How to know if you’re in a abusive relationship

Signs of a toxic relationship

Is your partner or spouse physically hurting you?Have you been wondering if what you’re experiencing are the signs of an abusive relationship? Abusive men (and women) set out to make sure that their victims suffer in silence.

Are you married to an abusive spouse? Are you in a relationship with an abusive boyfriend? Are you the man who doesn’t dare to talk about the abuse suffered at the hands of the woman who is supposed to love him? Although women are far more likely to suffer at the hands of abusive men, women too can be the perpetrators of domestic violence (yes, truly – see link below).

You might love as much as you can, and adjust your behaviour to whatever they demand (which changes all the time, so you’ll never ‘win’) – but the truth is you’re in an abusive relationship.

How come? I am hoping to help you with information on what the signs of a toxic relationship are.

Were you ‘fooled’ and are you ‘stupid’?

It’s no wonder you were fooled, whether you realise that now or not. And no, you’re not stupid – it could have happened to anyone!

Often the abuser only reveals his true self only over time. (Over 85% of abusers are men, so read he or she depending on your situation.) He probably was your knight in shining armour – charming, caring, sensitive and loving – early on. And the two of you became serious really quickly.

Then slowly the ‘innocent’ questions and comments begin. Why would you want to go out or stay in touch with so-and-so? Why would you want to be engaged in this or that activity? You’ll soon be questioning this yourself and/or starting to feel guilty about wanting anything at all.

Read on to discover all the signs that your man (or woman) is verbally, emotionally and/or mentally abusive – confirmation of whether or not you’re in an unhealthy, toxic relationship.

I suspect you won’t really be surprised to see your fears confirmed – finally. You probably didn’t even realise you were in an abusive relationship during the first two stages of seduction and isolation. So, take a deep breath and read on…

Photo: fist of a man, woman in the background looking frightened. Text: How to know if you're in a bad, toxic or abusive relationship.
Walk away, yes, absolutely – when you’re ready, but ensure you have support!

Signs of an abusive relationship

Find out now if you’re in an abusive relationship. If you answer YES to even one of three questions (depending on which one), you need to seek help as soon as possible.

The very fact that you’re here, is a sign that you’re already suspect you’re in a bad relationship. Why would you otherwise be here (unless you have a professional interest of course)?

You may have been wondering whether you should get out of the relationship, but…

  • you’re too scared
  • you perhaps feel you need to be strong
  • you still think you can change him/her if only you knew how
  • you’re the only one who really understands them
  • you’re hoping that things will get better
  • they’ve apologetically promised you it won’t happen again. Maybe they even cried at the awful realisation of what they’ve been doing to you, particularly after an incident
  • they’ve threatened to kill you, themselves or someone you love
  • you love him or her
  • you’re just not sure of the signs of a bad relationship, let alone an abusive one (see also my article: Signs of emotional abuse)
  • you think they’re damaged and badly need your love and support

So, are you being verbally, emotionally and physically abused by someone who’s supposed to love you?

Whatever your thoughts or feelings – even after this test – I really want you to get help even if you suspect you’re in an abusive relationship.

Go through these lists of signs now. Remember that each question you answer with a ‘yes’ points to an aspect of your partner’s behaviour that’s likely to get worse over time.

This is my part in your journey to getting you to safety. I can only increase your awareness and point you in the right direction, but you need to shine a light on what is happening and ask for help.

I’m so pleased you are here!

Couple, woman with bruises on her arm
Are you in an abusive relationship? Who is your abuser? Men can also be victims, though women are much more likely to suffer.


  1. Do they physically hurt you – punch, slap, pinch, push, shove, pull or shake you?
  2. Do they have ‘play-fights’ with you that hurt you in any way?
  3. Do they verbally abuse you (see: How to ‘win’ the silent treatment)?
  4. Do they threaten to put sensitive/explicit texts, videos or images online (revenge porn)? Or have they done that already?
  5. Do they ridicule you?
  6. Do they humiliate you in any way, whether in company or not?
  7. Do they completely ignore your feelings and wishes (that is if you’ve dared to express them)?
  8. Do they physically hurt you in any way?
  9. Do they force you to do stuff against your will?
  10. Do they punish you by hurting you or treating you with the silent treatment, for anything that was not to their liking?
  11. Do they know how to push your buttons, deliberately hurting you emotionally and mentally?
  12. Are they extremely demanding (see also: How to deal with a narcissistic husband, wife or partner)?
  13. Do they increasingly control every aspect of your relationship?
  14. Do they control what you wear – and often even then they’re not pleased?
  15. Do they threaten to harm you, your children, other loved-ones or him/herself?
  16. Do they threaten to leave you, if you don’t do as you’re told?
  17. Do they threaten to commit suicide if you leave them?
  18. Do they threaten to kill you?
  19. Are they extremely jealous and possessive?
  20. Do they constantly make you feel guilty?
  21. Has he forced you to have an abortion?
  22. Has he stopped you using contraceptives?
  23. Are they tracking your online activities and controlling your social media accounts?
  24. Are they tracking your whereabouts aided by the latest technological devices (including their and your mobile phones)?
  25. Do they control all aspects of your finances (see: Your partner or spouse is lying to you about money)?

