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Abusive relationships take many forms, and can include any mix of physical, sexual, mental, and emotional abuse. And they can manifest in any type of relationship, including romantic, familial, workplace, and other relationships. Any relationship in which one person inflicts ongoing harm on another is abusive.

Of course, most relationships don’t start out abusive—at least, not overtly so. Usually, a level of trust and positive feelings are required for a relationship to form (a notable exception being between young children and elders). Abusive relationships evolve, generally becoming increasingly intense and destructive to the victim over time.

However, there are early warning signs of an abusive relationship that anyone can watch for. You may spot them in a newer romantic partner or in a new parent, for example. And it may be a relationship that you’re in, or one of somebody you know and care about.

It’s important to watch for patterns and evolving behavior when considering these early warning signs of an abusive relationship, and for the presence of multiple warning signs. While many of these red flags are an immediate cause for concern, not every isolated incident of every one means that someone is—or will become—an abuser.

Having said that, immediate caution is definitely warranted where any of these early warning signs of an abusive relationship are concerned.

Initial Indications of a Potentially Abusive Relationship

  • Showing unusual intensity of feelings and devotion sooner than seems normal; moving the relationship ahead too quickly
  • Extreme jealousy over relationships and interactions with others
  • Excessive demands for attention
  • Isolating the other person from their friends and family
  • Violating the other person’s privacy
  • Controlling behavior over any and all aspects of the other person’s life
  • Having unrealistic expectations of how the other person will act in the relationship
  • Blaming their inappropriate behavior on the other person or external factors
  • Getting easily insulted and taking everything as a personal attack
  • Putting down, shaming, or criticizing the other person
  • Excessive teasing and lack of compassion
  • Destroying the other person’s possessions (especially meaningful personal items)
  • Jekyll-and-Hyde style mood swings
  • Physically reacting to anger by throwing, punching, or kicking things, knocking things over, etc.
  • Threatening to harm the other person or themselves to get their way
  • Pressuring their partner for sex or to do things sexually that they don’t want to do
  • Creating pressure to do what’s important to them at the expense of what’s important to the other person
  • Becoming more aggressive, hostile, insulting, etc. when drinking
  • A history of physically abusing other people or animals

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