9 Signs of an Abusive Relationship and How to Seek Help

  • An abusive relationship may entail a partner using controlling behavior to manipulate you.
  • Threatening violence, name-calling, and isolating you from your loved ones, are concerning signs.
  • To get help, reach out to someone you trust or call the national domestic hotline at 800-799- 7233.
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.

Abuse in relationships can be extremely dangerous and it’s relatively common — about 1 in 4 women and nearly 1 in 10 men experience abuse from a partner. Abuse can take many forms — physical, emotional, financial, and sexual abuse can all be incredibly harmful, but are not always easy to spot.

Here are 10 signs that you may be in an abusive relationship and how you can get help.

1. Threatening violence

If your partner makes threats toward you, this can be a dangerous sign of future physical abuse, says JaQuinda Jackson, EdD, LPC, a licensed therapist in private practice.

Threats can include actions like:

  • Threatening to hurt or kill you, even as a “joke”
  • Showing you a weapon or pointing it at you
  • Threatening to hurt or kill your family or loved ones
  • Threatening to hurt or kill themselves
  • Hurting or threatening to hurt a pet

Even if they never escalate to violence, threats are also a form of emotional abuse. “Threats can increase anxiety, paranoia, one’s ability to think and function properly, etc.,” says Jackson.

2. Breaking property

“When someone damages property within a relationship, it’s a sign of control,” Jackson says. The abuser may damage property that you need in order to work and make money like a laptop or your car, which can also limit your independence.

Breaking property is also a way for an abuser to threaten their victim. “The person uses property damage to instill fear in their partner,” Jackson says.

3. Controlling behavior

An abuser may try to control you by limiting your ability to leave the house, taking control of your finances, and monitoring your online activity.

This may start small, like constantly calling or texting you when you’re away from them, but it can escalate quickly. Some controlling behaviors to look out for include:

  • Insisting on reading all of your emails and text messages
  • Showing up unannounced to your workplace or hangouts with friends
  • Insisting on seeing all of your shopping receipts
  • Checking the car odometer to make sure you don’t go anywhere they don’t approve of
  • Forbidding you to talk to certain friends or colleagues
  • Getting angry if you make a decision without asking them first
  • Taking your car keys

4. Insults and name-calling

“There is never a time in any relationship where insults and name-calling are acceptable,” says Jennifer Genovese, PhD, a licensed social worker and professor at Syracuse University.

“If a partner begins to use insults, foul language, or name-calling in a relationship, it demonstrates a lack of respect for the victim and suggests the abuser devalues the victim,” says Genovese.

Insults can also affect a victim’s self-esteem, which may make them feel unlovable and less likely to leave their abuser.

5. Isolating you from loved ones

Isolation is a key tactic for abusers to make sure other people don’t realize their victims are being abused.

“The abuser discourages contact with others in subtle and manipulative ways, preventing loved ones from being able to detect changes in mood or well-being,” Genovese says.

Abusers don’t necessarily need to use threats or violence to keep you at home. According to Genovese, an abuser may discourage a victim from seeing loved ones by saying things like:

  • “I’ll miss you if you go out”
  • “Please stay home with me”
  • “I need you”
  • “Don’t you want to be with me?”

When an abuser says these things, they encourage their victim to turn towards the abuser and away from their loved one, Genovese says.

6. Rushing into a relationship

Abusers may rush you into a relationship to quickly gain control over you before you notice any red flags. They can do this by convincing you to move in with them or make a big commitment right away.

If you feel like someone is rushing you into a relationship, Genovese suggests you should ask yourself questions like:

  • “Why is this person in such a rush to move this relationship forward in such a dramatic way?”
  • “How does the swiftness of this relationship make me feel?”
  • “Are they listening to me when I ask them to slow down?”
  • “Are they saying things like ‘we were meant to be together’ very early on in the relationship?”

Another quick way to determine if the relationship escalation is concerning is to check in with your own feelings. “Is this speed frightening? Then it is a warning sign for abuse,” Genovese says.

7. Love-bombing

Love-bombing is a technique used by abusers to draw in their victim and manipulate their feelings, often at the start of a relationship, says Genovese

They may use exaggerated and dramatic statements like “You are my soulmate,” “We were destined to be together,” or “I can’t live without you,” even though you hardly know each other, Genovese says.

Love-bombing may also include “overly dramatic gestures early in a relationship such as giving expensive gifts or sending showy bouquets of flowers to the victim’s workplace,” Genovese says.

Public gifts may also be a form of marking territory, a subtle way for abusers to tell others that their victims belong to them.

An abuser may also use love-bombing after more severe physical abuse to reconcile and convince you to stay with them, says Genovese.

8. Pressuring you into sex

You should never feel like your partner is demanding or guilting you into doing something sexual.

“Sexual pressure can be a warning sign for abuse in which your partner does not hear you and/or does not respect your feelings and requests,” Jackson says.

If your partner pressures or forces you into doing sexual acts, this is a form of emotional abuse and may be considered sexual assault.

9. Hurting you physically

Physical violence may seem like an obvious form of abuse, but it often starts with minor acts and then escalates as time goes on.

The abuse may start with a threat, then lead to pinching, grabbing, or shoving. “If the abuser is able to get away with their acts, they are prone to further their abuse by hitting, choking, smacking etc.,” Jackson says.

Strangulation is an especially dangerous form of violence — a 2007 study found that women who had previously been strangled by a partner were more than seven times more likely to be killed by that partner later on.

Insider’s takeaway

“If you are in a partnership, you deserve to be heard, seen, and respected,” says Jackson.

Look out for any warning signs of abuse, even if they seem small. “If your partner threatens you, breaks things during an argument, and/or pressures you to do things you do not want to do, these are all signs of abuse and should not be taken lightly,” Jackson says.

If you think you may be in an abusive relationship, reach out to someone you trust, like a doctor, friend, or therapist, who can help you create a safety plan and identify an exit strategy. If you need guidance in planning an exit strategy, you can reach out to the national domestic hotline at 800.799.SAFE (7233) or visit their website.

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