Is He Abusive? Signs of Relationship Danger

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. 

When I worked with batterers, people always asked why the women stayed.  Why didn’t they ask why the offenders were violent? Is it because it’s easier to blame the victim? Is it because these abusive men scare us as much as they scare their victims, so it’s easier to confront the victims?

Women (and I mainly talk about women—because my experience is all with male abusers and female victims) often don’t recognize patterens of abuse until they are in so deep that escaping takes more money or power or strength than they can muster.

Abusive people know how to put the glitter out in the beginning. Few of us fall in love with an abusive man—we fall for that funny, charming, attentive guy. The one who says “I never met a woman like you.” The one who seems just so perfect.

When the warning signs begin, and we chafe against them, he knows how to bring back that funny, charmer. Or bring out the sad “no one but you understands me” guy, and then introduce you to the “forgive me, this will never happen again” and convince you of the sincerity of the “never loved anyone like I love you” guy.

Thus, the cycle begins, and as time goes by it whirls around faster. Pay attention to the warning signs that you may be in an abusive relationship. ( And remember, though these warnings are written in the guise of straight man/straight woman, abuse knows no gender or sexual preference boundaries:)

“An abuser can seem emotionally needy. You can get caught in a trap of catering to him, trying to fill a bottomless pit. But he’s not so much needy as entitled, so no matter how much you give him, it will never be enough. He will just keep coming up with more demands because he believes his needs are your responsibility, until you feel drained down to nothing.”
Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

Instant Involvement: Be careful of a man who claims ‘love at first sight’, and says that you are the ‘only one who can make him feel this way.’ Be cautious of a man who pressures you for commitment too quickly, perhaps suggesting that you move in together or become engaged within 6 months of meeting.

Unrealistic Expectations: This may seem strange, but compliments that seem excessive are a warning sign. Beware those who see or expect perfection, and those who say, “you are all I need; I am all you need.”

Blames Others for Problems: For controlling and abusive men, problems they have at school or work are always someone else’s fault. In the relationship, anything that goes wrong is because of you. They consider themselves a victim in almost all circumstances.

Blames Others for Feelings: Beware of men who make you feel responsible for how they feel, who see everything as a personal attack, are easily insulted, and who have tantrums about the injustice of things that happen to them. Abusive men will look for fights, blow things out of proportion, and overreact to small irritations.

“The guarantee of safety in a battering relationship can never be based upon a promise from the perpetrator, no matter how heartfelt. Rather, it must be based upon the self-protective capability of the victim. Until the victim has developed a detailed and realistic contingency plan and has demonstrated her ability to carry it out, she remains in danger of repeated abuse.”
Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror

Jealousy: Does he want to be with you constantly? Not want you to go out without you? Accuse of you cheating?  Follow you? Call far too often?

Controlling Behavior: Does he become angry if you’re late, always need to know who you were with, where you went, what you wore, and what you said? Do you have to ask permission to do things? Does he want veto power over your friendships?

Isolation: Controlling and abusive men will try to cut off your resources and distance you from your friends and family, perhaps by telling you that your family doesn’t love you or that you are too dependent on them.  They will say your friends are stupid. They will keep you from the car, get angry when you talk on the phone, and make it difficult for you to go to school or work.

Disrespectful or Cruel to Others: Dangerous men will punish animals and children cruelly.  They are insensitive to pain and suffering and have expectations of children that surpass abilities. They tease children until they cry and treat people disrespectfully.

“If we are to fight discrimination and injustice against women we must start from the home for if a woman cannot be safe in her own house then she cannot be expected to feel safe anywhere.”
Aysha Taryam

Use of Force During Sex: When men show little concern over whether you want sex or not and use sulking or anger to manipulate you into sexual compliance, this is a warning sign. Degrading sexual remarks about you should be taken as indication of a serious problem.

Rigid Sex Roles: Abusive men often believe that women are inferior to men and that a woman cannot be a whole person without a relationship.

“The boys had always been her reason to stay, but now for the first time they were her reason to leave. She’d allowed violence to become a normal part of their life.”
Liane Moriarty, Big Little Lies

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde: Beware of men who are nice one moment and explode the next, and men who have rapid and extreme mood swings.

Breaking or Striking Objects: Violent men will break things, beat on tables, throw objects, and use other methods to inspire fear.

Any Force during an Argument: No one should be physically restrained, pushed, or shoved. Any use of weapons, kicking, hitting, slapping, or other physical violence is abuse.

Past Battering: Abusers will deny and minimize their past violence, saying it is a lie, or their ex is crazy, or that is wasn’t that bad.

Let’s all stay safe out there.

Recommended reads:
Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry & Controlling Men
by Lundy Bancroft (more writings and help from Bancroft.)

The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize it and How to Respond
by Patricia Evans (more writings and help from Evans)

If you need help:

National Domestic Violence Hotline

GLBTQ Domestic Violence Project


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  1. Bob Haynor
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Randy. Such an important voice and message.

  2. Posted October 22, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t know you did this work in the past as well. I started out down the path of MSW and did some work with women in shelters. You are spot on. In fact, I would go further and say that our socialization (women to be the caregivers, the empathic, the fixers and men to be the takers, the center of the universe whose needs come first) these roles are so very deeply ingrained. When folks are incredulous “I would never stay!” they don’t understand the seduction and manipulation – abusers seek out women who are unaware of their need to fix the broken, they seek women who are easily manipulated and the grooming often begins long before the first punch is thrown. Breaking the cycle of violence is often a generational struggle and too often victims of abuse find little support in their attempts to escape.

    I have a couple funny story I’d be happy to share, it highlights how things have changed, in some places, in some significant ways. Brookline Police twice responded or reached out to me in ways that showed their training – and both were pretty funny misunderstandings.

    Thanks for raising this, we can’t hear it/share it enough.

  3. Posted October 18, 2013 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    What excellent tips, and how well I know them….now, I wrote just a tad on my blog for NaBloPoMo about my ugly marriage….just enough, and women need to wake up and be aware!

  4. Marie
    Posted October 15, 2015 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    My mother stayed with her abuser because she honestly believed she loved him, that they were soul mates and that no one would ever love her the way he did. He was an outgoing, charming person with a lot of superficial friendships- no really close friends- and everyone in our life thought he was a great guy. When people say “I would never stay” they don’t understand how irrational a place someone is in, how difficult it can be to let go of such a passionate/volatile relationship and how badly the woman just wants everything to work out, for the guy to be the way he was at the beginning of the relationship. Never mind the self-blame and the shame of having to admit to everyone that this relationship was a failure. My mother’s abuser has been dead for several years and even before that they were broken up and he had married someone else- and I don’t think she ever has or ever will admit what a disaster the relationship was and the damage it did to our family.

  5. Mariana
    Posted October 21, 2017 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    People don’t realize how hard it’s to leave an abusive relationship. I left and it was the start of a nightmare, even worse than abuse itself. The legal system teared my life apart because LEGALLY you can be screw if you don’t have the money to afford a lawyer. I did everything by the blue book and I had an Army of social workers and therapist supporting me and my kids but the legal system lied and betrayed us from the beginning. I saw this people that worked every day helping victims, crying because of the way me and my kids were treated, some of them even decide to change jobs because they saw the injustices we went trough.
    The only way to start healing was leaving. Leaving the state, leaving my friend, leaving the people who supported us for 3 long years.

    • Posted October 22, 2017 at 12:14 am | Permalink

      The courage required to leave an abusive relationship is never fully appreciated. You are incredible.

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