Updated: Aug 24, 2018
When I speak with, and empathize with, ladies who are in red flag relationships, or even the women whose relationships have gone so far as to incorporate violence, I notice all of them say the same thing:
They stay because they love or once loved their partner and they have hope the relationship will be fully restored to its original state of romance, reciprocation, and love.
Today, I want to speak to the women who are suspecting they could be in a red flag, or abusive, relationship. A red flag relationship means violence hasn’t occurred yet but you may be experiencing some of the red flags that indicate you could be heading into violent territory. This article is not intended to scare you but rather to give you some things to think about so you can make your own decision.
If you're looking at this you may be feeling a sense of urgency. I understand. I want to first point out what a potentially abusive relationship can look and feel like by giving you a top ten list of red flags and actual quotes from abusive men before they chose to use physical violence, as well as how the survivors felt when they were inside the relationship. Then, offer a way for you to get clarity on this. Lastly, I provide a list of resources at the end of the article.
First, here is my Top Ten List of Glaring Red Flags:
They don’t have a good relationship with their family, especially their opposite gender parent;
They experienced or witnessed abuse as a child (especially a red flag if they refuse or never sought a therapist to deal with this trauma);
They coerce you to do things outside your comfort zone (i.e. drug or alcohol abuse, sexual favors, supporting them financially, emotional dependency, etc.);
They’re manipulative (examples: they make you feel like you’re always the problem, or they make you feel guilty for being with anyone but them, they encourage you to miss activities that are beneficial to you (i.e. going to work, seeing friends/family, etc.) so you can spend time with them; basically if you feel like they’re “in your head” they’re being manipulative);
They throw and/or break things;
They can’t control their anger (i.e. walks away, refuses to communicate appropriately, throws a pity party or tantrum, raises their voice, uses obscene language in anger, unable to maintain a safe distance from you/gets in your face);
Hits/punches/shoves/causes harm to things, people, or animals;
Nothing is their fault (listen to how they talk about negative situations, do they ever take responsibility?);
They move way too quickly - saying “I love you” or wanting to move in before you truly get to know them is inappropriate (hint: see him angry before you EVER move in);
They’re codependent or completely dependent on you;
They’re hypercritical of you (your body, your abilities, how you act socially).
If any of the above applies to your partner, or, much worse, if multiple behaviors apply, start thinking about your self worth and whether or not this relationship is advantageous. That last sentence is especially true for habitual red flag behavior(s).
I say consider your self worth because you truly should put yourself first in all cases but thinking of yourself first becomes imperative to your health when faced with a potentially dangerous situation.
I understand some of you reading this share a social circle with your person, some of you share a home with them, some of you even have kids with your partner. I do understand that evaluating this relationship isn’t easy and shouldn’t be taken lightly; however, your physical, mental, and spiritual well being is more important to me than perpetuating a red flag relationship. I’m also certain that it’s not just me who’s concerned for you if any of their red flag behavior has been made public.
Perhaps reading some examples would help you clarify some of the Top Ten List points:
Here are actual quotes from men who later turned abusive. Does he ever talk like this?:
“You cut your hair?! Why? Are you leaving me?!”
“I’m tired of being calm with you! You’re lucky I haven’t put my hands on you, or maybe I should so you understand why I get so pissed! Is that what you want?!”
“So what if I took your car? You were asleep, you weren’t using it. I just went down to the store.”
“See, no one responded to your invitation, they don’t care about you like I do. You shouldn’t be hanging out with them anyway, you should spend more time with me.”
And actual quotes from domestic violence survivors. Have you ever thought like this?:
“I thought, ‘I should be careful not to set him off… I’ll make sure dinner is ready and the place is clean, I know he’ll want his space. I should probably make myself scarce when he gets home.’ Anything to keep him happy.”
“If I left, who would take the kids, the dogs, who would get the car? How would I file for divorce? The kids wouldn’t be safe with him alone. And I read women who leave are 75% more likely to end up dead… Maybe it’s easier if I just stay.”
“I feel like I’m on a roller coaster. A back and forth of good and bad. But the good is disappearing and the bad is getting worse. I feel like I live with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
“Things will get better.”; “It’s not like him to be this angry.”; “He’ll get better.”; “It was only once.”;
“You don’t understand him like I do.”
