Warning Signs of Future Abuse in Your Relationship

May 29, 2011 Kellie Jo Holly

Warning signs of future abuse in relationships are usually seen only in hindsight. So be smart about relationship abuse and read these warning signs of abuse.

Now that I'm out of my abusive marriage, I never want to enter another abusive relationship again. I think about how I came to believe my ex-husband was my knight in shining armor and how I fell under his spell. Although he alone is responsible for the abuse, the abusive cycle was partly my fault; in effect, I gave him permission to abuse me. I don't want to give anyone permission to do that again! Here are four signs I ignored that warned me of future abuse in the relationship with my ex-husband.

Four Warning Signs That Abuse in Your Relationship Could Appear

Some warning signs that you're involved with a potential abuser are:

You quickly feel swept away and think that early-commitment to the relationship is a really great idea.

  • Within days you believe you are her most trusted employee or friend.
  • You feel that she are too good to be true, and that hesitation will cause you to lose her.
  • Within days or weeks you feel pressured to justify your relationships with your friends and family.

You trust the person almost right away.

  • Her story aligns itself with yours (if you were, oh, say a scarecrow in a past life...guess what?! So was she!).
  • You don't want to look into whether or not her stories are true because you think you may have found the one and don't want the illusion to end.
  • After a date, you realize you exposed a lot about yourself but she revealed very little substantive information about herself. She could also repeat the same stories over and over again (she's merely eliciting your response to her traumas to learn what makes you tick. This is so she can gain the upper hand later).
  • She tells you that your talents are so great that you could be a movie star, famous artist, etc., but she isn't qualified to be the judge of your skill (a.k.a. flattery).

You spend a lot of time doing what she likes to do, and you suspect that she sulks when you both attend an event revolving around your interests.

  • Warning signs of future abuse in relationships are usually seen only in hindsight. So be smart about relationship abuse and read these warning signs of abuse.You sense an element of forceful suggestion behind her requests. She may get angry when you don't order wine with dinner after she suggested it. She wants you to do things out of your comfort zone and then rely on her to protect you from any ill effect.
  • You feel responsible for her bored or frustrated feelings when on an outing you normally enjoy. You think she dislikes what you did so much that you don't plan similar events for future dates (don't abandon you're interests for anyone!).
  • You find that she criticizes business plans that you develop that are well-received by others in your department. Some people would say, "Oh, she's just jealous" in response to the potential abuser's sulking.

Her anger worries you Or gets in the way of communication.

  • His or her anger reveals itself early but is not directed at you (after all, if someone is mean to you at the beginning, you probably wouldn't stay). A female abuser may act out physically, but typically she will not. You may not recognize her anger but feel compelled to comfort her (think of women who coerce someone to kill for her - your empathy is horrifically abused). If the abuser is male, his anger may come out in a bar fight, maybe a hole in his wall. He's aggressive (mistaken for assertive) in conversation, team sports, etc. Male and female abusers share emotionally manipulative tactics such as ridicule and sarcasm, possibly cruel wishes or plots (jokes) on others. Don't be blinded by stereotypes.
  • She expresses anger to you about various situations and blames everyone else for doing the wrong thing ('teaching' you what is acceptable to do and what is not). Men (more often than women) might physically or verbally threaten others to "protect your honor" even though you don't need or want that kind of protection.
  • You feel hurt by the anger, regardless of where the abuser directed it. For example, my ex often insulted other women, which felt like a direct insult because what she had done was eerily similar to something I had done or might do.
  • If his or her anger turns toward you, he or she will apologize profusely afterward to save face and keep you in the relationship (first hints of a honeymoon period). Perhaps the abuser turns the whole thing around on you, justifying his or her anger and acting like you hurt him or her.
  • You feel punished by her anger, even if it is directed at others. You feel uncomfortable around her when she's angry.
  • Her anger doesn't seem to dissipate; she holds on to it and hold grudges.
  • Sometimes it seems that self-pride and anger are the only two emotions she feels (but you are different - they love you!).

Patience Is Key to See Warning Signs of Abuse

If I had known and paid attention to those early warning signs early on in my relationship with my ex-husband, I would have saved myself a lot of grief.

