Abusive Romantic Relationships
If you are in a relationship, look at the following list and see how many of the items apply to your relationship. If two or more items apply to your relationship, you are potentially in a relationship that is or is likely to become abusive.
- Signs of an Abusive Relationship
- What do you do if you think you're in an abusive relationship?
- How do you end abuse?
Signs of an Abusive Relationship
Are you going out with someone who:
- Is jealous and possessive, won't let you have friends, checks up on you, and won't accept breaking up?
- Tries to control you by being bossy, giving orders, making all the decisions, and not taking your opinions seriously?
- Puts you down in front of friends or tells you that you would be nothing without him/her?
- Scares you?
- Makes you worry about his/her reactions to things you say or do?
- Threatens you?
- Uses or owns guns or other weapons?
- Is violent?
- Has a history of fighting, loses temper quickly, or brags about mistreating others?
- Grabs, pushes, shoves, or hits you?
- Pressures you for sex or is forceful or scary about sex?
- Gets too serious about the relationship too fast?
- Abuses alcohol or other drugs and pressures you to take them?
- Has a history of failed relationships and blames the other person for all the problems?
- Makes your family and friends uneasy and concerned for your safety?
- Makes you feel like you need to apologize to yourself or others for his/her behavior when he/she treats you badly?
Sometimes the initial signs of an abusive relationship are not obvious. You may be worried about a friend but not see any actual signs of abuse.
Instead, you might ask yourself the following questions about your friend's relationship. If you answer yes to two or more of these questions, check out the part of this page about talking to a friend, as your friend may be in an abusive relationship.
- Does your friend show physical signs of injury?
- Is he/she doing worse in school, or has dropped out completely?
- Has he/she changed her clothing or makeup style?
- Has he/she lost confidence and does he/she have difficulty making decisions?
- Has he/she quit her normal after-school activities?
- Has he/she started using drugs or alcohol?
- Does he/she have mood swings or emotional outbursts?
- Has he/she isolated herself from friends and family?
- Has she become pregnant?
- Does he/she apologize for her significant other's abusive behavior?
- Does he/she seem overly worried about upsetting or angering her significant other?
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What do you do if you think you're in an abusive relationship?
Once you recognize that you're in an abusive relationship, it can be difficult to determine what to do next. Depending on how long the abuse has been going on, you may feel isolated from your old friends and unable to turn to anyone for help. However, there are resources available.
The first thing you need to think about when you realize that your relationship is abusive is how to get out of the relationship. Abuse tends to escalate – the longer you remain in the relationship, the more you are in danger.
Being in an abusive relationship also has serious consequences for your mental and physical health. The following list includes some of those risks:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Bruises or broken bones
- Mistrust of self
- Mistrust of others
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Permanent injury
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How do you end abuse?
Ending an abusive relationship can also put you in danger. However, it's important to turn to a trusted adult or friend for assistance first. Your parents, teachers, religious leaders, or a school counselor may be able to help you with this process. Find someone you trust, and talk to them about what has been happening.
When you end the relationship, do so in a place where there are other people so that your abuser cannot further abuse you, or end the relationship over the phone or via e-mail. Let the adult you've talked to know when you're going to end it so she or he can support you before and after the breakup.
Sometimes an abuser will say that you somehow caused the abuse. Don't be swayed by this. No matter what happened in your relationship, you did not cause the abuse. No one asks to be abused; the abuser chose to abuse you. Everyone chooses how to respond to other people's actions, and abuse is never an appropriate response.
Abusers may also promise to change. But that does not necessarily mean he or she will change in reality. You should be aware of the "cycle of abuse."
After the abuse, many abusers will give their partners presents and promise that the abuse will never happen again. However, after these "presents and promises," tension often begins to build again, and at some point, the abuser again hurts his or her partner.
Promises that the abuse will stop are simply a stage in the cycle. Abusers can change, but it takes a lot of hard work and counseling to create these changes. It isn't worth it to remain in the relationship while the abuser works out the personal problems that are causing the abuse.
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Anna Rafferty, college student writer
Reviewed By: Nancy Brown, Ph.D.
Last Reviewed: October 2013