How do I know if I’m in an abusive relationship?

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T/w includes references to abuse and domestic violence.

How can you tell if you’re in a healthy relationship? What are the warning signs that things aren’t right? We spoke to JJ from Solace Woman’s Aid to better understand and dispel the myths surrounding abuse.

For more than 40 years, Solace Women’s Aid have supported women, children and young people in London to build safe and strong lives, free from abuse. JJ says, “we know that escaping violence can be the hardest thing to do. That’s why we’re here.”

What is an abusive relationship?

Perhaps you think you have experienced abuse, but you’re not sure. There are many myths about abuse. What myths do is create a negative stereotype of survivors. They are harmful, and often place the blame on the woman and not the perpetrator. Myths also reinforce that domestic abuse is a private matter, and this can make women feel more isolated, and unable to leave an abusive relationship.

Here are some common myths and why they are wrong:

“It can’t be that bad, or else they would leave…”

Actually, abusive relationships are very complicated. Women, girls and non-binary folk may stay in an abusive relationship for a number of reasons including: fear, children, security, further abuse, and if they are unaware of their rights and options. When they do decide to leave, this is when they are most at risk.

“I fight back, so I must be just as bad as they are!”

Abuse is a power and control issue. Those who fight back may be defending themselves or their children, and many do not, for fear of further abuse.

“They haven’t hit me, so it’s not abuse”

Abuse is not just physical violence – it can also include emotional, sexual, psychological and financial abuse. Many survivors say that the emotional and psychological abuse they experience can be the most difficult to overcome.

“It’s just a family argument!”

Abuse is never just a family argument. As mentioned above, abuse comes in many forms. If a woman is in fear and feels threatened by her perpetrator, and he is in control, and has all the power, this is not a family argument.

How many women are affected by abusive relationships? 

Nearly two million people in the UK suffer some form of domestic abuse each year – 1.3 million female victims (8.2% of the population) and 600,000 male victims. Trans and non-binary folk are also at high risk of experiencing domestic abuse, with more than half (54%) experiencing some form of intimate partner violence. On average two women a week are killed as a result of domestic violence by their partner or ex-partner, and around three women a week commit suicide as a result of domestic violence. 

What are the common ways an abuser can act?

If you recognise several of the following behaviours or characteristics, you may be experiencing a form of abuse:

  • Daily life revolves around what they need or want
  • They believe they are the head of the household
  • They treat you more like a servant than a partner or family member
  • If they help around the house, they think they should be thanked (or they never help around the house)
  • When they want something, they want it immediately (including sex)
  • They talk about themselves all the time
  • They rarely (or never) ask about you or how you’re feeling
  • Things were okay until the baby came, then you had to spend less time with them and their behaviour changed
  • They are easily bored, especially with things that interest you
  • If they have a problem, everyone has to drop everything to help them
  • They believe they are smarter than most other people
  • They are extremely critical of people, even children
  • They make it clear (or implies) that they are better than you
  • They are easily offended or feel “dissed” at minor things
  • When something goes wrong, it’s never their fault
  • They make fun of you and calls you demeaning names
  • They make fun of the kids when they make a mistake
  • They can never apologise or say they were wrong about anything
  • They think anyone who disagrees with them is wrong
  • Even when you’re really upset (like somebody close to you dies), they expect their daily routine will continue
  • If something nice happens for you (e.g., you pass your driving test) they can’t be happy for you

Do you feel unsafe?

There are many reasons why you might feel unsafe, and it’s important to know that you’re not alone. 1 in 5 teenagers have been physically abused by their boyfriends or girlfriends, and one in three teenage girls has experienced some form of sexual violence from a partner.

If you are worried about your safety or concerned that you or a friend may be in danger, you can speak to someone on Solace’s Advice Line. Call 0808 802 5565 or follow this link to get support.

You can also head to the Your Best Friend website for resources and information on how to support a friend with an abusive/toxic relationship.

Are you worried about your partner’s behaviour?

Do you feel anxious or unsure? It can sometimes be difficult to spot signs of abuse in your relationship, and know what to do about it.

But what if you could find out how healthy your relationship is? Check out our tool below to understand your relationship dynamic, and what you can do if it’s not as healthy as it should be.

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Next Steps

  • Solace Women's Aid find creative and innovative ways to support thousands of women, children and young people each year from prevention and crisis to recovery and independence.
  • Women's aid protects women from domestic violence. Call their 24-hour helpline on 0808 2000 247.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


Updated on 26-Jul-2018