Relationship violence doesn't usually start with a slap or even a shove. It's 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: Emotional 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.
Isolation: 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.
Intimidation: Intimidation can 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 abused.
Coercion and Threats: It is 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 to you.
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: 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 them.
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 410.543.6070.
* Red flags are adapted from materials developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project.