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How to know if he is abusive and what you can do about it

You thought you finally met Prince Charming. But now you’re a few months in and are wondering, “What happened?” You’re starting to feel like everything you do is wrong and you can’t quite figure out why you make him so angry. Your relationship seemed perfect in the beginning, but now…you’re left feeling confused and unsure.

What to do if he is abusive

Whether you’re dating, in between relationships, or just getting to know someone, it’s important to be aware of the early warning signs of abuse. All relationships have problems and all couples have conflicts, miscommunication, and disagreements.  That’s normal.  It’s important to know the difference between healthy conflict and unhealthy manipulation tactics or abusive behavior.  Here are a five important questions to ask yourself about the relationship: 

1. Is he self-centered?
Do you notice that he tends to monopolize the conversation? Or does he listen with interest to your thoughts and stories? Self-centeredness may seem like a small thing at first, but it is an indication of the underlying belief of entitlement, a belief that he is better and has more “rights” than you.  So, while it may look like he talks to much, or talks about himself too much, underneath is the belief that what he thinks and has to say is more important than anything you could contribute to the conversation.

2. Is he controlling?
Is he possessive of your time? Does he encourage you to spend time with your friends? Or does it seem that he tries to limit your time apart from him? Does he make all of the decisions in the relationship—where to grab dinner, what movie to watch, how to spend your time together? Controlling behavior starts in small and often insignificant ways, but soon you notice that he’s giving you suggestions on how to dress or what to eat, talking negatively about your friends or family members and isolating you by discouraging you from spending time with them, or getting irritated when you don’t go along with what he thinks you should do.  If your husband, boyfriend, or partner is becoming increasingly jealous, if you are having to constantly reassure him of your commitment, if he is suddenly distrustful of you (for no reason) or tracking your movements, these are controlling behaviors and a clear sign that he is attempting to gain ownership of you.  That’s not love. 

“Jealous behavior is one of the surest signs that abuse is down the road. Possessiveness masquerades as love.”1

3. Can I have my own thoughts and opinions? 
Miscommunications and misunderstandings can happen often, especially early in relationships.  As couples get to know one another, they may find they don’t always agree.  But the test of a healthy relationship is the ability to navigate disagreements with kindness and mutual respect.  Are you allowed to have your own thoughts and opinions?  Or does he punish you if you do not agree with him completely?  In healthy relationships, partners are not threatened by differences, but are capable of listening and are willing accept the other’s viewpoints, even when they disagree.  They are capable of taking responsibility for their part in the breakdown of communication or the ways that they were hurtful and apologize for what they did wrong. When arguments happen, is he willing to admit when he’s been wrong and apologize? Or does the full weight of blame lie solely on you?  Do you find that you’re expected to apologize when you’ve disagreed with his opinion or viewpoint?  Do you have to apologize when you’ve done nothing wrong?

4. How does he talk about his past relationships?
This ties into the previous question and provide insight in how conflict was resolved in his past relationship.  Granted, couples break up for many reasons and it’s natural to defend your side of the story, but listen carefully to how he talks about his past partners.  Does he take responsibility for his actions or for his part in the breakdown of the relationship? Or does he blame others? Be especially cautious if he says that a past wife or girlfriend accused him of abuse.  (Though you may believe it is a false claim, it’s important to get her side of the story, as it might just save you from being his next victim.)

5. Does he respect me?
Does he treat me with kindness? Is the way he treats me in public the same as how he treats me in private? Real men treat women with respect, both in public and in private.  How does he treat you in social settings? Is he rude toward you or does he belittle you in front of other people? Is he demeaning? Does he pressure you for sex? Does he ask you to do things you’re not comfortable doing? Or does he love and respect you enough to move at a slower pace in your physical (sexual) relationship?

“Disrespect is the soil in which abuse grows.”1

There are other early warning signs of abuse, such as drug and alcohol use, physical or verbal intimidation, anger outbursts, and isolation.  If you are in a new relationship and are unsure whether your partner is just being selfish or showing signs of abuse, there are a few things you can do to determine whether the relationship can move forward in a healthy way.

  • Address the attitude or behavior that is unacceptable to you.  Name the behavior that is unacceptable and explain why, if necessary.  Pay attention to his reaction. “You disrespected me in front of my friends when you said I didn’t know because I hadn’t finished college.”
  • If it happens again, stop seeing him. This is a boundary. You may choose to stop seeing him for a period of time, but by doing this you are saying, “I will not allow you to treat me in this way.”  Again, pay close attention to his reaction and subsequent behavior. If you keep seeing him with the warning, “I mean it this time.” He will not take you seriously.
  • If it happens a third time, it’s time to move on.  Chances are what seemed like a “fairytale” was, in fact, just that. You are worth being treated with love and respect.  Don’t believe that you will somehow be able to help him change his ways.

If you find that you are trapped in a relationship that is becoming increasingly abusive, please contact OK Safeline: (800) 522-SAFE (7233) or the National Domestic Violence Hotline: (800) 799-SAFE (7233) You can also contact Journey House. Our services are confidential and we will get you connected to the help you need.

1Bancroft, L. (2002). Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. New York, NY: Berkley.

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