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Abusive Relationships: Early Warning Signs

At the beginning of your relationship, you're likely to encounter a "honeymoon period" during which your partner isn't abusive — on the contrary, they'll shower you with praise and admiration and may try very hard to impress everyone else in your life, too. Your relationship may, however, move forward at lightning speed, and your new partner will quickly be interested in commitments such as moving in together, getting married, and having children. Your new partner may appear to be selectively deaf; "no" isn't a word they understand very well, and though they are likely to try to present their unwillingness to hear your wishes in a nice package with a bow on top, this is an early sign that your partner is controlling.

Some time later, you may notice things like jealousy, trying to control where you go and with whom, and what you wear. Your partner may be moody or angry a lot of the time, and verbal abuse, controlling behavior, and breaking things are warning signs that they may move onto physical violence later on.

As safety expert Gavin De Becker points out, however, the feeling that you are at risk — being scared that your partner will harm you — is one of the major signs that your partner will indeed go on to hurt you. Never ignore your feelings. 

Existing abusive behavior is a sure warning that this behavior will not only continue, but also very probably escalate. Yup, even if your partner says they're sorry and will never do it again every single time. 

What Now?

It's rarely as simple as "just leave" — if it were, you'd have done that already. Factors like financial dependence, children, fear, attachment, and denial can all make it hard to get out of an abusive relationship. The longer you've been in the relationship, the harder it may be to get out. The level of support available to you likewise depends on your social circle (which your partner may have seriously gutted) as well as the kinds of governmental protections in place where you live. 

What now? 

  • See your partner for who they are — don't be in denial about the true nature of your relationship. Take the feeling that you are at risk seriously. 
  • Document instances of abuse, which you may later need for court proceedings, particularly if you are married and/or have children together.
  • Start gathering information about ways to get out quietly, being aware that your partner, being abusive, may be tracking your every move. Find out where you can go if you do leave, whether it's a woman's shelter or the house of a friend or relative, and what you can do to stay safe once you get out. Seek legal advice. 
  • Share your situation with friends and relatives you can rely on to not report what you have shared with your abusive partner. Rebuild your social network if you can. 
  • If you are financially dependent on your abusive partner, try to find ways to build a future for yourself later on, by taking courses, re-establishing contact with people from your profession, and so on, if you can do so safely. 

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