If any of these are familiar then you’re likely in a red flag relationship. Here are some tips from a survivor on how to cope with, possibly rehab, and/or leave your relationship:
Get some space on the issue but don’t leave them in the dark - in the safest way possible communicate to them that you need space. If you live with them - go to a friend or family member’s house to stay for a few days. Regardless, refuse to see them until you have clarity on what you want to do next. Consider it a relational detox.
In every single situation start putting yourself first. Do what you want/need to do for the day. Don’t get sucked in to your partners emotions, reactions, or needs - let them manage their own issues. Meanwhile, manage your own happiness and independence.
Express your concern about your partner’s aggression, ask they get help from either a support group or a therapist (and be prepared to do the same in return! You need support, too!). If a therapist is too expensive look up “sliding scale therapy” in your area, these are typically post-grad students looking to fulfill hours for their degree/licensure. You will meet them at an actual clinic and the fee is much less, plus sometimes they’re more eager and experimental so there are a lot of benefits to opting for this alternative.
If you’re not in danger, give step 3 some time. Continue to be introspective and hope that your partner grows, too. During this time make space for yourself: journal, get active, read, see friends, decorate, anything that allows you to get reacquainted with yourself.
Reassess the relationship. If the issues persist as in the graphic below (left), it may be time to leave the relationship fully. I KNOW that’s a scary thought, but if you’ve done the above work, then you can walk away knowing you’ve done all you can. Your partner’s problems are not for you to fix. The problem for you to fix is your security.
Rely on your support system: Ask your closest friends and family to no longer be in contact with this person so you can feel safe letting friends/family know where you are; get a restraining order if necessary; speak with a counselor or group facilitator about a safety plan. If you are living with a dangerous partner, or even potentially dangerous, move out when your partner isn’t home and/or ask police to accompany you while you or your partner moves out. Again, your safety is paramount.
Cycle of Abuse Components of Healthy Relationships
No matter if you stay in the relationship or not, your last step is to heal; although experts would argue it’s next to impossible to heal from an abusive relationship while being in the very same.
If you’re still uncertain as to whether or not you’re in an abusive (aka red flag) relationship just think about this blog post. Research a bit more. If you resonate with anything I’ve said or with the research, reach out to a [healthy-minded] friend/family member or a health professional and get their opinion. It may be that you have something worth working on and it may be you’ve dodged a bullet by getting out of the relationship before it’s too late.
If your partner has crossed the line into being physically abusive, I would urge you to not use your time to “think on things”. Act now. Remove their physical, mental, and emotional access to you: leave the house if you live together, block them on social media and your phone, report any incidences to authorities, inform friends and family who are in your corner and ask for their support. Make every effort to get yourself, your child(ren), and your animal(s) safe.
As promised, here are some resources you can use to find more answers:
Police Intervention: 911
Shelter & Crisis support: 211 (211.org)
Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233 (thehotline.org)
Shelters/Healthcare/Knowledge: YWCA (ywca.org)
More information if you're still deciding:
STAND offers a LOT of great information about what abuse is & how it starts
Psychology Today is a GREAT source for understanding manipulation
If your a stats person: the NCADV (National Coallition Against Domestic Violence) put forth a great collection of statistics
Go here to book a Trauma Coaching session with me
What if my partner changes?
My first reaction would be one of a snarky, “and?!” response. The reason for my response is two fold; 1) you’re asking a hypothetical, when your safety or mental well being is concerned, you must be realistic; 2) if they do change, you don’t know how long that will take, you could be killed in the process, and they may never change. Refer to this article for more info.
I know when I was searching for answers in 2015, the rate of rehabilitation of any type of abuser at that time was 7-8% and that was with daily individual therapy, weekly group therapy, and included a medical doctor intervening, furthermore the success was measured only during a 2 year period. The cycle of abuse is known to occur between 3 months-2 years, so technically 2015’s 7-8% success rate could have become null if the people within the success group relapsed after that statistic was gathered, which is why Bancroft and other experts in the DV field are unlikely to give an actual statistic on rehabilitation rates.
What really changed my mind about leaving was the idea that the abuser (be it mental, physical, emotional) has to be willing to change. They will not change for you. It doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t love you, but it does mean the problems will persist and escalate. I couldn’t do that to myself nor to my family. This choice is yours, of course, but please remove your emotions from it and do your best to make a logical decision.
Best of luck to you and I truly want to hear from you!