Warning Signs


After people learn about domestic violence they are often interested in ways they can predict potential abuse in relationships.

Below is a list of behaviors that are seen in abusive intimate partners. The more signs the person has, the more likely the person has a battering personality and a potential for relationship violence. Initially batterers excuse abusive behavior as signs of love and concern (which can very be flattering), however, as the relationship progresses these abusive behaviors become more controlling, abusive and violent.


At the beginning of a relationship, an abuser will say that jealousy is a sign of love. Jealousy has nothing to do with love. It’s a sign of insecurity and possessiveness.
Signs: Questions who their partner talks to. Accusations of flirting. Complains of how much time is spent with others. Frequent phone calls throughout the day. Unexpected visits. Unpredictable behavior. Checking car mileage. Asking friends to watch or “spy” on their partner. Falsely accuses partner is cheating on them.

Controlling Behavior

At the onset of the relationship, the abuser will say that this behavior is because of concern for their partner’s safety, or to guide them in good decision-making and time management.
Signs: Closely questions everything their partner does. Will not allow the partner to make personal decisions about the house, clothing and/or going to church. Anger if the partner is “late” coming back from the store or an appointment. May keep all the money and/or make the partner ask permission to leave the house or room. Will tell their partner what do, what to wear, what to say, etc.

Fast Moving Relationships

Many domestic violence survivors dated or knew their abuser for less than six months before they were engaged or started living together.
Signs: Relationship starts like a whirlwind, “love at first sight”. Excessive flattery such as “you’re the only person I can talk to” and “I love you more than anyone in the world”. Abusive partner may state they need someone desperately. Pressure for commitment.

Unrealistic Expectations

Abusive partners are dependent on relationships for all of their needs; this is not healthy. No relationship is perfect and no one person can realistically be there “all the time.”
Signs: Expects partner to be a perfect partner/spouse, parent, lover, and friend. May say things like “if you love me, I’m all you need, you’re all I need.” Expects partner to take care of everything emotionally for them. Expects their partner to perform all household tasks.


The abuser tries to cut-off resources in effort to remove opportunities for escape and systems of support. Without supportive friends with which to “trouble talk” about relationships, it can be hard to recognize signs of abuse. Resources include work or school, transportation, family and friends.
Signs: Friends are not allowed by the abuser; these relationships are viewed as unfaithful. Friendships are ridiculed or sabotaged. Accuses supportive friends to be “causing trouble.” Will not allow visits to or from partner’s family. Moves away from partner’s family and friends. Taking away the phone or the car. Insists their partner stop going to work or to school.

Blames Others for Problems

Abusers do not take responsibility for any negative situation; instead they will find someone else or some external factor to blame for the problem.
Signs: Mistakes are the fault the partner. Irresponsibility. Chronic unemployment. Says, “Someone is always doing me wrong” or “out to get me”. Says their partner upsets them or keeps them from concentrating. Abuser blames their partner for practically anything and everything that goes wrong.

Blames Other for Feelings

Abusers often do not understand or want to feel any negative emotions. When an abuser feels hurt, anger, or fear, they will want to find someone to blame to make the feeling go away.
Signs: Says “you make me mad”, “you’re hurting me by not doing what I ask”, and “I can’t help being angry.” Uses feelings to manipulate their partner.


Abusers can be extra sensitive and may explode when they suspect an attack.
Signs: Easily insulted. Claims feeling “hurt” when really feels anger. Takes the slightest set back as personal attacks. Will “rant and rave” about the injustice of things that have happened, things that are really just part of living like being asked to help with chores.

Cruelty to Animals or Children

Someone who punishes children and or animals brutally or is insensitive to their pain or suffering. This is a red flag warning and a message that they could hurt people too.
Signs: Expects children to be capable of doing things far beyond their ability (whips a two year old for wetting their diaper). Hurts or abuses animals. Teases children until they cry. Hurts or kills their partner’s pets. Does want children to eat at the table or expects them to stay in their room all evening away from adults. 60 % of abusers, who beat their female partner, will also beat their children.

“Playful” use of Force in Sex

Media has displayed forceful sex as “sexy,” however, it shows unhealthy desire for power and control over one’s partner. Sex is about intimacy and mutual consent. It is against the law to force someone into any sexual act.
Signs: Likes to throw down or restrain partner during sex. Wants to act out sexual fantasies where the partner is helpless. Ideas of “rape” excite them. Not concerned whether their partner wants to have sex or not. Sulks or uses anger to manipulate partner into having sex. Starts having sex with partner while partner is sleeping. Demands sex when partner is ill or tired.

Verbal Abuse

Abuse is not only physical. Abusers will often criticize and demean their partners.
Signs: Says cruel and hurtful things. Constantly degrades their partner. Curses. Belittles accomplishments. Says their partner is stupid and incapable of functioning without them. Very critical about everything.

Rigid Gender Roles

Abusers will use gender roles to restrict and control their partners.
Signs: Abusers see the opposite sex as inferior to them, less intelligent, and unable to be a whole person without them. For example, some abusers expect their partners to serve and obey them in all things, even things that are criminal in nature. Abusers may restrict their partners from working or going to school.

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

This is a reference to a fictional character that had both a “good” and “evil” side.
Signs: Sudden changes in mood, a “roller coaster of emotions.” Explosiveness. One-minute the abuser is nice and the next minute there is an explosion.

Past Battering

If someone has a history of violent relationships, they are likely to abuse again (unless the abuser seeks intervention). Situational circumstances do not make a person have an abusive personality.
Signs: Many abusers have hit partners in the past. Abusers reason that past abuse was because “my partner made me do it.” Relatives or ex-partners may admit past abuse.

Threats of Violence

Threats are meant to control and manipulate. Threats can also be illegal.
Signs: Threatens, “I’ll slap your mouth off”, “I’ll kill you”, or “I’ll break your neck”. Excuses threats saying, “everybody talks like that.”

Breaking or Striking Objects

Used as a punishment, to terrorize and threaten the partner into submission.
Signs: Beats on tables with fists. Throws objects near their partner. Breaks partner’s special possessions.

Force during an Argument

Arguments and discussions are a natural part of all relationships, but force or restraint changes an ordinary argument into possible abuse.
Signs: Holding a partner down. Physically restraining partner from leaving the room and saying “you’re going to listen to me”. Pushing or shoving. Cornering partner against a wall.