How To Recognize If Your Child Is In An Abusive Relationship

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

How To Recognize If Your Child Is In An Abusive Relationship

As a parent, your first and foremost concern is the safety of your children. You want to protect them and ensure that they are safe. You watch out for injuries, failure and heartbreak. But what if you suspect that they are being harmed by someone they love? How can you tell if your child is in an unhealthy or abusive relationship?

Relationships exist on a spectrum, so sometimes it can be difficult to tell what behavior is just unhealthy from behavior that is abusive. Each relationship is different and the people in it define what is acceptable for them, so what’s never OK for you might be alright for someone else.

If you’re concerned that your child is being abused by their boyfriend or girlfriend, you may notice that their boyfriend or girlfriend does some of the following things:

  • Checks their phone, email or social networking sites often and without permission
  • Calls them names or demeans them
  • Isolates them from family and friends
  • Checks up on them with constant calls and texts
  • Is extremely jealous when they spend time with other people
  • Does not allow them to work or have access to funds
  • Withholds affection as punishment or manipulation
  • Has violent outbursts that are mostly directed at your child
  • Threatens to hurt your child, their children, you or your extended family in any way
  • Has physically harmed them

If you notice any of these characteristics are present in your child’s partner or relationship, you should make an attempt to speak to them about what might be happening. Be supportive of them and their decisions, but explain to them that you’ve noticed some questionable behaviors and are concerned for their safety. Knowing that they are supported can mean the world to them.

If someone you care about is being abused, we can help you decide your best course of action. Give us a call at 1-800-799-SAFE any time to speak with an advocate.

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  1. I have many concerns in regards to myself and my children. Currently I have a restraining order so I have none to little contact with my husband directly. My husband did ask that I drop the restraining order but I did refuse to so because of prior issues of domestic violence including threats, physical violence, coercion, intimidation, abuse to m pets, name calling, threats to myself and my children my his cohorts, and many other things as well as major manipulation. At the current time I still do not feel safe and have been in therapy for a long time to make me feel safe, but since my husband now does not have direct contact with me I feel the abuses continue but through one of our children that he sees. This is not directly abusive to me but almost just as painful in a different way. My son is 8 years old and he comes home to me almost like a child that I do not know. It starts off wonderful with lots of admissions of things and almost happiness to finally see me to let it all out and will make statements that shocking, then he “can” and “sometimes” will then move in to a fit or tantrum; after a few hours he will turn in to himself again and becoming his loving and affectionate and normal self and will have fun; then he will become clingy and beg for my protection and at night he will tell me how he suffers from nightmares. My son has disclosed a lot to me but I almost feel like I have nowhere to go. . . I feel like no one will listen. About 8 weeks ago my son also came home with bruising and a rash and then I took him to the pediatrician. It is a long story but he also had rectal bruising. I was told there was no disclosure so there was nothing they could do. This was very traumatizing to me. There was no where to turn and I was told without full disclosure there was nothing that could be done. Now, it continues and it is a daily day by day saga. . . whether it be admissions that dad throws him against the wall. . . or admissions that dad refuses to allow him to call me . . or parental interference. . . and most recently other things all much more minor than the bruising. . . but for me it feels like my husband realizes he was able to get away with one thing and then continues with other things to hurt our son in an attempt to provoke me. He knows our 8 year old is my everything and that while our marriage may have failed, I would never stop loving and caring for our son. I feel our child is being used like a pawn. I have made every attempt to put all differences aside, attempts to coparent, attempts to not disparage in front of him, and there is continually manipulation. I don’t know where to go or where to turn because this child is crying out and suffering because of it. As a mother, I don’t know what else I can do. . . I have engaged in attempts to coparent, attempts at psychologists chosen by my husband who has stated my husband is immobile and resistent, attempts at church which my husband refuses to engage our son in, attempts with extracurriculars. I feel like I do everything and HE is doing everything to make me look bad but in the meantime a child is suffering from some drastic emotional and psychological abuse. I have been told by the psychologist that all I am doing is damage control but I don’t want that . . . I don’t want damage. How do I make this stop? I do not want my child to be abused in anyway. Children deserve love, affection, support, compassion, nurture and with these behaviors. . . and all the disclosed as well as undisclosed. . . I don’t know what to do. While I don’t have money like my husband, I do have time. . . and that I give. . Please give me some guidance here because I truly feel like my son is being used to hurt me and therefore suffering from abuse as a means to abuse me. Is this normal? Is there anything that I can do? I don’t want my son to be harmed as a means to harm me and I don’t want him to be used as a pawn. At the same time, I don’t want him to be abused in any way shape or form EVER. Where do I go? Who can I turn to? I think I need a support hotline that is not DYFS related for advice.

