When we think of abuse, we often picture physical injuries and violent outbursts. But, the fact is that abuse is about much more than physical violence. Abuse is a pattern of behavior your partner uses to gain power and control over you.
These behaviors often start out subtly, but can soon escalate and lead to physical violence. An abusive partner will often do or say things to make you feel embarrassed, guilty, or depressed. They will try to keep you away from friends and family. And eventually, they will want to control all of your decisions and every aspect of your life.
Every relationship is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all formula for determining whether your partner is abusive. However, there are certain key phrases and behaviors to watch out for that indicate your partner is likely controlling and abusive.
- Who were you talking to?
An abusive partner will often be very jealous. He will want to know who you are talking to and where you are at all times. He will also try to keep you away from anyone he sees as a threat, or who may help you if you decide to leave. Jealousy is not a sign of love, it is a sign of control – and a definite red flag of abuse.
- Why do you make me do this?
One of the most common characteristics of an abuser is refusing to take responsibility for their own actions. If your partner blames you for his bad choices, angry outbursts, or physical violence, please know that he is trying to manipulate and confuse you. Blaming you for his actions is a form of emotional abuse, and definitely a red flag that he may become violent, if he hasn’t already.
- This is my house, car, money, child …
Healthy relationships involve shared responsibility and mutual respect. But, abusers feel entitled to have power and control over most areas of their life, especially their partner. If your partner claims ownership over everything and makes you ask for permission to discipline or comfort your child(ren), invite someone to your home, use the car, or access family funds, he is absolutely controlling you — and his abuse may get worse.
- You’re overreacting.
Just as abusers often blame others for their actions, they will also minimize their behaviors, and try to make you feel crazy for being upset. This type of minimizing and denying is also a form of emotional abuse, and is used to make you doubt your own perceptions and beliefs. Again, this is being done to control you, and is a red flag that his behavior will continue, and probably get worse.
- Why are you so stupid?
An abusive partner will often belittle you, put you down, or call you names. If your partner calls you stupid, fat, or any other hurtful term, he is trying to tear you down. Someone with a poor image of themselves is much easier to control than someone who is confident. He likely doesn’t believe these negative things about you – if he did, he wouldn’t be with you. But, he knows he must make you feel small and worthless, so that he can have more control over you. Someone who truly loves you would never make you feel bad about yourself.
- I don’t like when you wear that.
There is nothing wrong with expressing an opinion about how your partner dresses, acts, or speaks. But, when your partner puts you down or makes you feel insecure, that is a definite red flag of abusive behavior. If you find yourself asking for his approval or changing outfits, hair styles, or interests to please him, he is gaining control over you and your decisions. You you have a right to make your own decisions, and a healthy partner would support you in doing so.
- I can’t live without you.
One of the most common weapons used by an abusive partner is guilt. In the beginning of the relationship, he will put you on a pedestal, and make you feel like the most important person in the world. Eventually, as he gains more and more control over you, and as his behavior gets worse, he may try to make you feel guilty for leaving – or even thinking about leaving – him. Saying that he cannot live without you is not sweet or romantic, it is a sign that he wants to control you. He doesn’t to do the work to make you want to stay; he wants you to feel obligated to stay. It is also a red flag that he may become more obsessed or violent if you choose to leave. If you feel you may be in danger, please reach out and talk to someone.
- No one cares about you like I do – and no one ever will.
One way an abusive partner will try to control you is by keeping you away from family and friends. In the beginning, he will make you feel like you don’t need anyone else, because he showers you with so much love and affection. He may get jealous or upset if you talk with other people, especially other men. And he may try to convince you that no one will ever love you like he does. He does this to control who you talk to, and also to make you feel completely dependent on him. These tactics are indications that he feels entitled to control you, and a red flag of future, more violent behavior.
If your partner has said any of these statements, know that you are not alone. At least one in three women will be abused at some point in her life. And also know that it is absolutely not your fault. Your partner’s claims that you aren’t good enough are not true, and are just his attempt at making you feel worthless, so that you will stay. Someone who truly cares about you would never make you feel bad about yourself. And they would absolutely never make you feel afraid.
Remember, you matter, and you deserve to be treated with love and respect, all the time.