Common Abusive Signs

Amorous relationships generally start off good with a caring, attentive partner who dotes on your action. Abusive behaviors do not appear overnight because abusers are careful to groom their victims consciously or subconsciously. Nevertheless, if you know what to look out for, you can tell when your ideal partner slips or exhibits tell-tale signs that he/she could perpetrate abuse in the future.  


Gaslighting is a common sign that a partner could be psychologically and even physically abusive. Here, the abusive partner warps your logical interpretation of events. He/she may also deny or distort your perception of things. Common phrases a gaslighter will use include:

  • You do not remember correctly
  • I never said that
  • I never implied that
  • You are not making sense
  • You can be so sensitive
  • You are dwelling on this issue too much
  • You misread [something]

Over time, these words cause you to doubt the soundness of your reasoning, your perception of reality and depend on your abuser for validation and emotional support. Also, you find yourself apologizing for something that was not your fault in the first place.

Constant Monitoring

A common question in most relationships is: “does my partner need to know where I am going?” The short answer is no; you are not under any obligation to tell anyone your whereabouts if you do not want to. A controlling and potentially abusive partner exercises control by monitoring your movement, activities, and interactions with other people. He/she would regularly “check-in” to:

  • know who you are with
  • ask where you are
  • ask how long you have been there

While this is often a genuine concern, an emotionally abusive partner wants to be in total control and ensure you are not taking steps to leave them. If your partner demands an ongoing account of your whereabouts – to the point of harassment – this is a tell-tale sign of abuse. Other forms of monitoring include, but are not limited to:

  • Going through your browser history
  • Stalking you on social media (some even use burner accounts)
  • Going through your conversations, texts, and instant messages
  • Demanding location sharing

Erratic Mood Swings

If your partner loves you one moment and is distant or unavailable the next, this may be a sign of underlying personal struggles, or it may be a tell-tale sign of psychological abuse. By withdrawing their affection, abusive partners attempt to cause you to panic and please them. Often, this involves compromising your standards or doing something you are uncomfortable with. This abusive behavior can turn you from a relatively independent person into an anxious person pleaser — a dynamic of power and control in an abusive relationship.

Saying hurtful things disguised as jokes

This behavior is similar to gaslighting. Here, your partner makes a mean or sarcastic remark about something that makes you uncomfortable or self-conscious. For example, he/she can make demeaning jokes about your weight, looks, teeth, smile, laugh, height, financial background, past relationships, and potential. And when you react, he/she attempts to defuse the tension by implying that:

  • It was a joke
  • You are sensitive
  • He/she did not mean it that way
  • It is just old and regular banter
  • You have had this


Just like saying hurtful words disguised as jokes, an abusive partner frequently makes degrading comments about your weaknesses and downplay your strengths, especially in areas like educational achievement, career advancement, and even potential as a parent.

And when you do prove them wrong, abusive partners tend to show little interest or ignore you.

Usually, belittling happens in front of other persons, including parents, mutual friends, and even strangers. Over time, this pattern of behavior impacts your sense of confidence, causes you to question your competence, and affects your overall performance.

Stealth Control

This form of behavior is evident when your partner constantly changes plans without consulting you, making your decisions for you, or even thinking for you. While he/she does these under the guise of surprising or helping you out, the subtle reason is the desire to control you.

Granted, thoughtfulness in a partner is an endearing quality. Nevertheless, your partner should not change joint plans you have already made or make critical decisions for you without prior consultation. Common defenses to this behavior include making claims like:

  • I thought you would like it
  • I thought it was good for you
  • I did this for you

Indirect Physical Violence

Physically assaulting you is not the only sign of abuse. Sometimes, an abusive partner may lash out or direct anger towards other objects around you or even children and pets. Generally, the abuser exhibits this behavior when you do not agree with them or have a dissenting opinion.

The Highlights

The typical signs of an abusive partner include:

  • Jealousy when you spend time away from them
  • Making you feel inadequate, especially in front of other people
  • Making your own important decisions for you
  • Pressuring you to perform sexual acts despite your verbal/non-verbal discomfort
  • Pressuring you to use substances despite your verbal/non-verbal discomfort
  • Making subtle threats to take away the things you love or cut off “your privileges.”
  • Intimidating you with weapons like guns, knives, bats, or mace
  • Destroying nearby objects
  • Throwing a tantrum when you do not please them

Take the Danger Assessment Quiz.