Understanding Relationship Abuse: Spotting The Signs You Are In An Abusive Relationship

Reading Time: 6 minutes
Physical abuse is any act that causes injury or trauma to another person by way of body contact. Children can be victims of such abuse as in cases of domestic violence.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse refers to non-physical behaviour that aims at controlling, isolating or frightening an individual. Such behaviour can be presented in romantic relationships as manipulation, threats, humiliation, intimidation and excessive jealousy among other threats.

Sexual Abuse

This is a form of sexual violence that includes rape, sexual assault or sexual assault that’s unwelcome, offensive or intimidating.
In abusive relationships, your partner makes you take the blame of all wrongdoing
       In abusive relationships, your partner makes you take the blame of all wrongdoing

What Are Some of the Signs That Abuse is Happening in Your Relationship?

You are scared of annoying your significant other.
Your partner forces you to have sexual acts in ways that are uncomfortable.
Your significant other is jealous and possessive.
Your partner alienates you from your family and friends.
Your partner demands to know your moves whenever you are not around them.
Your partner mistreats you and humiliates you in public.
You are forced to take the blame for all the fights in the relationship.
Your partner likes to twist and turn the truth to manipulate the situation.
You feel stuck in the relationship and find it hard to exit it.
You often say things like,  ‘(s)he hurts and abuses me a lot, but I love him/her’ and I can’t live without him/her’.
Your partner criticizes and makes you feel bad about your dressing style, body size and shape.
Your partner demands to make financial decisions since they don’t feel like you’re capable of handling your finances.
These are some of the telltale signs that you are in an abusive relationship. Raise it with your partner every time you recognize yourself in any of them.

What if You are Abusive to Your Partner?

Are you abusive in your relationship and you would like to change the way you behave towards your partner but you feel you can’t help yourself?
If you recognize yourself as an abusive partner, you ought to question your behaviour and how you treat your significant other. The next step is to work on yourself to stop being an abusive partner.
It’s not an easy thing to break abusive patterns. Accepting that your abusive behaviour is affecting your partner means you have crossed the first hurdle already.
  The Cycle of Abuse
                                The Cycle of Abuse

How Can You Change The Situation?

Find someone you can confess to other than your partner. This bold move requires enough courage.
Consider meeting a counselling psychologist to help you through the process.
Find out what makes you have such harmful behaviour. Sometimes your significant other is just a target for things not going right in your life. Whether that’s the case or not, take your time to find what’s causing you stress and makes you react abusively.
Are you possessive because your significant other abused your trust or something deeper like alcohol or drug abuse or childhood trauma set off the abuse?
Talk openly to your partner after establishing the cause of your mean behaviour and tell them what you have collected. Also, inform them that you intend to change your behaviour.

How Does Abuse Start?

It’s important to talk about how abuse in relationships starts. Abuse happens gradually since most abusers can’t show you their ugly sides from the beginning.

People who are starting new relationships should remember that everyone entering a new relationship puts their best foot forward from the onset. That’s why it’s advisable to proceed with relationships wisely, build a relationship slowly and watch if your romantic partner’s actions match their words.

Abusive people are often calculated and work slowly towards disconnecting you from yourself and people close to you. They do this to mould you into a person whose work is to meet their needs. Over time, the victims become used to the abusive relationship(homeostasis). Therefore, choosing to disrupt this abusive relationship is a shift to the brain hence natural resistance takes place.

The Cycle of Abuse

The cycle of abuse is a way of conceptualizing how abuse progresses. While the cycle can be complex, it follows a four-stage cycle:

Tension Building

In this stage, stress starts to build. Your abuser may feel threatened or they don’t get the attention they deserve. A communication breakdown begins and you begin to feel like you need to walk cautiously so as not to annoy your abuser. You end up taking on a nurturing or agreeable role and become hyperaware of your abuser’s moods.

 Acting Out

In this stage, the abuse occurs be it physical, emotional, sexual and or financial abuse, leaving you feeling scared, worthless and devastated

Honeymoon or Reconciliation

This stage is also known as the, “I’ll never do that again,” stage. In this part of the cycle, your abuser apologizes for the abuse. They may fake being remorseful and beg for forgiveness. Often, they blame the victim for provoking the abuse or deny that the abuse ever happened.

They may minimize the abuse and claim that the abuse wasn’t as bad as the victim makes it seem. You begin to wonder if you are crazy like your abuser told you multiple times. This questioning makes you feel disconnected.


During this stage, the abuser slows down the abuse or stops altogether. The abuser behaves like the abuse didn’t happen, apologize and promise to change during the honeymoon stage but they don’t meet those promises.

The abuser showers you with gifts to make you believe that they will stop abusing you like they promised they would change. You put your hopes high only for the cycle to start again.

Deciding When to Leave an Abusive Relationship

As you decide to end the relationship or save it, you need to keep these things in mind:

If You Think Your Abusive Partner Will Change

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The abuse will probably continue happening since these individuals have deep psychological and emotional issues. Change may not happen easily or quickly, it may only happen when your abuser takes full responsibility for their behaviour, seeks treatment for their stress and unhappy childhood and also stops blaming you.

If You Think You Can Help Your Partner

It’s natural that you feel you want to help your partner thinking that you are the only one who can understand them. The truth is that by staying with them and accepting their abuse reinforces and enables their behaviour. Instead of helping your abuser, you instead perpetuate the problem.

If Your Partner has Promised to Stop the Abuse

When facing consequences, abusers often plead for another chance, beg for forgiveness, and promise to change. They may even mean what they say in the moment, but their true goal is to stay in control and keep you from leaving. Most of the time, they quickly return to their abusive behavior once you’ve forgiven them and they’re no longer worried that you’ll leave.

If Your Partner Undergoes Counselling or a Program For Batterers

Even if your partner is undergoing counselling, it’s not a guarantee that they will change. Many abusers who undergo counselling remain to be controlling, abusive and violent. If they stop being making excuses or minimizing the problem that’s a good sign. You need to make your decisions based on who they are at the moment and not the person you are hoping they will turn out to be.

If You’re Worried About What Will Happen After You Leave

You may be afraid of what your abusive partner will do, where you’ll go or support your children. Don’t let fear of the unknown keep you in a healthy situation.

Seek their help to work out how you can behave better and also heal the damage you have caused. Ask them how they like to be treated and see what you can do to match their expectations or how you can come close to meeting them.

Taking Steps to Heal and Move on

The scars of abuse run deep. The trauma it causes can stay with you even longer after leaving an abusive relationship. You may struggle with frightening memories, upsetting emotions , feeling numb and inability to trust other people. Therapy and  counselling can also help you to process the abuse you have been through and help you new and healthy relationships.


Take Away

If you are being abused, remember:

You deserve to be with a partner that respects you.

You shouldn’t blame yourself for being mistreated or battered.

You are not to blame for your partner’s abusive behaviour.

You deserve a happy and safe life.

You aren’t alone as there are people who are there to help you.

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