The above list is not exhaustive, but you can see how difficult it can be, in some instances, to distinguish the signs of a ‘bad’ relationship from the signs of an abusive one.

(I’d also like you to read my response to a reader’s question on the signs of a toxic relationship.)

Keep on reading – there’s more to come…

What you need to know

When the abuse takes place in your home where your children reside – it is called child abuse.

Remember, your children have the right to be safe. You need to act on their behalf.

World Health Organisation - Violence impacts women's health

Is your wife or female partner abusing you?

Men can also become the victim of domestic violence. See this BBC article.

What about your family, friends and other important people?


  1. Do you make choices based on what he/she might think, rather than what you would want?
  2. Are you increasingly preoccupied with avoiding the next onslaught?
  3. Do you worry that you are the problem?
  4. Do you feel edgy or scared when your partner calls or walks up the path if you even dare to have friends or family around?
  5. Have family and friends expressed concerns about your well-being in this relationship?
  6. Have you found yourself defending him/her despite all of this – even when you were battered and bruised?
  7. Have you stopped seeing your family or friends because they are so negative about your partner?
  8. Have you stopped contacting them because you suspect they can see all the signs of your bad relationship, and you don’t want them to question you about it?
  9. Have you stopped seeing friends and family, because of your partner’s complaints?
  10. Has he or she prevented you from accessing health care?

Intimate partner violence in general victimizes women in particular and the same can be said about homicides perpetrated by intimate partners. As mentioned earlier, in homicide cases when an intimate partner was implicated, 82 per cent of the victims were women, while 18 per cent were men.”

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Global Study on Homicide*)


What to do if your spouse or partner slaps, hits, bullies or otherwise abuses you?

Can you change him? Is there hope?

I so want you to understand that your partner is never going to behave any differently! Most of the signs I have mentioned aren’t just those of a bad relationship – no, they are signs of an abusive relationship.

Yes, they’re likely to promise that it won’t ever happen again, they really won’t do it again, this was truly the last time, etc. 

However, it is going to happen again! In any case – you shouldn’t be waiting to see if it does.

No matter how hard you try to be the person he or she wants you to be, it’s not going to get better. No matter how much you try to change them (if you even dare) or change yourself to prevent the next outburst, the situation is most likely to worsen over time.

If you can afford to pay for counselling, I really hope you’ll talk it all through with an online counsellor (link my article explaining how it works). He or she will take the time to really understand your particular situation and help you to decide on your next step. 

It’s not your fault

I know it can be a huge shock when you’re confronted with all this stuff.

I can almost feel you crumpling up in a ball, too tired, beaten down (perhaps even literally) and low to take any action at all. Perhaps you’ve already experienced all of this before, in previous close couple relationships and/or in your childhood, though this by no means needs to be the case.

It can feel like you’re broken and that there’s nothing left in you – your self-esteem and confidence may even be non-existent (see How to build self-esteem).

But, at the same time, perhaps it’s a relief – you know you’re not alone and you are not the only one this is happening to. Far from it!

I just want you to know that it is not your fault. You did not cause this man (or woman) to be abusive, aggressive or violent.

Sure, you played a role in it all, just like each one of us does in all of our relationships/lives, but you did not deserve this and at any time you made the best decisions you knew how with the knowledge, awareness and understanding you had at any particular time. Al that whilst you live(d) in fear of being found out – for even daring to breath it seems – even when the perpetrator is nowhere to be seen.

However, you know now the most important signs of an abusive relationship and how an abusive man (or woman) behaves. All of this is regardless of age (though young women are most at risk), religion, nationality, level of education and income – it happens everywhere!

If it’s happening to you, it is time to get help to get out. See below this article for a list of organisations that offer help.

Again, I highly recommend you talk to an online professional therapist if you can afford to pay for counselling.  Failing that, do contact one of the organisations below. If you need to build a bit of confidence before you ask for help, read my article about the where, when and how of getting good relationship advice.

Keeping track of the evidence

Screenshot SmartSafe+ video

You can download the SmartSafe+ mobile app for free. The app helps you to safely and securely collect evidence for when you’re ready to go to the police for help.


It can take a lot of courage and strength to extricate yourself from an abusive relationship. But the fact that you’ve coped with this situation so far proves to me that strength and resilience are just two of the qualities you have in bucket loads. 

Remember: you don’t have to do this alone. Ask for help, either from a professional counsellor (above) or a voluntary service (like those listed below). Perhaps you have a trusted friend or family member you can turn to for support too. If so, now is the time to call on them.

Just a note of warning, though, marriage counselling is not suitable when one of the partners is abusing the other!

And remember, too, that you don’t deserve to be mistreated or abused. Just because you’ve found yourself in this situation, doesn’t mean you have to stay here.

I know you can get through this, and I’m right here, cheering you on from the sidelines. You can do it.

Where to get help

For men and women

US and Canada – Domestic Abuse Helpline

For women

US – The National Domestic Violence Hotline
UK – Women’s Aid
Australia – 1800respect

For men

Australia – One in Three Campaign
UK – ManKind Initiative


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