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9 Signs You May Be In an Abusive Relationship

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In the lovey-dovey haze of the first few months of a relationship, it’s easy to turn a blind eye to potential red flags: the nagging, a passive-aggressive insult, or even uncomfortable sex. After all, this person makes you laugh and tells you you’re beautiful, so maybe you’re just making a big deal out of nothing, right? Or perhaps you’re in a marriage or long-term partnership and, despite all the things you love about them, you can’t help but feel suspicious about a few troubling tendencies.

No one wants to entertain the idea of their partner being physically, verbally, or emotionally abusive, but according to research published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, there’s no universal motivator for partner abuse—and taking precaution could be what helps a person survive that situation.

For the study, researchers recruited 348 female college students to take a series of surveys and questionnaires that measured the amount of relationship conflict they’ve experienced in the past—from minor and severe acts of aggression (like pushing and kicking) to emotionally abusive behavior (like making belittling comments in front of others).

The results: 95 percent of participants have been emotionally abusive while 30 percent have been physically abusive. What’s more, the American Psychological Association (APA) finds “more than one in three women and more than one in four men in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime,” with interpersonal violence being the leading cause of female homicides and injury-related deaths during pregnancy.

So what’s an effective course of action? Prevention, especially since abuse is a cycle and not one that is easily broken, says Ramani Durvasula, PsyD, a psychology professor at the California State University, Los Angeles and the former vice chair of the APA’s Committee on Women. “Once you give permission for a person to verbally or physically abuse you, precedent is set and communication with your partner goes out the window,” she says. Here are nine warning signs of an abusive relationship to keep an eye out for.

1You’ve experienced physical violence.

abusive relationship physical violence

The biggest red flag of an abusive relationship is physical violence. Partners who go in for the push or hit of any kind should set off alarm bells, says Durvasula. You may be dealing with physical abuse if your partner repeatedly does any of the following, according to the The National Domestic Violence Hotline:

  • Pulls your hair
  • Punches, slaps, kicks, bites, or chokes you
  • Forbids you from eating or sleeping
  • Harms your children
  • Drives recklessly while you are in the car
  • Forces you to use drugs or alcohol
  • Hurts you with weapons
  • Prevents you from seeking medical attention
  • Prevents you from calling the police


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