15 Sep How To Spot The Early Stages Of Dating Abuse ‘Before’ It Gets Worse
Dating should be fun and exciting with the right person. But when romance turns to fear, it can be lonely and confusing. Especially if you don’t have a lot of experience to compare other relationships to.
Abuse can be really hard to put your finger on, because abusive partners are often charming, witty and extremely well liked. Which can make you feel crazy when you’re the only one who sees their ‘other side’.
On top of this, in the dating stage of a new relationship, they can be incredibly romantic and affectionate. So when things become weird all of a sudden, it’s easy to wonder if you’re overreacting.
SEE ALSO: How Do I Know If An Abusive Relationship Will Become Violent?
Why Dating Abuse Is Hard To Spot
The warning signs can be difficult to spot in the early stages. Because just like a leaky tap, it can take a while before the damage becomes obvious.
A little drip here… “Oh it’s no big deal.”
Another drip… “Yeah I know he messages a lot – but…”
“Sure he kinda lost it when I forgot to tell him I was hanging out with friends tonight… But he was soo sweet the next day & said he just worries about me when we’re not together!” Drip… drip…
The early warning signs of control are often mistaken for love.
When you first start dating, controlling behaviours might be so well disguised they feel flattering. The constant ‘checking up’. The ‘concern’ over where you are & what you’re up to. Even the rumblings of jealousy might seem like ‘proof’ of how much he adores you.
But what many women don’t know, is that abusive relationships follow a predictable pattern. What seems like the ‘honeymoon’ phase, is actually a carefully disguised boundary testing phase.
In other words, they use various strategies to test their ability to manipulate. And they aren’t as glaringly obvious as you might think, so they can tend to sneak up on you.
So let’s uncover the typical patterns they follow…
An Extraordinary Amount Of Attention: Soulmate Or A Red Flag?
When you first meet, you might be inundated with an unusual amount of attention. While this in of itself might not be a red flag, a refusal to respect your boundaries > is.
Naturally when you’re mutually attracted to someone, it’s exciting to spend lots of time together. But it’s also normal to have commitments outside of the relationship.
When you have other commitments does he:
- Act like it’s a direct rejection?
- Become cold, frustrated or angry?
- Coerce you into spending time together when you have something important to do?
For example: “If you really loved me you would/wouldn’t – [fill in the blank]”
While abusive guys might shower you with attention initially, their motive is to have you 100% focused on them. So they will react badly to anything that takes your attention away from the relationship.
Whirlwind Fast Pace — Or Covert Control?
Although every relationship moves at a different pace, abusive relationships tend to move from dating to commitment in a nano second. Plans for the future are talked about when you barely know each other. And if they sense your hesitation, they will often distract you with details of how ‘special or unique’ your relationship is. For example:
- “It must be fate/we’re meant to be together.”
- “I’ve never felt this way about anyone before.”
- “You’re the only one who’s ever understood me.”
- “Nobody understands you like I do.”
So how do you tell the difference between the real deal & a guy who’s troubled?
The key is whether or not he respects your boundaries. When you need some time out to catch your breath, does he allow it? Or does he obsessively inundate you with messages?
Although troubled guys can appear outwardly confident, they literally fall apart without someone to control. Hence, getting their partner committed or emotionally invested in the relationship is a top priority. Time out is unlikely to be an option they’ll respect.
Hot tip: Since they can’t survive without a partner to control, they are rarely single for long (if they can help it). So when you first start dating, find out how long it’s been since their last relationship.
Removing Outside Influence — Making It Easier For Him To Manipulate
This is another tactic that’s tricky to put your finger on, as it doesn’t usually happen over night. And it’s often disguised as being “concerned” about your relationship. For Example:
- Your best friends not good for you. She’s jealous & doesn’t want us to be together. Drip…
- Your family will never understand what we have. They’re trying to destroy us! Drip… drip…
- I don’t trust him (guy friend). If you really loved me you wouldn’t be hanging out with him. < Alarm bell!
- We don’t need anyone else. All as we need is each other. < Bingo! Their prey is now being separated from the herd.
Removing your support network makes it much easier for him to manipulate you. And without outside influence, it makes it harder for you to validate what you’re experiencing. Over time, it creates more & more dependence on him as your only source of support.
Once that happens, things can get pretty crazy fast. As this leaves him free to chip away at your independence & self esteem.
You’re The One With The Problem, Not Me!
