It can be very difficult to tell if a loved one is in an abusive relationship because they do everything they can to hide it. Given that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men will be physically abused in their relationship, it stands to reason that you may know someone in this kind of trouble. Here are the signs that a loved one is in an abusive relationship whether physical, emotional, or financial, and some advice about how to help.
Pulling away from friends and family
The first stage of abuse is isolation. It’s expected that your loved one will spend more time with their partner and slightly less with friends and family. However, if they are spending excessive time with their new partner to the exclusion of everyone else, they may be in an abusive relationship. It may go as far as moving to an entirely different place so that the victim loses all contact with their support circle.
The victim generally withdraws from socializing with others usually because their partner disapproves of it. It begins with consistently cancelling plans until people stop asking. This is often accompanied by lying or hiding aspects of their life from people they would ordinarily share such things with.
The person may also be defensive if you try to insist on visiting or meeting them or even ask if they are alright. They may shy away from ever talking about their relationship and appear to avoid that line of questioning or engagement.
Significant changes in personality
Drastic changes in personality are a sign that someone may be in an abusive relationship. Suddenly an outgoing person becomes more introverted. Their dressing may substantially change along with how they present themselves such as wearing makeup. A person who was reasonably confident or self-assured is suddenly excessively insecure. A person may change their job, their hobbies and stop engaging in interests they previously openly enjoyed.
Don’t make decisions or appear to have any control
The person may make decisions on their own, constantly needing to check with their partners even on small things like making plans. They may also show other signs that they are not ‘allowed’ to make decisions without consulting the partner first. In abusive relationships, the partner exercises power by controlling all aspects of their lives including minor things.
Another way abusive people control their partners is by constantly monitoring their interactions. This monitoring is often reasonably explained away as their partner is just the jealous type or is possessive. Their partner constantly checks in on them and your loved one always looks like they are under pressure to go home.
Their behaviour or mood may also change after they receive one of these calls or messages where the partner is checking in on them. Controlling behaviour of any kind is a key sign that someone is in an abusive relationship.
Other signs someone may be in an abusive relationship
Their relationship may also exhibit these characteristics and features –
Your loved one may be more noticeably more unhappy more often than they were before.
They dismiss any concerns you and other loved ones raise and are clearly afraid to admit there may be a problem.
Your friend does things like changing the subject when their partner walks into a room.
Their partner uses rough language with them and/or tells embarrassing stories about your loved one that is hurtful in public.
Your loved one has marks, scratches, cuts, wounds, and bruises that they cannot explain or dismiss with implausible stories.
Their partner has a history of this kind of behaviour based on the stories of exes.
Your loved one puts their partners’ needs above their own and is constantly concerned about what their partner would want at every turn.
You are uncomfortable with their partner.
How to help someone in an abusive relationship
Bring it up
Ask if they’re okay, saying you’ve noticed some changes and you’re concerned. If they claim there’s nothing going on, don’t press the issue, just let them know you’re there for them if they ever need to talk. Let them know you care. What you want is for them to know that someone cares and can see something wrong is happening to them.
If/when they decide to confide in you about the abusive relationship, listen and withhold any blame or judgment. Although it may be a natural reaction to feel frustrated, angry, disappointed, and even confused about how they found themselves here, refrain from judging them. Abusive partners often blame the victims for everything, wielding guilt like a weapon.
Another reason people don’t talk about the abuse they are suffering is because of internalized guilt and shame. They really do not need any more of this. You also want to be clear that it is the abusers’ fault not the victims, so refrain from statements like, “I would never do that” or “why do you put up with that?”
Don’t offer advice
Just listen without offering any advice. Resist the urge to jump into problem-solving mode. Also, fight the natural instinct to tell them to leave the abusive relationship. Victims often feel disempowered in their relationship where one person controlled things and made all the decisions. Just let them know you believe in them and trust them to do what’s best for them. It’s important to go into the conversation knowing that you cannot “fix or save” them.
Take a note of all the signs of abuse you see anything else that concerns you about the potentially abusive relationship. Keeping a record for yourself is a grounding technique that saves you from the natural doubt that is likely to set in.
Ask what they need from you
As difficult as it may be to believe it, victims know their situation best. Let them know you’re worried about them because of the abusive relationship them ask them what they need from you, how you can best support them, and be there for them.
Share safety tips
You can help by sharing resources about forums and organizations that exist to help people in abusive relationships. Share other safety tips like clearing browser history when they visit sites related to abuse to avoid retaliation. Let them share with you when the best time to call in case their partner is monitoring their calls or even listening in. Consider agreeing on a unique safety word or specific text message that would alert you to call for help or pick them up in case they need immediate or urgent assistance.
It may take longer than you expect for the person to leave the abusive relationship. Loving someone in an abusive relationship is difficult so you may need to brace yourself for the fact that it may take some time. Consider seeking extra help to help you as you seek to help them. Don’t underestimate the toll this can take on you.
How we can help victims of domestic violence
5 signs you are experiencing financial abuse in your relationship
8 places that domestic abuse victims can seek help
What’s Love Got To Do With It? A Story On Domestic Violence