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For most of us, it can be relatively easy to spot an abusive situation when it is obvious. There is usually yelling or aggressive language with a high chance of some type of physical altercation. We may not know or understand what is going on between the people, but we are often painfully aware that something is wrong.

In our society, the ways we deal with disagreements is a crucial component of how we determine if a relationship is working for us or not. Although it is normal to have strife between people when fighting, it is important to make positive decisions about how we manage what we do with our words and fists during these situations.

Abuse can be generally described as concerning behaviors or actions intended to hurt or control someone or their choices. The stereotype of an abusive relationship would likely include someone being yelled at or hit for not completing a task or doing something unfavorable. In the past it was generally considered to be most often perpetrated by the patriarch of the family. Over time, not only did we start recognizing that abuse could come from any member in a relationship, we also started to recognize that there were a variety of concerning aspects and patterns that can exist between people.

There are many ways that abuse can permeate relationships. A slap across the face can be a strong indicator that something is wrong, but there are many more subtle ways that people attempt to control others.

We all get in arguments and may have tendencies to say hurtful things at times. It’s easy to do when you get into a heated argument. We often learn how to disagree and work through conflict growing up within our biological families. We also get exposed to how other people fight through our own relationships and watching others.

Hopefully our teachers and experiences have given us the ability to create a firm foundation of positive communication, compassionate interactions, and effective problem-solving skills. Unfortunately, many of us have been exposed to dysfunctional relationships that have reinforced some poor behaviors. It can also be difficult to remain calm when arguments bring up feelings of insecurity, distrust, or anger.

Many times, people have difficult upbringings where they may have been hurt or abused by other people. It is unfortunate that physical, sexual, and emotional abuse happens often in our society and can cause deeply ingrained scars in people. There are times where these types of situations hurt someone to the point where they lash out against others.

Regardless of why abuse happens, these patterns cause more harm than good in relationships and need to be confronted. Having open and honest communication is important, but often it takes the support of a trained mental health professional to help people acknowledge and address these concerns.

Often when our relationships begin, feelings of comfortable, utopian perfection overwhelm us. It is unimaginable that we would ever argue or disagree about anything, even after spending an exorbitant amount of time together. Although many relationships maintain their beauty, some unfortunately become unhappy quickly. It takes time to get to know someone, and sometimes concerning personality characteristics are uncovered over time. Some people work very hard to keep these hidden from their partner or other people in their lives.

Regardless of when they start to be noticed, it is extremely important to discuss concerns and set some boundaries with certain behaviors before these patterns get out of hand. These behaviors can creep up on us slowly and sometimes without warning. They may progress so subtly that we don’t even notice them until we’re in the middle of getting really hurt. There are times that our friends may notice controlling or concerning patterns even before we do and may choose to say something. Their concern can put strain on the friendship, and we may not be receptive to hearing their perspective or fear. It can be a difficult to tell someone something that they might not want to hear.

We may notice that situations aren’t going well and that there are concerns about how a relationship is progressing. There are times when we may fight against our own perceptions and hope that things will improve on their own over time. Maybe we feel that part of being a good partner is making someone happy by doing everything they want and avoiding those things that cause difficulties. This can be a slippery slope when it comes to abusive situations.

Often when these types of circumstances happen, they do not get better and often become more intense and destructive as the relationship progresses. There are many ways these types of abusive patterns can play out in relationships. Keep in mind that none of us are perfect and some of these can happen in a healthy relationship as well. Consider if any of these are concerns with your you or your partner.

Needing to Walk on Eggshells to Avoid Conflict

Very few of us look for fights, but actively avoiding situations for fear that they will cause a huge emotional explosion can be a sign that you may be in a controlling relationship. Be aware that your fear of causing an argument or experiencing negative repercussions for your actions is a concern.

Intense Mood Shifts

Throughout our day there may be experiences that make us smile or tick us off. Be careful about situations where a type of emotional “snap” can happen. Everything can be going well and then in an instant go to hell quickly, sometimes with little to no warning. This type of rapid change often causes a partner to have to spend more energy trying to avoid conflict or look for potential threats that could trigger drama.

Fearing Repercussions

None of us like getting into trouble, but being in a relationship where we are afraid of negative outcomes from our partner should be a huge red flag that we are in a concerning situation.

Changing Rules or Expectations

Consistency is one of the most important parts in any relationship. When instability exists, we feel less likely to know what to expect, and this can lead into situations where people feel that they can’t possibly win. What is a correct decision in one moment can be completely wrong another time. This is often due to the mood change in a partner. Be careful about feeling unbalanced or unsure in a relationship.

Withholding Love, Affection, or Sex

There are times when we might not be in the mood for messing around, but be aware about situations where you have little control over when or how intimacy will happen. Be careful if showing physical or emotional support is based on their approval or disapproval of what you do.


We all have our perceptions, but there are times when paranoia can seem to take over, and we may become suspects in what feels to be a story from a strange alternate universe. These paranoid perceptions may seem to come out of the blue, but they are often brought on by a complex series of mental conversations that we are not aware of. We may have done nothing wrong, but are held responsible just as if these perceptions were factual.

Isolation from Friends and Support Networks

Sometimes seeing friends happens less often when getting into a new relationship, but be concerned when it feels that your friendships with other people are not valued or you are told that important people in your life shouldn’t be trusted.

Sacrificing Interests

Compromising how we spend our time and energy is normal, but giving up things that are important to us can cause resentment to build. Be careful about the subtle ways that someone can control your actions, including making fun of them or disapproving how they take up time or resources.

Feeling Beat Down or Powerless

When we are faced with a situation where we cannot potentially win, we run the risk of giving up and rolling over. The experience of hopelessness can destroy our motivation and self-worth.

Flipping Blame or Responsibility

Rarely is a conflict only caused by a single person. Be aware of feeling that you are always the one causing the argument or problems in the relationship. It takes two to tango, and can’t always be your fault.