Relationship Red Flags: Danger Ahead
Relationship violence doesn't usually start with a slap or even
much more subtle.
Red flags* are not always easy to identify, especially if they
are not glaringly obvious. In most cases, the red flag can
be misinterpreted before the behavior escalates into violence.
If you notice any of the following behaviors in your
relationship or those of friend, it is time to get help.
- Emotional Abuse:
abuse can take many forms. Some signs may include being
put down, being made to feel bad about yourself, mind games,
humiliation and being made to feel guilty when you express
your needs or when you disagree with your partner. It
can also include your partner yelling at you, shaming you or calling you
names. Emotional abuse is just as "serious" and harmful as
physical abuse. The goal of emotional abuse is to make you
feel bad about yourself. Emotional abuse often causes people
to think that they are not worthy and that no one else will
want to be in a relationship with them. This is not true.
You are being
isolated if your partner attempts to control who you see or
talk to or where you go, if your partner makes demands about
how you spend your time and who you spend it with. Your
partner may become jealous to justify their actions and
requests. They may insist that they are making these
requests because they "Don't want to lose you." or they
"love you so much that I can't bear to share you with anyone
else." This red
flag is often misinterpreted as a sign of care or concern in
the beginning of a relationship.
be one of the more subtle forms of relationship violence.
Often, the intimidation tactic that is used, a glance or a
gesture, happens quickly and is only understood by you and
your partner. It's "the look", very similar to the one your
parents may have given you before you got in trouble as a
child. For example, if you are at a party talking to a male
friend, your partner may look at you a little too long and a
little too hard. Intimidation can also be more obvious, such
as when your partner destroys your property, leaves weapons
in plain sight to intimidate you or talks about his access
to weapons to scare you. Intimidation is any action done
with the intention of making you feel afraid.
- Minimizing, Denying and Blaming:
Abusers will often make light of any emotional or
physical abuse that occurs. They may tell you that you are
overreacting, shift the blame onto you by saying, "You made
me do it" or "You are too sensitive. I didn't mean
what I said like that." or "This is your fault because.." or deny any
wrongdoing completely. These types of behaviors can make you
feel crazy and cause you to doubt yourself and your
perception of the relationship. Know that you are not crazy
and there is nothing that you can ever do to justify being
- Coercion and Threats:
not uncommon for an abusive partner to threaten to hurt
themselves, you or someone or something that you care about
if you decide to leave the relationship. They may threaten
to reveal private details about your life in an effort to humiliate you. They may
also destroy or threaten to destroy items that are important
- Using Children:
If you have
children with your partner, they may threaten to hurt the
children, keep you from seeing them or threaten to take them
away. Some abusive
partners use the relationship with the children to harass
you or put the children in the middle by using them to relay
messages to you. For example, "Tell your mother that she's
stupid" or "Your mother is worthless."
- Male Privilege:
Both men and
women can fall prey to relationship violence. However, it is
more common for men to use the privileges and assumptions
that accompany being born male in our society to justify
their abusive behavior. They may have strict
conceptions of what it means to be a man and to be a woman.
For example, abusive men may treat you like you are their
servant or believe it is their right to make decisions about
the relationship without consulting you.
- Economic Abuse:
occurs when your partner controls your financial resources.
They may give you an allowance, take your money or prevent
you from working to earn money. In cases where you live with
your partner, they may keep you in the dark about financial
responsibilities. For example, they may pay all of the bills
and not let you see them so you never know what's really
going on with the finances. This is another tactic that
abusers will use to disempower you and keep you dependent on
All of these behaviors are warning
signs. Red flags are the behaviors that lead to physical
violence. Any or all of these signs are indicative of an unhealthy relationship.
If you or a friend is in a relationship where these behaviors
are occurring, help is available. Contact
the Counseling Center to schedule an appointment to figure out
what you would like to do and talk through your options at
* Red flags are adapted
from materials developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention