior

His choices, behaviours, opinions, ideas, and contributions are of more value than those of others.

He initially implies that he –and you – are better than others, then once you are in the relationship, that he is better than you.

Because he feels that he is superior to you and others, he believes he is justified in being rude, dishonest, abusive, if his expectations are not met. He uses sarcasm to put others down and his actions will lower your self-esteem.

8. Attempts to isolate partner from family, friends, work

He complains about and puts down family or friends, resents time spent, and makes the partner “pay” for spending time with them.

He may force his victim to relocate to create physical distance from others, limit access to transportation, and is generally a good “con” and manipulator, using charm to get what he wants.

9. Is unpredictable

He keeps changing the rules and is very volatile. Something that is no
problem one day may be the cause of intense anger the next.

Because he is so unpredictable, he has swift and unwarranted mood changes, and an explosive temper.

He can be charming one moment, raging the next. He uses threat and intimidation to ensure compliance or otherwise get what he wants.

10. Often has a history of family abuse and unhealthy relationships, estrangement from family

He is evasive about his past and lies. He may be dishonest about financial, relationship, employment, health, living, or other, situation, i.e. says he is separated while still living with a partner.

He may or may not have some criminal history and may or may not have issues around use of alcohol or substances.

Never Ignore the Warning Signs

Looking back, what would she tell someone else? What would she want them to know?

She would tell that person to:

  • Trust your instincts
  • Pay attention to the signs
  • Don’t make excuses for and don’t accept their excuses for behaving badly.
  • Look at their relationships with others. Initially they will almost always be on their best behaviour with you, but how they treat others will be how they treat you later – if they are angry, resentful, blaming, vindictive, dishonest and hurtful toward others, that is what you can expect from them once you are committed to the relationship.
  • Don’t go into it thinking that if you love them enough, they will change.
  • Make decisions based on how things are, not how you hope they will be one day.
  • If you feel anxious or afraid or put-down in the relationship; don’t stay.
  • Don’t accept their blame. It’s not your fault.
  • Take time to really get to know them before you commit.
  • Believe that you deserve to be treated well.
  • No one deserves to be abused.

Knowing the signs of domestic violence can save you from being in a relationship that will wear you down mentally, physically, and emotionally. Watch for the signs, and never jump into a relationship too fast, especially if there are red flags.

Click here to donate now. Or click here for helpful resources if you’re experiencing domestic abuse.

If you learned a lot from this blog and you’d like to read more, take a look at these posts:

Domestic Abuse in Canada: 7 Facts You Need to Know
Real Effects of Trauma are Widely Misunderstood
Rethinking Stereotypes: One Woman’s Story of Abuse

This article was originally published on April 13, 2012 and has been updated for 2020.

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