Domestic abuse is defined as a systematic pattern of controlling behaviors that one person, usually a romantic partner, will use to get power over someone else. In total, 85% of domestic abuse victims are women, and approximately one in four women will experience domestic violence at some point in their lives.
Domestic abuse has terrifying ramifications on society as a whole. Young men and boys who are witnesses to domestic violence in the home are twice as likely to engage in abusive behaviors themselves when they grow up, and half of homeless women and minors living in the United States are fleeing domestic violence.
Defending yourself against domestic violence begins with knowing the signs early on and taking steps to protect yourself.
These are some things you should watch out for:
1. They start with passionate romance.
In the beginning, a potential domestic abuser will try to make you feel like a queen. The relationship will begin passionately. It might feel like your relationship with them is moving a little bit fast for someone you’ve only just started dating. They may be staying at your house more days than not or calling and texting you constantly.
On its face, someone who’s super into you may not seem like a bad thing. But remember: even if the other person isn’t an abuser, the candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long. You can disarm an abuser’s attempts to dramatically woo you by taking a step back, not forgetting where your boundaries are, and moving slowly. Doing so can help you weed out people who have not so good intentions. But there are still things to watch out for.
2. They invade your social circle.
A domestic abuser, once they’ve swept you off your feet, will probably be enthusiastic about meeting your friends and family. They’ll dial up the charm to 11 in order to try and invade your social circle. Once an abuser builds a rapport with your friends and family, they can start to insert themselves as a sort of wedge. They may even try to see your friends without you.
There is always the possibility that they’re just friendly or really excited to get to know you and the people you surround yourself with. But just like with a heated romance, if you can’t seem to tap the brakes, there may be a problem. Your new partner could be trying to set you up for isolation.
3. They try to isolate you.
One of the primary goals of a domestic abuser is to isolate you from your family and friends. Inserting themselves as an integral part of your social circle is a part of this. They may tell you they don’t want you seeing your friends by yourself and use guilt/withholding tactics in order to get you to bend to their will.
All of this is a setup. Don’t allow anyone to isolate you in this way. When verbal and physical abuse begins, they want you to feel like you can’t talk to anyone, and because they’ll have built a rapport with your social circle, they’ll get you thinking that your friends might not believe you. The true danger begins once an abuser has isolated you.
4. They take over as much of your life as they can.
One of the final things that an abuser will do before they truly reveal themselves is insert themselves into as many facets of your life as they can. They may try to take over your finances, give you rides to and from work to stop you from going anywhere they don’t want you to, and try to get you to move in with them.
Once they’ve managed to woo you, impress your friends, isolate you, and take over as much of your life as they can, they’ve sunk their claws in. Your life is intertwined with them. The abuser’s ultimate goal is to create a situation where you leaving would be catastrophic. And then…
5. They finally show themselves.
Once an abuser has finally showed themselves for who they really are, it can be a challenge to leave. There’s one thing you should keep in mind and never forget:
Abuse is not normal.
Abusive behavior is not a normal part of human interactions. No one, including you, should ever feel unsafe in your relationship. If you are thinking about leaving, know that you don’t have to do it all at once. Forming a plan to leave can help you get out of an abusive relationship safely. For more information on how to safely leave an abusive relationship, please visit womenshealth.gov.
If you need to talk to someone, you can call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.