If you're just coming out of an abusive relationship, you especially must be careful to pay attention to the red flags going off in your mind. Abusers and former victims fit well together; you each feel rather comforted by the familiar dynamics involved in the relationship. Don't mistake the comfort of familiarity for love.

The best way to avoid an abusive relationship is to allow time to pass and the truth to reveal itself before falling head over heels in love with someone who is too good to be true.

*Both women and men could be abusers or victims. My pronoun choice for this article is not meant to imply that one gender abuses and the other is victimized.

APA Reference
Jo, K. (2011, May 29). Warning Signs of Future Abuse in Your Relationship, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 15 from

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

June, 1 2011 at 7:23 am

I found your site in a desperate search to understand what I am dealing with. I do not know if you are still checking or responding, but here goes.
I have been married to my current wife for seven years. I had no idea I am being abused. I just always thought something was wrong with me. Things have gotten so stressful and upsetting for my wife that she told me I needed to fix what was wrong with me and to seek therapy for help in 11/2010.
Through my counselor I learned I am being verbally/emotionally abused. She and I worked on trying to get my wife to accept and change her abusive behaviors, but she denies most of it except the name calling and yelling. She controls, blackmails, criticizes, and diminishes me in cycles.
I Read The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans, like so many people said a carbon copy of my life. I gave it to her and she refused to read it citing that she acts the way she does because of my behavior, whatever the problem of the day is.
My therapist recently told me in my session that after confronting my wife and asking her for change without any acceptance, she will not change.
I feel like I am kind of partially in the disbelief, angry, and personal responsibility stages of this that I have read about. I have been trying to read all I can about verbal/emotional abuse online. I had no idea there were so many people being victimized by this.
I found your site which is great because it is very specific.
Your site has explained a few things that I have been confused about.
She is always saying I am lying and dishonest to her. I realized I am hiding things or not saying things to avoid upsetting her and sparking a rage session. So I get it that she thinks I am lying about talking to my friends or times of invites from them, but I have been doing it out of self preservation.
I am suspicious of her having borderline personality disorder. She has been on and off of antidepressants throughout our relationship. When she is on her meds she is mellow and easy to deal with for the most part during our cycles. My emotions and personality run fairly even and she goes up and down like a roller coaster. Ms. Evans book even speaks of most female abusers having personality issues.
I think I can classify myself as sensitive. I think it makes dealing with her even more difficult because when I stuff it, disconnect, or leave, she gets more enraged because of her emotionally abusive childhood.
So I do not know why I am summarizing my story to you. Maybe just to get it off my chest. I have had my therapist, and close friends tell me the only option is leave. I am scared, frustrated, and unsure why I cannot leave just yet. She has thrown my clothes out in the yard, locked me out of the house, and checks my phone for messages constantly. Still I stay. I want to be free and live a happy life. I keep thinking maybe it is me. My confidence and self esteem are so low. I need to leave so I can get on with my life. Thank you for creating this wonderful source of information. I appreciate it more than I can say.
Devoted family man just trying to live a happy life

May, 31 2011 at 8:27 am

Hi there! So happy you were able to successfully get out of that horrendous long term relationship and even to help others. Just a note here: I have known one man who was a borderline personality disorder as well as a sociopath with narcisstic tendencies to boot...your situation sounds an awful lot like that one, which was pretty extreme. I know there are support groups specifically targetted at victims of these kinds of people. By any chance, did you align yourself with any of those groups at any time in your healing/leaving experience?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Holly
May, 31 2011 at 11:30 am

I was part of the domestic violence group, but it wasn't specialized to any certain personality disorder. My ex was never diagnosed with any disorder and I can't assume that he had/has one. To me, he's just a meanie.

May, 31 2011 at 8:06 am

I probably won't remember to come back here to see if anyone responds to my comment, but I have to point out that not all abusers show those traits. My last abusive relationship... yes we got close REAL fast, but that's the only thing that fits from your list (and I always jump into all my relationships too fast thanks to my ADD). He didn't show his anger for almost a year, and he was always shy not aggressive, and everyone still thinks he's the most calm, stable person in the world. Never tried to push my comfort zone, spoiled the heck out of me, and talked more about his past than I did. So not all potential abusers share those traits.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Holly
May, 31 2011 at 11:28 am

Kat, no, not all abusers display those traits, but those traits are common ones in abusers. Patricia Evans mentions in one of her books that there seems to be an event (such as engagement/marriage, new baby, new job, etc.) that triggers a behavior change. Do you remember any event that corresponded to his behavior change?

