Know the Red Flags of Abuse

National Domestic Violence Hotline

Know the Red Flags of Abuse

It’s not always easy to tell at the beginning of a relationship if it will become abusive.

In fact, many abusers may seem absolutely perfect on the surface — as if they are the dream partner — in the early stages of a relationship. Possessive and controlling behaviors don’t always appear overnight, but rather emerge and intensify as the relationship grows.

If you’re beginning to feel as if your partner or a loved one’s partner is becoming abusive, there are a few behaviors that you can look out for. Watch out for these red flags and if you’re experiencing one or more of them in your relationship, call The Hotline to talk about what’s going on:

  • Embarrassing or putting you down
  • Looking at you or acting in ways that scare you
  • Controlling who you see, where you go, or what you do
  • Keeping you or discouraging you from seeing your friends or families
  • Taking your money or refusing to give you money for expenses
  • Preventing you from making your own decisions
  • Telling you that you are a bad parent or threatening to harm or take away your children
  • Preventing you from working or attending school
  • Blaming you for the abuse, or acting like it’s not really happening
  • Destroying your property or threatening to hurt or kill your pets
  • Intimidating you  with guns, knives or other weapons
  • Shoving, slapping, choking or hitting you
  • Attempting to stop you from pressing charges
  • Threatening to commit suicide because of something you’ve done
  • Threatening to hurt or kill you
  • Pressuring you to have sex when you don’t want to or do things sexually you’re not comfortable with
  • Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol
  • Preventing you from using birth control or pressuring you to become pregnant when you’re not ready

Domestic violence doesn’t look the same in every relationship because every relationship is different. But one thing most abusive relationships have in common is that the abusive partner does many different kinds of things to have more power and control over their partners.

If you’re concerned about some of these things happening in your relationship, please feel free to give us a call at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

(Photo: “Red Flag” by Andy Wright)

Comment section

41 replies
  1. Thank you for this! Learning these 9 years ago saved my life AND prevented me from walking the same path with the next guy who came along. Now I can share this in hopes it will do the same for someone else.

  2. My daughters ex boyfriend showed everyone of these signs. She got away when she got pregnant because she didn’t want my granddaughter growing up in violence. He still stalked her down killed her while pregnant and then committed suicide. Going to share this on my daughters R.I.P Facebook so other girls may pick up on the signs before it is to late like it is for Ashleigh.

  3. hi, @Tara, I wish to be able to read that on facebook, plz
    hum, I have realised, my family and friends saw it, that I’m in a emotional abusive relationaship, he never hit me.
    – puts me down – dont let me have money – im never good at nothing
    since a few months now, he controls how much gas i have for a week.
    I could continue on.

    I know you will all say, leave him, I dont have money, how can I get a place to live, if I dont have incom.

    ps: i didnt put my real name, just in case.

  4. Im having a domestic dispute with my exboyfriend and I contact the abuse hotline but the woman was not helpfully at all and the police can’t catch my ex. At this point I should just die!

  5. Contact your local crisis center or shelter. They can help. If you can’t find one in your area the police or even your county court can give you their number. Remember this never starts with hitting. It escalates to that level. It’s best to leave now while you can. You can go to my daughters Facebook R.I.P Ashleigh Lindsey to see her pictures, news articles and story. After seeing what she went thru you will realize you are worth more and deserve more

  6. Joan get a trusted friend, family, anyone to help you. There are shelters that can help you start over. They can help you find a place to live. Please get help ASAP!

  7. Tara,
    Thank you for sharing your story with our blog community. I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your daughter. Please feel free to share our Hotline information on your page, as well as the information about red flags if you’d like. We are always a resource if someone you know has concerns about their relationship, or a friend or family member’s situation. We are available at 1-800-799-7233, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

    Thank you again

  8. Joan,
    Thank you for contacting the Share Your Voice blog. From what you’ve shared it sounds like you are living with someone who is very controlling and emotionally and verbally abusive. You don’t deserve to be treated like that. There may be options for help available locally. If you’d like to talk to someone about what’s going, you are welcome to call and speak with an advocate here at the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. We are available 24/7 and are anonymous and confidential. An advocate on the Hotline could talk to you about what’s going on in your relationship and see what local DV programs are available in your area. We’re a safe place to talk about it.


  9. Tee,
    I am very disappointed to hear that you did not receive the help you are needing when you reached out for help. I know it must have taken a lot of trust and courage to reach out and share your story, and I’m sorry that you weren’t provided with the help that you needed. If you contacted our Hotline and spoke to someone who was not helpful, please know that you can speak to a Supervisor to provide feedback on the experience you had, but also to get additional support for what you’re dealing with. I am concerned to hear that you are feeling so hopeless. If you’d like to talk to someone, you are welcome to call and speak with an advocate 24/7 on the National Domestic Violence Hotline. That, or we would be happy to connect you with local crisis services. You deserve support.