    1. Aimee I certainly appreciate how difficult your situation must be. It sounds like you have been through so much all ready. I understand your concern for your son and for yourself. It seems that you have done a very good job of trying to protect your son and tried to report the suspected abuse. It must be very frustrating to make the effort to report and then not have the response you expected. I do want you to know that you can contact us at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-7233, we are available 24/7. We are here to give you support and information that may be useful. All calls here are anonymous and confidential. We are domestic violence advocates, not counselors but we do care and do understand how difficult this can be, we will try to provide you support.

  2. I left my abuser 4 years ago. My children and I have moved to different states to hide since the state we left only offered us gas cards to get somewhere safe. I was told to go ahead and leave even though the court date to put him away hadn’t arrived yet. When we were in a dv shelter in the first state we went to, I found out he got the charges reduced. Instead of 5 to 15 yrs, he got probation, which he has violated and served a few days for that. He has since connived his way out of charges for battery on his oldest son and stalking someone else. I have his daughter and he will never give up on his vendetta against me for leaving and taking her. I need help getting our identities changed and new lives started. Where we finally ended up couldn’t give us the help we needed because the abuse didn’t happen in this state. I have serious health issues and this whole situation has caused one of my sons to commit suicide and the other to be suicidal with severe depression. I have these issues also. I cannot do anything that involves my personal info being used, for fear of him finding us. We were recently put in an address protection program and I finally got Medicaid. We had to start over again last spring after a fire destroyed everything we replaced from leaving. I need to move, change identities, and figure out how to survive. I have nobody to help me figure this out, as the agencies here only give out minimal info and you have to know what to ask for to get help. I’m overwhelmed and ready to give up. Any suggestions?

    1. Laurie,

      Thank you so much for commenting. I know it must have taken a lot of strength to share your story and I’m glad you did. Your situation sounds so overwhelming! I’m sorry that you are going through this. Getting out of an abusive relationship is very complicated and is often fraught with all sorts of difficulties. It sounds like you have already done so much to keep you and your family safe, which is really amazing. One website that might be helpful is That has a lot of really great information about domestic violence and family law that might be able to get you some justice.

      Changing one’s identity can be a very complicated process. I would encourage you to call us at the Hotline, 1-800-799-7233. We are here 24/7 and you would be able to speak to an advocate who will be able to explore options with you and perhaps refer you to services that might be able to help you with that.

      In the meantime, please take care of yourself. Make sure that you are getting plenty of rest and that you are eating well. These might seem very simple, but they can go a long way to making this crisis easier to manage.

      All the best,

      Hotline Advocate MC

  3. Hi Aimee. I am so sorry to hear what you’re going through. I’ve been there too as has my daughter. One of the best things you can do is get your son in counseling. I don’t know your decision-making or parental rights situation so you may want to discuss this option with an attorney first. If you haven’t already done so, talk to your local domestic violence shelter as they may have free or reduced-cost services available for your son or they might have a list of providers who can help you and your son. If you haven’t already done so, read “When Dad Hurts Mom: Helping Your Children Heal the Wounds of Witnessing Abuse” by Lundy Bancroft. It’s a great resource. Do your best to keep the lines of communication open between yourself and your son because sometimes you’re the only person your children will trust, especially in situations like the one you’re dealing with.

    Unfortunately men like this use our children as a way to get at us. They know that one of the best ways to hurt and control us is through our children–especially when contact with us is limited. You need to remain strong and keep doing what you’re doing with your son. If you’re not in counseling yourself, you might want to consider it as well. The best thing you can do for your son is to remain as healthy–physically and mentally–as possible.

    I did not find DYFS helpful at all when my daughter was going through what your son is going through. They didn’t seem to think he was doing anything wrong. My daughter is now 12 and though she has been through hell at his hands, she is an amazing, strong, resilient young woman. As she’s gotten older he’s backed off a lot. I think this is due to the fact that she is now old enough for people to finally listen to her and, hopefully, finally believe her when she tries to tell people what she’s been through for the last 8 years. As you are doing, I worked hard not to say anything bad about her father but I too worried about her when she was with him. But one thing that turned out to be good about her being forced to see him on a regular basis is that she got to see him for who and what he really is. I never had to say anything because he showed her all by himself and kids are so much smarter than we sometimes give them credit.

