When you first fall in love with someone, it can feel like nothing can go wrong. The butterflies in your stomach, the giddy feeling whenever they call or text you. You’re head over heels and can’t wait to see them again. We all hope that the person we’re dating isn’t dangerous or an abuser, but sadly, many people meet and fall in love with their abusers. In fact, most victims of sexual violence know their attacker beforehand and trust them enough to begin a romantic relationship. Abusive relationships—no matter how they start—are never something to ignore as just a bad date or the result of a bad day. If you are experiencing domestic violence, whether emotional, verbal, physical, or sexual, get help as soon as possible before things get worse…no matter how much you love them.
Love shouldn’t hurt.
The problem is that there are many red flags which signify a toxic relationship, but it can be tricky to spot them at first glance. Let’s explore some warning signs of an abusive relationship and what to do if you feel like you can’t get out.
1. You Constantly Question Your Self-Worth
If you’re in a relationship with someone who verbally abuses you, like calling you “worthless” or “stupid” or that you’re “overreacting,” they are verbally attacking your self-worth. This is the first step towards controlling you. Your partner’s goal is to make you believe that you’re not good enough for anyone else, so you eventually feel trapped in the relationship and won’t leave.
When someone repeatedly makes you feel like you’re not good enough, it’s a huge red flag. Your partner is toxic. This is especially true if your partner insults you, mocks your abilities, or always puts you down when you make a mistake. It’s a sign that they don’t respect you, your dreams, or your needs.
2. You’re Constantly on Edge and Feel Anxious
If you feel on edge and anxious around your partner a lot of the time, or if you feel like you can’t relax while you’re with them, you might be in an abusive relationship. When you’re in love, you should feel relaxed and content. You should feel safe.
There are plenty of reasons why you might feel anxious around your partner. They could be extremely critical of you. They might regularly make plans that inconvenience you and make you feel stressed out. They might be very controlling in your relationship, which could also make you feel anxious.
You deserve a relationship that’s supportive and kind.
3. Your Partner Makes You Feel Bad About Yourself
If you regularly feel bad about yourself in your relationship, it’s a sign that your partner doesn’t truly care about you. Your partner should be someone who makes you feel better about yourself, not worse. This shows they only care about themselves, not you or the relationship. They want to control you, which means that they want to make you dependent on them. They want you to feel so bad about yourself that you feel trapped.
If you can’t get out of the relationship and you feel like you can’t leave, remember that you are worthy of love and there is (free) help and support available. Links toward the bottom of this post.
4. Your Partner Puts You Down or Verbally Abuses You
If your partner regularly puts you down, mocks your goals, or insults you, this is a sign that they don’t respect you. If your partner regularly insults you and puts you down, it’s because they don’t see you as an equal. They know that they can control you by making you feel bad about yourself. Someone who truly loves you will respect you, support you, and encourage you. If your partner constantly insults you, mocks your goals, or puts you down, this is a huge red flag that you’re in a toxic relationship.
5. Your Relationship Feels Like a Constant Tug of War
If you and your partner are constantly fighting over silly things, or if one of you is always trying to get more than their fair share, this could be a sign that you’re in a toxic relationship. Your partner should be someone who is willing to share with you, to take your ideas and needs into consideration. They should be willing to split bills, take turns buying groceries, and generally be fair about who does what.
Another red flag is Jekyll/Hyde behavior. Consistency is key. Of course everyone has a bad day now and again. They might snap at you or raise their voice, but this should be very, very rare. When it happens, it’s important to check in and express how you feel. If they don’t listen, apologize, and make amends, you might be in an abusive relationship.
If one day they’re kind and the next they’re abusive, this leaves you in a state of confusion and strengthen the trauma bond. You never know how they’re going to react, so you spend your time trying to please them, blaming yourself for those abusive times (because they likely tell you it is your fault). It’s not.
6. You Feel Trapped in the Relationship and Can’t Leave
It should be relatively easy to walk away from a toxic relationship. If you’re regularly wondering how to get out of the relationship without getting hurt, this is a huge red flag.
Sometimes due to other circumstances, like children, work, or if your partner is controlling the finances, it can be even harder to leave. Make an escape plan. Start putting away some money aside in a way that your abusive partner cannot find out. Make a list of step-by-step goals to work toward getting away. Most importantly, don’t be swayed by the moments of kindness and love, as it’s part of the cycle of abuse. If you find yourself thinking he will change, I’m here to tell you he will not.
Get out as soon as you can. Make a plan. Execute the plan.
Love can be a wonderful thing, but when we’re in an intimate relationship with someone who is manipulative, selfish, or emotionally abusive, it’s toxic and detrimental to your mental and physical health. If you find yourself in this situation and want to get out of the relationship without getting hurt, you’ll need to know how to recognize when things are going south and understand when your partner is trying to manipulate you. The moment you realize that your partner doesn’t respect you, value your time together, or consider your needs before their own, should be the moment that you put an end to things.
If you feel like you can’t escape a toxic relationship, it’s important that you remember that you are worthy of love. You are worthy of respect. You deserve to feel safe.
Reach out to friends or family, if you feel safe to do so. Ask them for help getting out of the relationship. You can also always call the National Domestic Violence Hotline or RAINN, in the case of sexual violence. Cities and towns usually have local resources too, like a women’s shelter. Please look them up and remember there is no such thing as too much support when you’re dealing with domestic and/or sexual violence.
May you find peace.