  10. I am in a abusive relationship, I get mentally, emotionally, and physically abuse. I want to get out but don’t know how. Right now I am at the point where I think he might kill me if I try and leave

  11. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to help you. Others are not in as much pain as you are and are not as emotionally involved with your abuser. They can stand up for you when you can’t stand up for yourself. Let someone help protect you!

  12. Rae,
    It sounds like you are in a very scary and difficult situation. Please know that you are not alone in this. Advocates here at the hotline are standing by 24/7 at 800-799-7233 to offer you support, guidance and resources. There are many things to consider when planning to leave an abusive relationship and your safety is the most important aspect of all. The page entitled Safety Planning on our website (https://www.thehotline.org/get-help/safety-planning/) provides information about what things to consider when making a plan to safely escape. Advocates at the hotline would be happy to discuss these ideas with you to help you develop your own plan. It is not an easy process, but I am so glad you are reaching out for support through this. You deserve to be treated with the utmost respect and you have the right to live a peaceful life. Call when you are safe enough to do so and we will be here to help.

    Take care,

  13. Alone,
    Thank you for contacting our Share Your Voice blog community. Unfortunately, because of the nature of abusive behavior it is very unlikely that an abusive person will truly change their ways. Often, it is not because the person cannot change but because they will not change. Abusive people generally do not believe their behavior is a problem and therefore do not feel the need to change it. If someone cannot admit that their behavior is abusive and continue to make excuses for their unacceptable actions, that is a good sign that that person is nowhere near the point of putting in the effort to make a substaintial change in their lives. On the other hand, if a person is willing to look at their behavior honestly and take full responsibility in addition to believing they need help in order to change, they may be on the right path. There are Battering Intervention Programs in most communities that offer batterers the help they need to change their ways. Unfortunately, only a very small number of people who complete the program make a long-term, substantial change in their behavior. If you are interested in learning more about abusive people and their motives, there is a great book called Why Does He Do That?: Inside the minds of angry and controlling men by Lundy Bancroft. If you would like more support and information about this issue, you are always welcome to call our hotline (800-799-7233) any day or time to speak to an advocate.


  14. Hello, I am a victim of physical abuse. I met this guy and every thing seemed okay. Now that i look back on some things he said I realized that he was serious about what he was saying. For example he told me he would hit a woman but I thought he was joking because he said he never would hurt me. He also told me that while we were in public I needed to just shut up. He said I can say hi but I can’t be to friendly. But once again I said whatever and didn’t take him serious. We had private dates at his house and one at my house where we sat with his friends and talked or watched tv with his kids…After about 6 weeks of getting to know each other we finally went to a public place together. His cousin was having a birthday party at a local bar so i volunteered to meet him there. Our relationship just started to become serious about 6 days before the incident when we both started saying we love each other. When i arrived at the bar I didn’t see him so I went to my car to call him. He came out to my car and basically told me to have fun and don’t worry about him because at the end of the night we were going home together. When we got in there he went to the bar with my money to buy us a drink…While he was at the bar he was filling all over some female. I stood in line and didn’t say anything. Someone tapped me on my shoulder it was my hairstylist boyfriend so i said hi and gave him a hug. We chatted for a sec and my guy gave me my drink and told me not to move from my spot he was going to the restroom…so as i stood there waiting I talked to my hairstylist boyfriend about nothing really he was just asking who I came with and telling me how he was at that spot a lot and things like that. Well I was waiting and my guy friend did not return so I went to look for him and when I found him he began to tell me how mad he was that I was talking to someone and I tried to explain that it wasn’t like that but he just got angrier so I walked away and approached him again. Shortly after he told me lets go. So when we left he started going off on me saying i liked the guy and all sorts of things and so i told him that i saw him feel on and kiss several women and he told me So what he can do that but i cant.!!! Then he began to say he love me and i belong to him. So I apologized and he had me follow him to his house. When we arrived the physical attack happened in front of his house he banged my head against the van stomped me on the ground slapped and punched me several times. I tried to fight back and when I tried to get my purse and leave he told me I wasn’t going anywhere and continued to hit me. After pleading with him over and over he let me go I sped off and called the police. I saw him leave the scene shortly after I called the police. Well he gave his middle name as his first name so when the police arrived they couldn’t find him in the system.. The report was filed but the warrant could not be issued. I went to the hospital and when I got back home I went online and began to search for his real name and information. I found him and I went to the police station. The officer there blamed me and said that’s what I get for meeting people on facebook and refused to issue the warrant. He asked me all sorts of personal questions and told me he’d get the detective to call me in 3 to 5 days!!!! I called women helping women because I need an advocate. The police officer was to bus bashing me and accusing me of being lose…Then he tried to flirt with me commenting on my out fit and my appearance. I feel like all these men are sticking together…and women are being abused and killed with out justice.

