10 warning signs of an abusive relationship

Domestic violence is in a state of social emergency across Australia. As the pandemic rages and some parts of the country are still in lockdown, many will be isolating with their abusers. Family law expert Anne-Marie Cade explains the warning signs you should look out for.

Domestic abuse is not always obvious and may come in many different forms. According to the statistics, women are at greater risk of family, domestic and sexual violence.

One in six Australian women and one in 16 men have been subjected, since the age of 15, to physical and/or sexual violence by a current or previous cohabiting partner. One woman is killed every nine days and one man is killed every 29 days by a partner. The statistics are alarming and the abuse has a lifelong impact on the victims.

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In my work as a family mediator and divorce coach, I regularly meet with people who have experienced domestic abuse. It is complex and takes many different forms. It takes place mostly behind closed doors, in situations where you would least expect and is not limited to being pushed or shoved. It can be more subtle.

Some victims feel like they are walking on eggshells. This type of abuse can go unnoticed and it can sneak up on the victim as the relationship continues. Abusive patterns of control may increase over time and in most instances are well disguised so much so that the victims may be made to think that the abuse is their fault or that they even deserve the abuse.

Types of domestic abuse

The common perception is that domestic abuse is limited to physical violence but it is in fact far wider than that. It includes emotional/verbal abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse and coercive control. It’s important to understand the early warning signs so as to be aware of what to look out for. When this type of abuse continues it diminishes the victim’s self-esteem.

Signs of an abusive relationship

  1. Control is a cornerstone of an abusive relationship. One sign of control is that the abuser will try and isolate the victim from his/her support system and over time limit contact with family and friends who can provide support. This may even include moving away to a different area.
  2. Showing a partner disrespect – telling lies about the victim to friends and family, belittling, name-calling, withholding information.
  3. Making threats and forcing the victim to comply through fear. Extreme possessiveness. A constant assertion of control is a cause for concern. This may include controlling information that the victim would otherwise be entitled to receive, monitoring their every move as well as text messages and calls, asking for explanations of whereabouts or preventing a partner from getting a job.
  4. Gaslighting – this happens when the abuser distorts the reality and makes the victim doubt their own perception and sanity. This is most often done with the intention of confusing the victim.
  5. Denying the freedom and autonomy of the victim, limiting access to money, imposing extreme budgeting measures, hiding financial resources and information.
  6. Trying to turn the children against the victim and telling them that the victim is a bad parent.
  7. Disregarding boundaries is a cause for concern. Maintaining healthy boundaries is the sign of a healthy relationship and provides a person with the opportunity to maintain his/her individuality. If the behaviour is not within your comfort zone make it known.
  8. Making demands regarding the sexual relationship and forcing a partner to have sex.
  9. Physical aggression may also be threatening looks, aggressive gestures, or destroying property.
  10. Unpredictable mood swings – if one partner has an unreasonable reaction to an otherwise simple disagreement, it is a cause for concern. Also, if a partner gets withdrawn or extremely angry without reasonable reason.

Ignoring the situation won’t make it go away. Usually, victims of domestic abuse are unable to leave as they don’t have access to money and they are ashamed as they think they will be judged.

When a victim decides to leave, the perpetrator knows they are losing control and this can be a very dangerous time as they try to repair the relationship and regain control. So have a plan in place that will carry you through. Once a decision is made to leave ensure you get the support of those who can assist you with the plan you have made to leave.

Anne-Marie Cade is a nationally accredited mediator and conflict resolution specialist.