Signs of an Abusive Relationship

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on December 03, 2022
3 min read

An abusive relationship is a term that describes any relationship where one person exerts power and control over the other in a negative way. Abuse can be physical, but it can also be emotional, verbal, financial, or any other type of behavior that keeps one person under the control of another.

While there are many common aspects of abusive relationships, every individual relationship will look slightly different. Furthermore, it’s often difficult for people in abusive relationships to realize that they are in one. One of the most common aspects of an abusive relationship is the abusive person insisting that what they do is normal and not harmful, making it hard for the victimized person to understand their situation.

There is no type of person that is immune to abuse or unable to become an abuser. People of any ethnicity, age, gender, or sexual orientation can be a victim of abuse. It is never the fault of the abused person; abuse is always the responsibility of the abuser.

People who are victims of abusive relationships often live with a number of problems as a result of the abuse, including:

  • Feelings of isolation
  • Embarrassment
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Suicidal feelings
  • Addictions
  • Injuries
  • Financial problems

While some conflict is normal in any relationship, healthy relationships involve two people who are both free to disagree, debate, and have their own opinions. Abusive relationships involve one party controlling the other’s thoughts, feelings, or actions. Recognizing the signs can help you avoid or escape an abusive relationship. 

While every abusive relationship will involve different methods of control, the underlying themes are the same. An abusive relationship will involve one party using their power over the other party to prevent them from doing anything except what the abusive person wants. Here are some of the signs to watch out for:

Communication Monitoring

People who are abusive may try to monitor your communication with other people. They may ask to read your texts and emails, log into your devices without permission, or even install tracking software to keep tabs on your social life. They will frequently use this against you later.


Abusive partners also commonly isolate the people they abuse. The abusive person may spread lies about you, or they may try to convince you that your family and friends don’t actually like you. Either way, the goal is to cut off your support systems that could otherwise help you leave the relationship.

Financial Control

In some abusive relationships, the abusive party will work to remove their partner’s control over their own finances. This is intended to make it harder for the abused person to leave the relationship. The abusive person may cut off your access to your accounts, hide information about your financial situation, or try to make you quit your job. 


Another common tactic of abuse is to force you to do things you don’t want to do, whether through begging, threats, force, or emotional manipulation. This can include sexual activities, but it can also include any other behavior you do not want to do. Abusive people may also use coercion to keep you in the relationship if you try to leave.

Emotional Manipulation

One of the most common types of abuse is emotional abuse. This can include:

  • Insulting you
  • Humiliating you in front of others
  • Making you feel like you’re “crazy”
  • Calling you names
  • Making you feel guilty for normal activities

Healthy relationships involve both partners building each other up. Abusive relationships involve one party tearing the other down. 

Physical Violence

Finally, physical violence is the most well-known sign of an abusive relationship. If your partner ever hits you or hurts you in any way, your relationship is likely abusive.

If you are in an abusive relationship, your best course of action is to end it and leave your abusive partner. This can be scary, so it’s important to have a plan in place. Know where you’re going before you leave, and let your friends or family know that you are planning to leave your partner. You can also reach out to local resources for help if you need a place to go or help to get back on your feet. 

If you need support to leave an abusive relationship, the following organizations can help:

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: or 1-(800)-788-SAFE(7233)
  • National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:
  • Your local police: 911