Shelter Awareness  

Warning signs

She touches her bruised cheek gingerly and says softly, “It was so good in the beginning! I never thought it would end like this.” She has just fled an abusive relationship following a vicious assault.

She tells the story of the relationship softly, sadly. She talks of its exciting, whirlwind beginning, of how charming and forceful he was, how he swept her off her feet and wouldn’t take no for an answer. She talks of the things that made her uncomfortable and how she had reservations and even thought of ending the relationship – and the reasons she didn’t. She remembers the times others expressed concern – or made dire warnings, the times she was afraid, the times she actually tried to end the relationship and the reasons it continued. She pauses and says reflectively, “I know now that there were signs…some of them I didn’t see and some, I just ignored. I just wish I’d never gotten into this relationship.”

What would have made a difference for her? What knowledge or information might prevent someone else from getting into a similar relationship? What are some of the early warning signs that a relationship may be unhealthy or even violent and abusive?

In the context of a new or existing relationship, these are some red flags that may indicate a potential for abuse within the relationship. Some are alarmingly obvious and some are subtle and easily dismissed, but being aware of their existence and recognizing that they are present - before becoming attached or deeply invested in the relationship - provides an opportunity to take a step back and reconsider a potential relationship or the direction in which a present relationship is moving.

The following are considered to be indicators of an unhealthy or potentially abusive relationship: (Statistically, an abusive partner is most likely to be male, so the terms “he”, ”him”, and “his” are used, however it is recognized that female partners can also behave abusively.)

  • Immediate intensity in the relationship, including premature declarations of love and expectations of intimacy, i.e. claiming “love at first sight” and wanting to plan a future together or move in after one or two dates

  • Blames others for his negative behaviours, feelings or life situation – initially implies new partner is great by comparison, i.e. “you’re the only one that really understands me”, then later blame is assigned to new partner

  • Refuses to accept responsibility or be accountable for behaviours, choices, mistakes,

  • Refuses to respect others boundaries, i.e. pushing for more time together, sex,

  • Possessiveness including resenting any time spent with others and expecting the other to account for all their time apart or constant texting or calling when apart

  • Unreasoning jealousy, including accusations of unfaithfulness

  • Attempts to control all aspects of the others’ life, i.e. who they see, where they go, what they do, what they wear, when they sleep, when and what they eat

  • Believes he has a right to all the power and all the control in the relationship

  • Believes that his wants, needs, feelings, desires and opinions are more important than those of others and that everything must revolve around him.

  • Treats others exploitatively. Others are valued only as they fulfill a useful purpose or meet his needs

  • Has little awareness of, or care for, the feelings of others and little concern for how his behaviours might impact others - unless there is a corresponding impact for him, i.e. when his abuse leads a partner to flee the relationship, the abusive partner becomes remorseful but only because of the discomfort or inconvenience this has caused him personally, not because of the pain or fear he has caused others.

  • Believes that he is entitled to, or deserving of, special privileges and special treatment - that he has a right to rest, relaxation, “toys”, vacations, freedom from responsibility or consequences, and to subservient and unquestioning obedience and compliance with their demands or expectations. He may expect constant attention, admiration, unlimited praise, and acknowledgement and an on-going focus on, not only meeting but anticipating, his needs and wishes.

  • Believes he is superior – his choices, behaviours, opinions, ideas and contributions are of more value than those of others. initially implies that he –and you - are better than others, then once you are in the relationship, that he is better than you

  • Believes he is justified in being rude, dishonest, abusive, if his expectations are not met

  • Attempts to isolate partner from family, friends, work i.e. complains about and puts down family or friends, resents time spent and makes partner “pay” for spending time with them, may relocate to create physical distance from others, limit access to transportation,

  • Is generally a good “con” and manipulator, using charm to get what he wants

  • Is unpredictable - keeps changing the rules i.e. something that is no problem one day may be the cause of intense anger the next

  • Has swift and unwarranted mood changes, and an explosive temper, i.e. charming one moment, raging the next

  • Uses threats and intimidation to ensure compliance or otherwise get what he wants

  • Often has a history of family abuse and unhealthy relationships, estrangement from family

  • Is evasive about his past

  • Uses sarcasm to put others down

  • May be dishonest about financial, relationship, employment, health, living, or other, situation, i.e. says he is separated while still living with a partner, or wealthy when he has financial difficulties,

  • May or may not have some criminal history

  • May or may not have issues around use of alcohol or substances

Looking back, what would she tell someone else? What would she want them to know?

“Trust your instincts and pay attention to the signs. Don't make excuses for them and don't accept their excuses for behaving badly. Look at their relationships with others. Initially they will almost always be on their best behaviour with you but how they treat others will be how they treat you later – if they are angry, resentful, blaming, vindictive, dishonest and hurtful toward others, that is what you can expect from them once you are committed to the relationship. Don’t go into it thinking that if you love them enough, they will change. Make decisions based on how things are, not how you hope they will be one day. If you feel anxious or afraid or put-down in the relationship; don’t stay. Don’t accept their blame. It’s not your fault. And take time to really get to know them before you commit. Believe that you deserve to be treated well. No one deserves to be abused.”

More Shelter Awareness articles

About the Author

April, 2011 marks the 31st anniversary of the day the Kelowna Women’s Shelter opened its’ doors to offer counselling, support and a safe residence for women and children whose lives have been impacted by family violence, abuse and significant crisis. The Kelowna Women’s Shelter is a place of refuge for women who are not safe in their own homes, women who have been beaten, traumatized, threatened, and have fled in terror from a partner. Our staff and volunteers provide services to women and children in the area boundaried by Oyama to the North and Peachland to the South. For more information visit kelownawomensshelter.ca or call 250-763-1040

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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