My post earlier this week on the 10 Different Types of Abusive Men (Why is My Boyfriend So Mean? Part 1) was quite popular. So I thought another useful post would be to explain what are the ‘red flags’ or early warning signs that we can watch out for as women (or men) to be aware of early on?
Many of us in unhealthy relationships have wondered early on is my boyfriend abusive?
Any of these traits singly (on their own) may not necessarily predict abuse (especially since a couple of them are ‘positive’ like getting really serious really fast) but if you notice a few of these qualities then it should make you alert to the impending possibility, if not make you leave as soon as you can. Remember, the more involved you get the harder it will be for you to leave. Though, at any point, the abusive partner certainly won’t make it easy for you to leave.
This list is from Lundy Bancroft’s book: Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men.
Top 15 Early Warning Signs of Abuse:
1. He talks disrespectfully about his exes.
A certain amount of resentment towards exes can be normal, but be aware of men who speaks about their exes in condescending ways or accepts no responsibility for what went wrong in previous relationships. He may soon blame you for everything in the current relationship as well. Also be cautious if he says you’re the first woman to treat him well and you’re nothing like his exes.
2. She is disrespectful towards you.
[I am interchanging pronouns to include the experience of men and women who have been abused by a female partner.] If she is often, or even sometimes, disrespectful towards you and defends it, further abuse can be down the road. She could even worship you by putting you on a pedestal as well, which is just the opposite side of the same coin— she is failing to see you as a real human being and respecting that— and if you fail to live up to it she could get mean.
3. He does favors for you that you don’t want or intentionally puts on a show of generosity that makes you uncomfortable.
This may at first seem counter-intuitive. And it’s a hard one to rationalize. He seems to be doing really nice things, but how come it only leaves you feeling uncomfortable? Is it you? No, absolutely not. Abusers do favors to create a feeling of indebtedness to manipulate their partner. You feel like you owe him something or feel guilty and then he can get you to do things you otherwise did not want to do.
4. He is controlling.
It can be with small things, like comments about your clothes or a scarf (it should be this or that), then it might grow to advice to how you lead your life. He starts to get annoyed or impatient if you don’t agree with him. And that’s how it starts.
5. He is possessive.
Possessiveness is jealous feelings + controlling behavior. Sure, many guys can feel jealous but not tell their partner to change their behavior based on their jealousies. Abusers also like to mask their jealous feelings as love. However, one can be totally smitten by someone and not feel jealous. Controlling and wanting to ‘own’ someone is not the same as loving them.
6. Nothing is ever his fault.
He blames you for everything that goes wrong in the relationship, for every fight. He might even say, “Oh yea, everything is my fault.” He doesn’t keep his promises, and always has an excuse ready for why he keeps disappointing you. He may be taking advantage of you financially as well.
7. She is self-centered.
As I mentioned before, narcissism is a common trait found in female abusers, along with borderline personality disorder. Notice if she doesn’t listen well, talks a disproportionately high amount, and always shifts the conversation back to her. With narcissism, there is deep entitlement combined with early emotional hurts which make it extremely hard to change.
8. He abuses drugs and/or alcohol.
While substances do not cause abusive behavior, the drugs can make the abuse worse. Substance abusers may pressure you to join in or are often ‘just about to quit.’
9. He pressures you for sex.
This is a big one, and especially for teenage men. If he dares to say, “If you love me then you’ll have sex with me” then he certainly does not truly love you at all. He is using you as a sex object and not valuing you as a human being with your own feelings and desires. It even took me a long time to not give into sex with whatever boyfriend I was with at the time. (This is even common with women in marriages. It’s hard for us to say no.)
10. He gets really serious about the relationship too fast.
Sometimes as women we may be happy to find a guy who isn’t commitment-phobic, but at the same time, if he is moving too quickly too soon instead of getting to know you slowly it can also mean that he is trying to own you down the road. You can try to slow things down and see how he takes it. If he doesn’t respect your wishes then you know it’s a red flag.
11. He’s intimidating when he’s angry.
Intimidation—intentional or not—is a sign that physical abuse may be on the way. And certainly emotional abuse is already present. He may:
- poke you, block you, raise a fist, or other things that make you afraid
- throw things around that may not hit you
- punch or kick things
If he exhibits these behaviors you want to leave as soon as possible. It only becomes harder and more complicated with each passing day, more than you may realize.
12. She has double standards for you than him.
She has one set of rules for her own behavior and an entirely different set for yours. But she acts like this is normal and justifies it and blames you any time you try to stand up for yourself.
13. He has negative attitudes towards women.
You obviously don’t want to be or stay with a man who sees women as inferior, their possession, or just good for sex. And he will start to be angry if you try to stand up for yourself and your own desires of how to live your life that are outside his expectations.
14. She treats you differently around other people.
Either she may treat you extremely well in front other people, but then lash out and show cruel behavior in the privacy of your own home. Or she can treat you badly in front other people—especially true with teen abusers—to ‘show-off’ and then is nicer to you at home.
15. He appears to be attracted towards vulnerability.
This can be true of female abusers as well. And also especially with older men with younger women. He wants the power that it brings with his older status, relying on her looking up to him and then allowing him to control her. This is also why abusers like to isolate their partners—if you turn them against their friends and even family then it makes it much harder to leave them—saying things like, “We don’t need anyone else in the world” and trying to get her to think it’s them against the world. Abusive men may even ‘help’ a woman get out of an abusive relationship just to then abuse her himself. Or, on the other hand, he could pat himself on the back for ‘winning’ a very confident woman and dominating her.
It’s important to remember that in the beginning abusers are still trying to reel you in. Obviously, those of us in previous abusive relationships, didn’t fall in love with the person because of their abusive traits. There were a lot of amazing, wonderful, fun things about the person too. That’s how we fell in love with them in the first place. But at the same time, the early warning signs were definitely there. We just need to be not only aware of them, but realize that they are significant signs and that—
As hard as it may feel or as reluctant as we may be, we need to get out earlier than later when things turn far worse.
There are plenty—plenty—of other fish in the sea.
Question: Are there other signs you’re aware of that you would add to this list? Are you good at watching out for various red flags? I welcome your comments!
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