Downplaying, Denial & Blame Shifting
When his behavior upsets you, does he take responsibility? Or does he shift the conversation all over the place & knock you off balance?
Here are some examples of the control tactics he might use:
- He says it’s your fault or that you ‘make’ him do it.
- He twists the conversation and says you’re just as bad.
- Uses anger to block you from questioning him. “Are you trying to pick a fight with me?”
- Makes you feel crazy and denies anything happened.
- Ridicules you and says “you’re overreacting, I was just messing with you!”
- Says it won’t happen again, only for it to continue to happen…
- Downplays his behavior: “Angry? – You’re lucky you’ve never seen me really angry.”
- Becomes physically violent and blames it on you, or something else.
Abusive guys are basically allergic to accountability. They can literally be ‘caught in the act’ and still try and convince people that it never happened! So they’re highly skilled at manipulating their partner’s recollection of events. Over time, this erodes their partner’s confidence and fills them with self doubt.
Trust Issues Or Dangerously Jealous?
It’s pretty normal to feel a twinge of jealously here and there in a relationship. Especially if our significant other seems a little too close with someone attractive! But since healthy relationships are based on trust, our partner is usually quick to put our mind at ease.
But what about when your dating someone whose mind is never at ease, no matter what?
Irrational jealousy, is not only stressful, it can be a sign of extreme danger. When a guy starts imagining that every interaction you have with the opposite sex is a betrayal, you’re dealing with someone who’s very troubled.
Any guy who’s constantly paranoid you’re cheating on him without any logical reason, is someone you should be seriously concerned about. This type of dating abuse can quickly escalate to threats of harming you, if they ever catch you cheating. Which can also include being suspicious that you’re cheating because you were late, or didn’t answer the phone etc.
Warning signs to look out for:
- Constantly checking where you are and who you’re with. Twisted into: “Because I miss you, worry about you, love you.”
- Justification (made up or real): “My ex cheated on me. I know you wouldn’t do that but I just want to be sure.”
- Demanding passwords to your social networks: “We have nothing to hide from each other, right?”
- Challenging other men that look at you. Either physically, or with aggressive posturing.
- Forcing uncomfortable public affection to demonstrate ‘ownership’.
- Controlling what you wear: “I just can’t stand the thought of other guys looking at you.”
- Threats (veiled or overt): “You don’t want to find out what would happen if you ever…”
Guys who are dangerous believe that they ‘own’ their partner. And will literally do anything to maintain ownership of their ‘rightfully’ owned property. Including (in extreme cases) preventing the possession they’ve secured from leaving them.
To Have Or To Harm — When Breaking Up Becomes Unsafe
When you decide to end a relationship with an abusive partner, it’s important to make sure you get help with leaving safely.
Extremely controlling guys will pretty much do anything to keep control over their partner. And when they sense they’re losing control, they might resort to intimidation, threats, or physical harm. Some also feel entitled to punish their partner well after the break up — for daring to move on.
If you’ve been dating someone who’s physically violent, breaking up with them can increase your level of risk. And even if he hasn’t hit you, smashing things & punching walls is another way of showing his capacity for violence.
But physical violence isn’t the only sign you might be in danger when you leave.
One of the most overlooked risk factors for relationships that end fatally, are the non-physical warning signs.
If he monitors your whereabouts & controls your daily activities, that’s a dangerous sign. If he’s extremely jealousy & possessive, that’s also a high-risk sign.
Things that can increase your risk when you’re planning to leave:
- Telling your partner you’re leaving/planning to leave.
- Showing emotional detachment or indifference.
- Posting anything online or on any social networks.
- Breaking up in any way that will publicly humiliate him.
- Obtaining a protection order without a safe place to stay.
- Agreeing to meet up with him ‘one last time’ after you’ve left. (It could end up being the last time you see anyone).
It’s important to know that you can still be in danger, even if you’ve only been dating for a short while. Just as the beginning of the relationship might have moved quickly, some guys believe that their partner is ‘their property’, equally as fast.
Whether you’re ready to leave or not, it’s vital that you (or a friend) contact your national domestic violence hotline so they can help you create a plan to stay safe.
You don’t need to be put off by the words ‘domestic violence hotline’ if your partner hasn’t been physically violent. The staff are trained to understand that his degree of jealousy & control, is what puts your safety at risk.
If you’ve been experiencing dating abuse, know that most women do get out safely. But it requires careful planning, which you don’t need to attempt on your own. You can find a list of intimate partner abuse resources in over 100 languages by clicking here.