Warning Signs of Abuse


These are just some common dynamics that are often exhibited in abusive or very toxic relationships.  


  • Jealousy: At the start of the relationship, an abuser*, will equate jealousy with love. The abusive partner will question their partner** about who they talk to, accuse them of flirting, or become jealous of time spent with others. The abuser may call their partner frequently during the day, drop by unexpectedly, or ask friends to keep an eye on them.


  • Controlling behavior: In the beginning, an abuser will attribute controlling behavior as concern for their partner. As this behavior progresses, the situation will worsen and the abuser may assume control over many aspects of their partner’s life, preventing them from living their lives freely.


  • Unrealistic expectations: An abuser expects their partner to meet all of their needs. Survivors are forced to take care of everything emotionally and domestically.


  • Isolation: An abuser will attempt to isolate their partner by severing ties to outside support and resources. The abuser will accuse their partner's friends and family of being "troublemakers." They may block their partner's access to use of a vehicle, work, phone, social media, etc.


  • Blames others for problems: An abuser will blame others for all problems or for the abuser's own shortcomings. An abuser feels someone is always out to get them or there is an obstacle to the abuser's achievements. The partner will be blamed for almost everything and anything.


  • Blames others for feelings: An abuser will use feelings to manipulate their partner. Common phrases to look for:
    • "You're hurting me by not doing what I want."
    • "You control how I feel." 


  • Hypersensitivity: An abusive person is easily insulted and perceives the slightest setbacks as personal attacks.


  • "Playful" use of force in sex: This behavior includes restraining partners against their will during sex, acting out fantasies in which the partner is helpless, initiating sex when the partner is asleep, or demanding sex when the partner is ill or tired. The abuser may show little concern for their partner’s wishes and will use sulking and anger to manipulate compliance.


  • Verbal abuse: This behavior involves anything said that is intended to be cruel, hurtful, degrading. This tactic is used to put down their partner's accomplishments and self worth.


  • Dual personality "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde": Abusers tend to express explosive behavior and moodiness, which usually shifts quickly to being nice and agreeable. It creates a sense of uncertainty for their partners and they do not know which side of their abuser they will see.


  • Breaking or striking objects: This behavior is used as punishment (breaking sentimental possessions or hurting a pet) or to terrorize their partner into submission.






*Abuser is used, in this instance, to describe the person who is using power and control techniques over their partner. This is just one term and might not be the one you use. Please know at CARE we honor any and all names for this person in their life, which might just be their name. Please talk to an advocate if you have any feelings about this term. 

**We used singular partner as the example on this page, but in polyamourous relationships there may be more than one partner being manipulated. This also may refer to an abusive person who has multiple partners through cheating. 


Adopted from Lenore Walker’s “The Battered Women”, 1979