  15. Sara,
    Thank you for sharing your story with the Share Your Voice blog. I am so sorry to hear about what you had to go through. There were a lot of red flags in what you shared about your relationship with this person. Someone who is extremely jealous for no reason has the potential to be abusive and controlling. There is no excuse for him to physically assault you or to call you names. It must have been so scary to have this person you thought cared about you, turn around and harm you like this. I am disappointed that you weren’t able to get the help that you needed when you went to the police. If you’d like to talk to someone about what you’ve been through, you are always welcome to call and speak with an advocate here at the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. We are anonymous and confidential and a safe place to talk about it. Give us a call when you get a safe chance.


  16. Missy,
    Thank you for contacting the Share Your Voice blog. It takes a lot of strength and courage to get out of an abusive relationship. There are resources for support though that may be able to help you get stronger to where you feel like you can make a change. You don’t have to be ready to leave to call and talk about it. Advocates on the National Domestic Violence Hotline understand that change is a process, and are here 24/7 if you’d like to talk about it. We are available at 1-800-799-7233. Give us a call when you get a safe chance.


  17. Hi not sure what to do in my situation. I have been married for seventeen years with a man that has been off and on with his temper. Ten years ago he was showing anger issues and controlling with finances, where I go what I spend who I visit. Emotionally abusive and not connecting as a husband and wife should. It seemed to stop after police were called cps involved and he went to court ordered anger management. The anger has revealed its ugly head once again. I brought my son home from the hospital yesterday. He was diagnosed with Lymphoma and is going through chemo. He is very sick, frail and nauseated most of the time. When I brought him home the house was a very uncomfortable 85 degrees for my son. So I preceded to turn the air on. My husband was furious and ripped the thermostat off the wall and said some horrible things in front of myself and son. Needless to say we have no airconditioning at the moment. I am trying to have my son move to his aunts house for awhile till this tides over. Not sure what to do at this point.

  18. Kim,
    Thank you for contacting the Share Your Voice blog. From what you’ve shared, it sounds like your husband is very emotionally abusive and controlling. Even though he went through anger management, it sounds like things haven’t really gotten better. Abuse is about power and control, so dealing with just anger management isn’t likely to ‘fix’ or change the fact that someone is abusive. I am concerned about the safety of your son and yourself. Even if he didn’t put his hands on you, it sounds like that incident was really scary and intimidating. You don’t deserve to be treated like that. If you’d like to talk to someone about what’s going on, you are welcome to call and speak with an advocate here at the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. We are anonymous and confidential and a safe place to talk about it.


  19. One of my dearest friends is in a very typical abusive relationship. I fear for her and her child. I know all I can do is offer support but I don’t feel like that’s enough. I’ve told her how I feel, I’ve given her ways to get out. I’m afraid she is going to wait until it is to late.. How can I help when I feel so helpless. I don’t want her to have to go through this. She use to be such a strong person. How can I show her she still is strong and doesn’t deserve this?

  20. I am so glad I found this site because I am at my breaking point in this push/pull relationship and do not know what to do anymore about this very abusive and controlling relationship I am “stuck” in! I am so confused and feel so alone, I am sure I have already had a mental breakdown and the abuse only gets worse and worse, even after I try and talk to him and let him know I am not well,and he only seems to behave more and more abusive toward me!

  21. Gloria,
    Thank you for contacting the Share Your Voice blog. It’s normal to feel confused when you are going through emotional and verbal abuse. One minute your partner may be nice to you, and the next they can decide to berate you or call you names. It sounds like what you’d like is for your partner to understand how they are harming you and to stop it. You deserve better than this. If he doesn’t feel like the abuse is a problem, then it’s not very likely to change. I’m glad you found our site useful. If you’d like to talk to someone about what’s going on, you are welcome to call and speak with an advocate here on the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. We are 24/7 and anonymous and confidential.


  22. Sally,
    We went ahead and deleted the comment but please know you can contact the hotline (800-799-7233) any time of day or night, whenever you can get to a safe place to talk.


  23. My husband and I are not separated at the moment but he has made it clear that if I leave, I’ll get nothing from him. I have called the cops on him before but didn’t press charges (he’s AD military ). He had to go to mandatory anger management but he still gets angry. I’ll looking at grad school right now and he doesn’t want me to do it right now because of finances. He is the only one who works but gets mad that I don’t have a job yet (I am looking for over a year). I have let him know that I don’t trust him but he says that I’m lying,etc. I don’t know what to do anymore. Emotionally, I can’t trust him and he is calm around others but he has bursts of angers that have no foundation to it.

  24. As a man who’s relationship has taken a turn for the serious side, let’s go through this list together…

    1. Embarrassing or putting you down.
    She calls me an idiot. Often says how she is always right, and how dumb I’m acting.

