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Warning signs of domestic violence in new relationships

If just one of these behaviors sounds familiar, share this list with a friend you are concerned about or discuss it with a trusted advisor, such as a therapist.
Credit: Josue - stock.adobe.com

ST. LOUIS — It is easy to say you would never stay in a relationship that is abusive until you do. People who abuse do not initially appear menacing. In the beginning of a relationship, they are often as attentive, generous, affirming and tender as those who are not violent.

Along with being bathed in the bonding hormones, the brains of new lovers can be cut off from rational thinking. Then there are cultural, familial and financial pressures that inexplicitly, and sometimes very explicitly, communicate an individual’s worth is measured by his or her ability to attract and keep a partner.

For these reasons, it can be tricky for people to decipher if a new partner has their best interests at heart and to leave when it is clear they do not.

It may be equally as difficult to believe a daughter or coworker who appears so poised, kind and agreeable in public is violent behind closed doors.

Here is a list of behaviors that, in addition to physical and sexual violence, could indicate abuse. If just one of these behaviors sounds familiar, share this list with a friend you are concerned about or discuss it with a trusted advisor, such as a mentor or therapist.

Discovering you are in an abusive relationship might prompt you to begin safety planning. If you or someone you know needs help now, call these 24-hour hotlines:

National Domestic Violence Hotline 800-799-7233

Safe Connections 314-531-2003

ALIVE 314-993-2777 (St. Louis) or 636-583-9863 (Franklin County)

Indicators of abuse in relationships (see references below)

  • Coercive and controlling behavior — Dropping by unexpectedly or calling/texting frequently and attributing it to concern. Progressively, blocks independence by controlling finances, putting GPS tracking on vehicles, preventing coming and going freely, monitoring social media use, emails, texts, receipts, and phone calls. Demands sex when a partner is asleep, ill or tired.
  • Inconsistent — Disappears for long periods without explanation or lies. Has a dual personality, explosiveness, and moodiness, which can shift quickly to friendliness.
  • Cruel — Calls partner stupid, worthless, ugly, convinces partner she/he can’t survive without relationship.
  • Isolating — Charms family members and friends then calls them "troublemakers," while isolating partners from family, friends, coworkers, and community supports.
  • Morbidly jealous — Questions partner about who he/she talks to, accuses partner of flirting, or becomes jealous of time spent with others.
  • Gas-lights — Downplays situations saying: “It’s not that bad” or “you’re over-reacting” or, “I never said that” to create doubt for questioning his/her behavior.
  • Manipulative — Lies and exaggerates, and may sulk, become angry, threaten suicide to manipulate compliance or stop a partner from leaving. (Call 911 if a partner threatens abuse.)
  • Pressures commitment — Wants to be serious quickly and makes the partner feel guilty for wanting to slow the pace and/or end the relationship.
  • Has history of violence and/or threats — Violent with previous partner, family members, children, and/or pets. Punishes animals brutally or is insensitive to their pain. Teases children until they cry and/or beat them to force compliance or perform beyond capability. Withholds medication or assistance devices.
  • Forces rigid gender/sex roles — Expects partner, almost always a woman, to serve him. Typically views women as inferior to men. Has unrealistic expectations for a partner to meet all domestic and emotional needs and satisfy sexual appetite.
  • Blames others — Blames others for all problems and own shortcomings. Tells partner "You're hurting me by not doing what I want."
  • Stalks in personal or via internet — May create fake email addresses and post the partner’s personal information online, spread rumors or photos to humiliate. They may also hack computers, steal passwords, read emails, or tell their partner who he or she can friend or follow on social media.
  • Destroys or hides objects — Breaks sentimental possessions to terrorize partner into submission.


For more resources on this topic, read No Visible Wounds: Identifying Non-Physical Abuse of Women by Their Men

See more on this list from New Hope Midcoast: Abuse and Abusive Tactics

Credit: Jackie Barnes
Jackie Barnes, Ph.D., LCSW, is a freelance health writer, medical family therapist, consultant, and professor.

Jackie Barnes, Ph.D., LCSW, is a freelance health writer, medical family therapist, consultant and professor. When she’s not practicing and promoting holistic health, she’s working on one of her many creative projects.

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