    Keep doing what you’re doing to protect yourself and your son as best as you can. Document, document, document everything he does and says to your son that is hurtful/harmful or suspicious. Get and keep copies of doctors reports when you take your son in as a result of things that you mentioned above. Do what you can for yourself to remain strong. Get help–sometimes even just talking to a counselor or participating in groups at your local DV shelter can be a huge help.

    DO NOT get rid of your restraining order. It is necessary for your protection and, because your son witnesses and knows about the abuse, it is also necessary for his protection. Do not let your husband/ex-husband know that what he is doing is getting to you. I know that is so much easier said than done and that’s where talking with a counselor can really help because you can vent your frustrations and hurt to them. Remember that it’s all about power and control and right now your husband/ex-husband has neither over you so he’s doing whatever he can to try to get some of that back. What he’s doing to your son is completely wrong but he’s doing it for a reason. You have hit the nail on the head about your husband trying to make you look bad but your child being hurt as a result. These guys (abusers) have it down. They know what to do and what to say to the “professionals” in the court, at DYFS, and everywhere else to make themselves look good and you look bad. That is another reason why checking into counseling for you and your son–together and separately–at your local domestic violence shelter or finding out if they have a resource list with the names of counselors is your best bet. You need someone who truly gets it and those at and who work with the DV shelter understand how abusers operate. Please read the book mentioned above by Lundy Bancroft. He’s been working with abusers and survivors for a couple of decades and he gets it. Some of the things in his book are already clear to you, but there are likely things in there that, even though you’re aware of them, you have not thought of in the right light in order to realize what’s been going on or how and what you can to to help your son. Of all the books I’ve read on DV, abuse, abusers, etc., I come back to Lundy Bancroft’s books again and again and I found what they say about knowledge being power is true–the more you understand how your husband/ex-husband is operating and why, the more power you will have to deal with the situation. You may also want to look into antisocial personality disorder (ASPD aka sociopathy) to see if this is something that fits your husband/ex-husband. Obviously I cannot and am not diagnosing him but once I learned that my daughter’s father was a diagnosed sociopath and researched what that meant, everything made so much more sense to me. If you decide to look into it and he doesn’t fit the criteria, then you can let it go but I have found from speaking with numerous other individuals who are living with or have lived with abusers that many of the abusers fit the ASPD criteria and that knowing how these individuals operate can be extremely helpful in dealing with them on a day-to-day basis.

    Please note that, if your husband/ex-husband continues the abuse of you or your son, that you may not be able to co-parent with him and you may need to have a very specific parenting agreement that spells this out because in abusive situations co-parenting and decision-making are tools abusers use to maintain their power and control. When this occurs the perpetrator cares little about the children or what his actions and words do to them, but they are very concerned about whether or not they can control you.

    I wish I could give you more advice. Just know you are not alone and you and your son will get through this. Sometimes all you can do is pray that you and your son will be alright and know that, as your son gets older, your husband/ex-husband will have less and less power. That obviously won’t change things at the moment but sometimes you have to do what you can to find anything positive in the situation.

    I wish you and your son the best. Hang in there! You can do it!!!

    1. Hi Kathy,

      Thank you so much for sharing your story and your words of encouragement with our blog community. It takes so much courage to recount a story of abuse. We know that every abusive situation is very complex and that often what works for one person may not work for another.

      Your positive and knowledgeable advice sounds so helpful and I am so glad to hear you and your daughter are now safe. If you would like to talk about what has happened or would like any local referrals please feel free to contact the HOTLINE at 1800-799-7233. We are completely anonynous and confidential and available 24/7. Everyone deserves support both during and after the situation and we can definitely be a source of support for you.


    1. Hi Jonathan,

      Thanks for sharing that article with our community. A lot of the information echos our thoughts and suggestions. If you’d like to check out The Hotline’s article, you can find it here. It can be difficult to figure out how to help when someone you care about is being abused. Offering non-judgmental support and a safe place to talk can mean a lot to someone who isn’t in a safe or supportive relationship.

      Thanks again,

      Hotline Advocate AS

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