Kellie Holly
May, 31 2011 at 12:58 am

LP and Angela, I think I understand what the problem in my communication is now. There is a distinction between unpredictability as an abusive technique and the overall predictability of how abusers (as a whole) gain control.
On Thursday, I'll write a post about Unpredictability as an Abusive Technique (or something like that) and I hope it will clear up the things I wrote earlier.
It took two of you to help me see, and I thank you for your comments.

Angela E. Gambrel Lackey
May, 30 2011 at 2:29 pm

Hi! Kellie, I think you do a great job describing the experiences of verbal abuse and the warning signs to look for that might indicate a potential abuser.
However - although I write about eating disorders (I'm the author of Surviving ED) - I have to disagree that abusers' behaviors are always predictable. As someone who grew up in an abusive household, it was the sheer unpredictability of the behaviors that often left me reeling and confused and create problems even today. I later experienced this again when I was 19 and was in a verbally and ultimately physically abusive relationship. My boyfriend was very unpredictable-one minute he could be Prince Charming, and the next minute a raging monster. The first (and last) time he was physically abusive occurred after we had had a lovely dinner together-I literally didn't know what hit me.
Anyway, just some thoughts.
Angela E. Lackey

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Holly
May, 30 2011 at 11:55 pm

Angela, you are right. The individual abuser uses unpredictability as a control method. By the individual being unpredictable, they're able to keep you in a state of fear (even when they are smiling!). Fear is an effective method of control.
The abusive behaviors, as a whole, are predictable. There's a formula, a checklist of ways to control a victim, and your abuser picks what works for him/her. The individual abuser is unique in how and when he uses his tools (control methods); however, the abuser's toolbox is composed of predictable techniques/behaviors.

May, 30 2011 at 10:27 am

Well thank you for taking the time kellie, but I have to explain two things; I never contradicted that abusers are predictable or not in fact you start your article mentioning about your past verbally abusive marriage which you clearly claim (Yes, in many ways, my situation is unique). You see your article gives the impression that you can even predict the success or failure of a marriage based on behaviors.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Holly
May, 30 2011 at 11:46 am

"People's" behavior may be unpredictable, but abusers' behaviors are predictable. I write about victims of abuse and abusers, not people in general. People, in general, make mistakes and can say mean things. Then "people in general" sincerely apologize (almost immediately because they are able to tune in with the hurt person's expression) and it doesn't happen again OR they realize they have a communication or anger issue and work to fix it. Abusers do not think there's anything to fix, and if they say they will 'fix" their issues, then their efforts are short-lived. Abusers blame their own anger and abusive behaviors on their victims.
If you would like to comment on the uniqueness of your situation, then please do so. The more readers have to compare/contrast their experience to, the better.
I'm not going to link to your employer's/your site from my blog. You are able to leave off the url when you post a comment. If you are required to have a link, then I can delete it from your post myself.
It's good to hear from you and I look forward to your comments in the future.

Kellie Holly
May, 30 2011 at 4:30 am

I received a comment that I marked "spam" because of the website given. However, the comment was substantive, and I'd like to share it and then give a brief reply.
Comment: "Well, is kind of interesting the way that you express your self about your past circuntances and please don't get me wrong with my question but don't you think that your experience may not represent even a small porcetage of a entire group? Particularly because we are dealing with people's behavior. Something very unpredictable and unique in most cases.
Anyways thanks for sharing!"
Response: The behavior of abusers is predictable; it is not unique. Entire books have been written about the "personality type" and how to identify abusers and understand how they tick.
Yes, in many ways, my situation is unique. My experience, however, is not unique. I've been writing publicly about my abusive experience since 2008 in a blog at The women and men who contact me share "eerily similar" experiences. They are able to identify with what I write because we share common ground.
If you go to and read the testimonials, you will see that what I say is true.
I write from experience, and my experience teaches me that abusers and their behaviors are not unique. The effects of abuse on victims are not unique. By sharing my unique situation, I am able to reach out to a group of people sharing a common experience, and I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to do so.

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