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Physical Abuse

Researchers have found the following are signs of unhealthy relationships and could indicate an abusive relationship, although not always. 

A partner

  • wants to get serious in the relationship quickly;

  • won’t take no for an answer;

  • is extremely critical of their partner, but can also extend that criticism to anyone in their own or their partner’s life (peers, friends, family, teachers, school, etc.);

  • wants to make all the decisions in the relationship;

  • dismisses other person's opinions and feelings;

  • puts constant pressure on the other person;

  • demands to know where the other person is all the time;

  • uses guilt trips (“If you really loved me, you would . . .”);

  • feels they deserve unconditional love and support;

  • has a history of bad relationships; and/or 

  • blames the other person for their feelings and actions (“You asked for it” or “You made me mad!”).


Below are some of the most common signs a partner may display in an abusive relationship:


  • Gets angry when one person doesn’t “drop everything” for the other person

  • Criticizes the way the other person dresses

  • Tells the other person they’ll never find anyone else who wants to date them

  • Keeps the other person from seeing friends or talking to other people—guys or girls

  • Wants the other to quit a healthy activity they enjoy

  • Tries to force the other person to go further sexually than they want to

  • Checks the other person’s cell phone or email without their permission

  • Calls the other person demeaning names and puts them down (e.g., “You’re stupid,” “You can’t do anything right,” “You’re such a baby,” “You’re a slob,” etc.), then laughs and says they were “only kidding” or that the other person is “too sensitive”

  • Displays extreme jealousy, possessiveness, or insecurity

  • Has an explosive temper (sudden, volatile outbursts and/or screaming at the other person)

  • Isolates the other person from their family and/or friends

  • Makes false accusations

  • Has mood swings (their emotions change quickly, such as from happy to angry, laid back to irritable, or romantic to distant and cold)

  • Tells the other person what to do rather than allowing them to make their own decisions and choices

  • Raises a hand to the other person when angry, as if they’re about to hit them

  • Physically hurts the other person in any way

  • Apologizes for their violent behavior and promises not to do it again—but the promise is temporary, and the behavior will be repeated in the future, often many times


Once abuse begins, parents, teachers, neighbors, and friends, may observe the following changes in the victim: 

  • No longer as outgoing and instead have become withdrawn, depressed, and/or anxious; they also may frequently cry

  • Less likely to be as involved as they were in school activities or places of worship

  • Stops spending time with other friends and family

  • Critical of their own appearance, talents, or abilities

  • Change the way they use technology; maybe they’re not on social media anymore, or they get upset if they’re asked to turn off their phone

  • Secretive; for example, they may provide only vague details about their plans, or stop talking about their partner with family and friends;

  • Stop getting “good grades,” or allow their grades to decline from where they used to be;

  • Change the way they dress; also, they may wear clothing that doesn’t match the season (e.g., they used to dress trendy and now dress much more conservatively, or they wear long sleeves in the summertime);

  • Unexplained bruises or injuries, or if they do offer an explanation for an injury, their explanation doesn’t make sense (e.g., ran into a door, tripped on a curb, etc.);

  • Protective of their phone or computer;

  • Apologize and/or make excuses for their partner’s behavior; for example, if their partner is sullen, rude, cold, or abrasive, the victim in the relationship may say the abuser is just “having a bad day”;

  • Frequently offers explanations  to their partner or often say they’re “sorry” to their partner;

  • Jumpy at the sound of loud or sudden noises, or instinctively shrink away when another person is loud or unexpectedly moves close to them; and/or

  • Mention their partner’s violent behavior but then laugh it off as if it’s a joke.


Signs to Help You Identify Someone Who’s an Abuser


  • Roughhouses or play-wrestles with their partner.

  • May come from a tragic home life in which they are verbally demeaned and/or physically abused and in which one or both of their parents are alcoholics or use drugs.

  • They are likely to be aggressive in other areas of their life: they may put their fist through walls or closets when enraged, bang their fists to make a point, or throw things when angry.

  • Frequently gives unsolicited or critical “advice” about their partner’s choice of friends, hairstyle, clothes, or makeup.

  • Emails or texts their dating partner excessively, sometimes at all times of the day or night.

  • Tells their partner “I love you” early in the relationship.

  • Becomes jealous if their partner merely looks at or speaks casually with someone of the opposite sex.

  • Drinks or uses drugs.

  • Abuses other people or animals.


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