If you are questioning what the warning signs of domestic abuse in a relationship look like, you may already be experiencing them.
I will tell you upfront I'm not an expert, but I can say I have lived through it and can speak from experience.
Domestic violence is the most commonly referred to term when speaking of an abusive partner. However, I do feel "violence" makes it very limiting as most people assume you are only a victim of domestic violence if you are being physically assaulted. This is not true.
I prefer domestic abuse, as it can be associated with someone who abuses your love and trust in many ways - psychologically, financially, emotionally, and physically. Additionally, they are also not mutually exclusive.
Domestic abuse isn't always something that is manifested in bruises on your body. It can create a lot of confusion in those who are experiencing it for the first time because society has always told us that it is a violent act filled with shouting, shoving and hitting.
Just look at the stories that have made it to the news of high profile athletes caught on camera knocking out their partner. I can guarantee you that this is not the only way they have been abusive to their partner.
Based on my own experience, here are a few early warning signs that you are in a relationship that is abusive.
DOMESTIC ABUSE CAN BE SILENT
Actions of abuse aren't always black or white in your face. It's the small things that you pass off as no big deal. A white lie here and there, especially regarding things that are really small and don't really matter. You'll learn later that this is actually grooming you to believe the bigger lies and manipulation.
It's that certain look that makes you feel anxious (What did I do wrong? Why are they mad at me?)
It's depriving you of physical touch. Withdrawing from hugging you, kissing you, holding your hand, putting their arm around you, avoiding physical contact with you, uninterested in physical intimacy. But it's nonchalant. One day they greet you with a hug, or cuddle with you, the next they are stand-offish and you sense something is off, but you think it's your fault. They'll deny anything is wrong, that you're trying to create drama out of nothing, but it's a way to manipulate affection.
It's going places or being gone for a long period of time and you are not privy to their whereabouts. When you ask, you're asked in an accusatory tone, "Why can't you ever trust me?" This is done so that you don't ask anymore because you don't want them to think you have trust issues.
These are just some examples, but it's quiet actions that are just not blatant. It's daily, everyday things we don't give much thought to until it's happened so much over time that it gives you insight into the bigger things.
DOMESTIC ABUSERS SUBTLEY ISOLATE YOU
This isolation happens slowly over time. Abusive partners tend to not have many friends of their own. They try to limit your time with your friends through guilt ("I barely get any time with you"; "I just really love spending time with you", etc.). They try to limit your time going out anywhere on your own or want to be there with you. (They position it as being protective of you - but it is honestly possession of you.)
They find excuses for you not to spend time with family by making it feel uncomfortable to have both your partner and your family around each other. They'll quickly identify the family members with the flaws they can exploit - like the loud family member, the inappropriate family member, the sarcastic one, etc. so that any verbal altercation seems justified.
It'll happen often enough that you'll stop inviting those family members over or going to see them because the potential for negative interaction brings you a lot of anxiety. It's also very exhausting to constantly be on guard to be peacemaker all the time.
If friends and family are telling you they miss you, or quality time with them has greatly diminished. This might be a sign you need to evaluate.
DOMESTIC ABUSERS GASLIGHT
Do you feel like you're always being accused of something and are constantly defending yourself? Oftentimes your partner will try to take any spotlight off themselves by accusing you of wrongdoing or by justifying their bad behavior by blaming you.
"You're too emotional", "You did it to yourself", "I did it because I love you," "I'm just kidding, can't you take a joke?", "That's not what happened...", "You're crazy, I can't believe you just said that", "You don't love me."
Those are just some of the common phrases you'll hear where they flat out lie, manipulate and make you question your own sanity. You often feel "wrong" and that you are being overreactive.
While these are just 3 big picture ways abuse typically begins, it's different for everyone. The thing is, most abusesr are very charasmatic, even very likeable in the begining to those around you that they come in contact with, which makes the above signs even more confusing.
If you are questioning words or actions by your partner - no, you are not crazy and no, it is not your fault. Getting in touch with your local domestic violence program can help. It's confidential and will help you think clearly. They are there to support you.
If you are unsure where to find the programs local to you, The National Domestic Violence Hotline is open to anyone of any language. You can reach them at 800-799-7233 or text START to 88788.