One of the most decisive factors which prevent someone from leaving an unhealthy or destructive relationship is that they don’t know they are being abused. This is partially due to the fact that the media often portrays domestic violence as severe and overtly distressing. Or because the instances we see in the news focus exclusively on cases of physical abuse. Unfortunately, the effects of violence between intimate partners are not always visible and many victims are either unaware of them or understandably go to great lengths to hide them from the world. So how can you tell if you are being abused in your relationship?
What exactly constitutes domestic abuse?
Domestic violence is oftentimes conflated with solely physical or sexual assault between partners. Although these can be a part of it, domestic abuse also refers to verbal abuse (name-calling, yelling, threats), psychological or emotional abuse (shaming, intimidation, controlling behavior, sustained criticism or discouragement, humiliation) and financial abuse (withholding money, stealing credit cards, preventing or sabotaging your work, restricting or controlling your finances).
Domestic abuse also includes physical violence (pushing, shaking, biting, shoving, choking, slapping, hitting, restraining, assaulting with a weapon), sexual assault (unwanted or coerced sexual contact) or sexual violence committed by an intimate relationship partner or a spouse.
How to tell if you are being abused
Reading about the specifics of domestic abuse is a good first step, but in many cases, there is still a long way to acknowledging if some of these behaviors are actually occurring within your relationship. This is because admitting (even if only to ourselves) that our partner is actively hurting us can be gut-wrenching. It may make us feel shameful, unworthy, abandoned, hopeless or afraid. However, it is crucial that we recognize that abusive behavior is not the fault of the victim.
Here are some questions to help you figure out whether or not you are being abused by your partner:
- Do you feel unease, anxiety or fear at the thought of disagreeing with your partner?
- Do you feel like you are “walking on eggshells” trying to avoid angering your partner?
- Does your partner humiliate you or repeatedly criticize you (when you are alone or in front of your friends and family)?
- Does your partner control or restrict your money or credit card(s)?
- Does your partner constantly monitor where you go, who you spend time with and becomes angry, withdrawn or irritated if you ask for leeway in the relationship?
- Does your partner frequently and wrongly accuse you of cheating or flirting with other people?
- Do you feel obligated or compelled to be intimate with your partner?
- Has your partner ever pressured you into having sex with him or her (not necessarily through physical force, but also through blaming, emotional blackmail, normalizing sexual expectations or shaming you)?
- Does your partner get jealous or angry when you (want to) see your friends and family?
- Has your partner attempted to isolate you from your relatives or close friends?
- Has your partner ever pushed, shoved, slapped, hit, kicked, punched, bit or choked you (even if the incident only happened once or twice)?
- Has your partner ever threatened you or scared you with violence?
- Has your partner ever threatened to hurt you, himself/herself or your loved ones (for instance, if you were to break up with him/her)?
- Does your partner try to excuse his/her behavior or to minimize your feelings regarding an incident that happened (i.e. “You provoked me”, “I can’t control my anger”, “I was drunk”, “I just snapped”, “You’re making a big deal out of nothing”, “You’re too sensitive”, “You know what sets me off”, “It didn’t happen like that”)?
- Do you find yourself constantly excusing your partner’s behavior (perhaps with similar statements as the ones above) or hiding it from your friends and family because “they wouldn’t understand”?
If you are a victim of domestic violence
If you have found that one or many items on the list of warning signs for domestic abuse apply to your relationship, but you are still unsure or you cannot face this discovery, try the following exercise: think about a person (a lifelong friend, a parent, a close relative) that you love dearly or care deeply for. Now imagine that it was not your relationship you were describing, but the relationship of this close friend. Try to picture that he or she is the one in your position right now. How would you view your friend’s relationship? Is it a healthy or a destructive relationship? How does your friend’s partner treat them? Are they being abusive to your friend? What advice would you give them? And now reflect back on your own relationship. How do you see it now?
When we find the courage to look at our relationship objectively, we might become aware that we are being abused – or that we’ve known something was wrong all along but couldn’t face it. If this is you, do not be afraid to safely reach out for help. Or to treat yourself with the same kindness you would treat a friend if they were in your situation.
If you want to talk to someone please call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE or find out other ways you can end domestic violence.