What are some common signs of an abusive relationship?

Bonnie Lynn Wright, PhD
Geriatrics Nursing

There may not be any signs to see that would tell an outsider that a relationship was abusive. In fact, the victim of the abuse may go out of their way to act 'normal' due to embarrassment or fear of reprisal when the couple are behind closed doors again. Sometimes the changes are so gradual that you cannot detect them if you see the person every day, say at work. 

Physical abuse may be easier to spot if the abuser doesn't chose areas of the body covered by clothing. An abuse victim may be quiet, withdrawn, shrink away at even a hint of aggression in someone else's behavior. They may be the girlfriend that never comes shopping with you anymore or on a girls' night out like they used to. Watch for changes in patterns of what used to be normal behavior. If you are suspicious, ask and ask more than once. It frequently requires repeated times of asking before a victim will be ready to speak. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly one-quarter of women and 8 percent of men have been the victim of physical abuse at the hands of a partner. And while physical abuse isn’t always obvious, the signs of verbal and emotional abuse can be even more difficult to notice -- by the victim and also by friends and family.

Signs that could indicate an abusive relationship include: any type of pushing, hitting as well as physical intimidation without touching; threats of violence or abandonment; humiliation, insults, or name-calling; controlling access to family and friends, or to money; watching or participating in sexual activity against your will; or being told you’re sexually inadequate if you don’t participate in a sex act.

As a rule, victims of abuse -- regardless of gender --keep secrets, blame themselves, and are scared to leave their abusers. Women are far more likely to be the victim of all types of abuse, including rape. But men are victims, too, and may be less willing to confide in friends or loved ones about the abuse or to seek help, because of the even greater stigma they face -- even disbelief. Tell someone if you are experiencing any type of abuse, or reach out to someone you suspect is a victim of abuse.

Continue Learning about Relationship Abuse

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.