Abusive relationships. What are the signs?

Dr. Ursula Sandner

Nobody plans to start an abusive relationship. We all want love, not abuse. But this can happen and you can fall into this trap if you are not careful about the first signs that show you that something is wrong with the way things happen. What are those signs?

There are people who are extremely caring and thoughtful at the beginning of the relationship,  they give you various gifts, they compliment you and they declare their love to you: "You mean everything to me", "I couldn’t live without you", "You are the love my life","I've never met anyone like you." These people are always flattering you and apparently are willing to help you no matter what.

The purpose of these exaggerated and false behaviours is to make you give in as quickly as possible, to persuade you to make a commitment to that person. Now we aren’t talking about people with honest intentions, who are careful, caring and willing to offer in a natural way, but we are talking about manipulators whose purpose is to win your heart as soon as possible to make you satisfy their selfish needs and desires by control, emotional blackmail, manipulation or aggression.

There are also extremely jealous and possessive people who try to control their partner. This control can start from telling you how to get dressed and how to spend your time, to telling you who to meet or not, what social activities to do, what decisions to make regarding your own life, whether personal, professional, social or familial, as if they knew what’s best for you. A possessive partner will reproach you if you want to spend time with someone else, will emotionally blackmail you and will try to convince you why it’s best for you to spend time with them instead of spending time with others (whether it's friends or family members). They will do their best to make you isolate yourself from others or even force you to do so. This kind of people can accuse you of infidelity or flirting with others, they can tell you that they can’t stand to see you around other men or women because they love you too much, that they wouldn’t bear to lose you and that they couldn’t live without you.

But jealousy is a feeling that comes from your own insecurity, from your need for control or it’s a projection of your own tendency for infidelity. When you trust yourself and you have a high self-esteem, you aren’t afraid of any competition. You know that you are a valuable human being, and if your partner wants to be with you, they will be with you for what you represent for them and they won’t want someone else because you are an extraordinary person.

In a relationship controlling your partner means suffocating them. If you think you can make someone love you or hold someone near you by making them fear your negative reactions, you’re wrong. The bigger the control is, the more your partner wants to be free, so you may get exactly the thing you fear the most.

Another reason why some people manifest their jealousy is that they are aware of their own tendencies towards infidelity, or maybe they are actually cheating. Knowing what they think or do, they imagine that their partner can think or do the same way. We project upon others what is inside of us and we suspect they are just like us. Jealousy doesn’t belong to a confident, assumed and upright person. Contrary to popular beliefs, jealousy, control and possessiveness are not evidence of love, because love involves freedom and trust, but can even represent the premises of an abusive relationship. A partner who loves you will allow you to be as you are and will not restrict your desires and actions.

A partner who loves you will not relate to you from a superiority position and you will not expect for you to be at his disposal when they are in the mood because this is simply a lack of respect and respect goes hand in hand with love.

Someone who expects you to satisfy any need they have will use all sort of means to get what they want, to make you feel powerless and to obey, and if they don’t succeed, they will punish you for that. They will humiliate and offend you when you won’t please them, they will try to make you feel "small" and unimportant, they will get upset trying to induce you feelings of guilt and shame (maybe even in others’ presence).

Another manipulation strategy that your partner may use is to play the  "sensitive" person, thus causing you to handle them with kid gloves, for avoiding causing them a suffering or a crisis (a victimization crisis I would say). When your partner seems hypersensitive and responds to your most insignificant gesture in an exaggerated manner, they most likely try to manipulate you. An emotionally mature person understands that their partner hasn’t come into this world to meet their selfish needs and desires, they respect their freedom and decisions, and won’t use manipulation or emotional blackmail, simulating crises designed to make the other one give up.

Your partner’s moods or their sudden emotional changes are also a manipulation technique by which they try to make you obey. When your partner has an unpredictable behavior, when they burst in anger for no reason blaming you for that, how long do you think it will take until they become violent? Of course, they will also blame you for their outburst. Acting this way they will make you fear, and you will always have to be on guard avoiding to  make or say something "wrong" (something they wouldn’t want) - and where is your freedom in this case?

Your freedom is also restrained when you submit to their sexual needs and fantasies, although you don’t want it. This is called RAPE, even if it happens in a relationship. That is, your partner forces you to do what you don’t want, or may pressure you to do those things by manipulating or blackmailing you. Is it a love sign when your partner doesn’t take into account what you feel and want? Maybe it's time to reconsider your relationship.

Another thing you'd better think about is your partner's past. How much do you know about their previous relationships? How did they behave with their ex-partners? Do they tend to blame them for everything? Think that a person who doesn’t take responsibility for their relationship can very easily blame you for everything they don’t  feel it’s ok and can very easily "punish you" for that.

The behaviors I’ve described above are abusive behaviors, and if you are confronted with them in your relationship, maybe you should ask yourself some questions.


On the other hand, perhaps the years have passed and you have remained in such a relationship despite the suffering you face every day. You may have fallen into this trap, but not even realize that you are having an abusive relationship. We get to see abuses as a "normal" thing, either because we have been accustomed to such relationships since childhood, or because we disregard ourselves, we have a law self-confidence, and we believe that’s all that we deserve,  either because we fell in love, we projected upon our partner all our happiness and chose to ignore the obvious signals that something it’s not ok. So we didn’t want to accept that our partner is not the way we imagined, and we didn’t want to give up the relationship despite the suffering it causes us. We continued to accept an abusive relationship by lying to ourselves that it’s not so bad what is going on, that it’s only a phase, or finding excuses like "there are conflicts in all relationships", "I will not find someone better anyway ","all men / all women are the same","it’s better with a known evil "etc.

The bad thing is that it really doesn’t help you at all to endure humiliation and suffering, so the sacrifices you make are absolutely in vain, no matter how much you hope for a happy ending. You may not realize now, but sooner or later things will become much worse than they are now if you don’t decide to end the abuses and if you continue to live this way.

An abusive relationship doesn’t mean only physical abuse, it means much more than that. You abuse your partner when you become aggressive with them to control and make them meet your needs and desires. You abuse your partner when you use your personal power against them, when you use the trust they have in you or their dependence or helplessness to make them feel vulnerable. You abuse your partner when you insult them and you speak badly to them (verbal abuse) when you hit or push them (physical abuse) when you humiliate, intimidate, threaten, pressure them, when you blackmail or discourage them trying to make them lose their confidence (emotional abuse), when you harass, blame them, trying to make them feel incapable or hopeless (psychological abuse), when you force them to have sex with you although they don’t want it (sexual abuse) when you don’t allow them to have any control over money (economic abuse).

An abuser has serious problems that shouldn’t be overlooked. An abuser is aware of what they are doing, although they may not be aware of the reasons they got this way. An abuser learns since childhood to control and manipulate, to be violent and may even enjoy it. An abuser can do harm only for the sake of doing harm, thus satisfying their sadistic tendencies through the suffering they cause to others. A person of integrity who doesn’t have the habit to do such things will never do them, not even "by mistake."

Violence and abuse are gradually arising in a relationship, not necessary from its beginning. You can come to think that when it first happens it’s just an occasional and singular happening, that it’s just a mistake and so you choose to get over it. The more you comply with that and the more often you do it, the more you give up your personal power, the more likely is for the abuses to grow. When you accept an abuse once, you do nothing but create the premises for being abused again and again.

You have no reason to live in pain and suffering, you have no reason to accept an abusive relationship. If your situation in similar with what I’ve written above, it may be time to rethink your relationship. If you know people who live this way, what would you advise them?

Choose your relationships wisely!

Dr. Ursula Sandner


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