As I mentioned in my last blog, domestic abuse has been a prominent topic of discussion in the news and media in the last couple of years. This has caused a lot of necessary conversation as well as questions about the perpetrators and the victims. In my last blog, I addressed types of abuse, what the cycle of abuse can look like, and how it can escalate over time. I also pointed out how unhealthy and healthy relationships often start out the same. An abuser will most likely not start the relationship by saying “Hi, my name is Joe. In 2 years’ time I will be your abuser.” No, the abuser will usually disguise him or herself as a charming and caring partner. This is not always the case and no individual story can be generalized, however, it is important to create awareness around general themes that can be observed in many people’s stories.
So if the abuser is going out of his or her way to hide the fact that he or she is an abuser at the beginning of the relationship, how can we know that we are with an abusive individual? There are often some behaviours that could indicate that things may not be what they seem. We call these behaviours warning signs or red flags and although not every red flag individually may tell you whether you are with an abusive individual, red flags do indicate that it may be time to take a closer look at who you are with. The following are some of the warning signs taken from 'Hidden Hurt: Domestic Abuse Information' website (http://www.hiddenhurt.co.uk/warning_signs.html). I will outline the red flags that I have noticed to be the most common when counselling survivors of domestic abuse.
One red flag to watch out for is if your partner has a tendency to blame others for his or her problems. This usually indicates a lack of accountability, and generally, abusers have a very difficult time taking accountability; “It’s your fault that I was angry,” “If you did this right, I wouldn’t have said what I said.” You get the point. We call this blame-shifting of feelings and problems. At the beginning of the relationship the blame-shifting may not be directed at you but you may notice your partner blaming others such as his or her parents, boss, ex, or the government for his or her problems. If your partner finds someone else to blame for why he or she is late, got a ticket, or why your partner is in the situation that he or she is in, take a closer look.
Another warning sign is if your partner is eager to move the relationship along at a very fast speed. Yes, we all get caught up in the excitement of meeting someone new that we really like. However, I caution you, when it comes to abusers, it can be a sign that they know they cannot keep up the façade for very long. This is not always the case, like all of the red flags, but it is important to take note.
Moving too fast can also indicate that your partner has control issues. “I just want to spend all of my time with you because I care about you” could actually translate into “I don’t want you spending time with anyone else” or “I want to know what you are doing at all times.” As I discussed in my last blog, the need for power and control is the root of all abusive behaviours so if you notice your partner has a controlling side, this should not be dismissed. Your partner’s controlling nature can also be camouflaged as concern for your well-being, safety, and so on.
Wanting to spend all of his or her time with you or wanting to know where you are at all times can also suggest jealousy or isolation, both of which are red flags. Jealousy can be masked as a sign of love, however, in actuality it demonstrates possessiveness. Possessiveness indicates objectification, the belief that your partner owns you which can become very dangerous over time. At the beginning of the relationship make sure to carve out time for yourself, your friends, and your family. Take things slow, and always follow your intuition! Time is the best gauge of whether the person you are with is a healthy individual.
Watch out for boundary crossings in the form of romantic gestures at the beginning of the relationship. Yes, it is sweet that they surprised you at your work with lunch or on your doorstep with a bouquet of flowers, but how did your partner know that you might not have had an important meeting to attend or plans with someone else? Abusers tend to test boundaries at the beginning of a relationship to see how far they can push them. This will escalate over time. And if you point it out to them, this can often lead to them accusing you of being ungrateful or paranoid. A healthy partner will listen and understand that you have boundaries. An unhealthy person will try to make you feel guilty or as if you have done something wrong. If you end up apologizing when you were simply trying to express how you are feeling or what your boundaries are, walk away fast and don’t look back!
If you ever catch yourself questioning whether you are dating Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, this is also a warning sign. If one minute your partner is happy and caring and the next minute your partner is angry, hurt, upset, or you can cut the tension with a knife, it might mean it is a good time to walk away.
This could indicate that your partner is hypersensitive. This means that he or she is easily upset, hurt, or offended. Your partner may take what you say as an attack or a differing opinion as criticism. If you notice that you are always having to watch what you say or how you come across in fear that your partner will interpret it differently then you intended, it might not be what you are saying that is the problem.
You may also wonder whether you are the only one who knows this “other side.” Abusers are very good at portraying the nice, normal image that they have created. If everyone knew about his or her abusive behaviours it would be much more difficult to maintain power and control. This also allows your partner to continue to convince you that it’s your fault, “See you make me like this, I’m not like this with anyone else.”
If your partner has unrealistic expectations this can be a warning sign. Your partner may expect you to fulfill all of their needs and may expect you to only need them. Your partner may become very dependent on you expecting that you will provide for them emotionally, physically, spiritually, financially, and then blame or criticize you for not delivering. If your partner says you are all that they need, take this as a red flag. It is important that your partner has their own friends and is able to fulfill their own needs as well as encourage you to have and do the same.
I have outlined the most common early warning signs in a dating partner that I have observed through my counselling experience. They can appear to be harmless initially but down the road may turn into something more sinister. If you encounter any of these red flags reach out and talk to someone whether it is a friend, a family member, or a professional. Sometimes having an unbiased perspective can help us see what is right in front of us. It can also be helpful to write the incidents down so you can keep track. It is easy to dismiss the experience when your partner seamlessly transitions back into the person you know and care about but it is worth noting. When many similar incidents are written in black and white it can be harder to ignore. For more information on these red flags and more warning signs go to http://www.hiddenhurt.co.uk/warning_signs.html.