    2. Looking at you or acting in ways that scare you.
    Sometimes it’s smiles. Sometimes its frowns. It’s the glares and silent stares that scare me.

    3. Controlling who you see, where you go, or what you do.
    She claimed me as her own, wants me to move across the country for her, and get a new job.

    4. Keeping you or discouraging you from seeing your friends or families.
    She’d rather have me with her family/friends, than with mine.

    5. Taking your money or refusing to give you money for expenses.
    Well, I don’t see her ever giving me any money.

    6. Preventing you from making your own decisions.
    Sure, I’m allowed to make my own decisions. I’m a “grown man”. They are just always the wrong ones.

    7. Telling you that you are a bad parent or threatening to harm or take away your children.
    I don’t have kids. Next question, please.

    8. Preventing you from working or attending school.
    She doesn’t STOP me from going. She does call and check in on me all the time.

    9. Blaming you for the abuse, or acting like it’s not really happening.
    If I say anything to question or struggle back against being hurt, I’m the one who is hurting her.

    10. Destroying your property or threatening to hurt or kill your pets.
    Do people really do this? Stuff is just stuff, and I don’t have any pets. Next question.

    11. Intimidating you with guns, knives or other weapons.
    As a former member of the military, this would be tough to do. Next question.

    12. Shoving, slapping, choking or hitting you.
    Do sexy-times count? Seriously though, let the rage come. She’s not nearly as strong, and I don’t fight back.

    13. Attempting to stop you from pressing charges.
    Would I really press charges against the woman I want to spend my life with? Even if times got rough? Isn’t this why they say, “For better or WORSE.” Just saying…

    14. Threatening to commit suicide because of something you’ve done.
    Not an issue. She’s far to proud/strong for this tactic. Or..so I believe. It has yet to happen. Next question.

    15. Threatening to hurt or kill you.
    See answer to #11. Repeat. Next question.

    16. Pressuring you to have sex when you don’t want to or do things sexually you’re not comfortable with.
    I have been threatened with unwanted sexual play. Does that count?

    17. Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol.
    She drinks. I do not. I do not advocate it, I do not like it, I do not approve. She continues to try to get me to go out with her to drink alcohol (which, by the way, is a drug).

    18. Preventing you from using birth control or pressuring you to become pregnant when you’re not ready.
    Again, I’m a man. Can’t get pregnant. I don’t think she could, “force”, me to NOT use one if I really wanted. Perhaps with a lot of duct tape, rope, and sleeping pills.

    Now, I have a few questions.

    1. Why is this list catered towards women? Is it impossible for a man to be abused in a relationship?
    2. Have I described an abusive relationship with my answers? (Just for reference,.. I don’t think so.)
    3. Well… Apparently, I only had two questions. #1 being the most important one. Perhaps a revised list is in order. After all this is 2012, not 1945.

  25. V.
    Thank you for contacting us. From what you’ve shared, it sounds like this isn’t about your husband dealing with anger issues; this is about him being abusive and controlling. Oftentimes, we mistake angry outbursts from a partner as being an anger management issue. But from what you’ve shared, he can be calm and collected around other people, but he has outbursts of anger at you. If he doesn’t do it around or to other people, that means he’s got control over when he choses to get angry. It sounds like these outbursts are part of the abuse. It’s not normal for your partner to accuse you of doing things you’re not doing or try to control what you do. If you’d like to talk to someone about what’s been going on, you are welcome to call and speak with an advocate here on the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. We are anonymous and confidential, and a safe place to talk about it. You don’t have to be separated or leaving to be able to talk to someone about options.


  26. Mikey,
    Thank you for your comment and thoughts on this posting. The list is meant to highlight red flags of abuse that can happen in any relationship, regardless of gender. The Hotline is committed to helping anyone who calls.

    Relationships live on a spectrum from healthy to abusive. The behaviors outlined in this post are unhealthy. Whether or not these unhealthy behaviors are also abusive depends on the individual’s situation. The purpose of this list is to help someone see the red flags for possible abuse. Our goal is never to make assumptions about anyone’s relationships. You are the expert of your situation. Only you and your partner can decide what feels right and what doesn’t. We’re simply here to help if you need us.

    We strive to help our callers and readers experience healthy relationships and know that they are supported. Please call The Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224 if you have any additional questions or would like to talk in more length about what’s going on in your situation.


  27. Mikey wrote:
    “’10. Destroying your property or threatening to hurt or kill your pets.’
    Do people really do this? Stuff is just stuff, and I don’t have any pets.”

    Yes. Carol J Adams, for example, has written about how violent men may use the threat of harm against domestic animals in order to manipulate their partners. Maybe there are violent women who also do this. It is still wrong.

  28. Am to a braking point … Am trying to hang on ,,,but I feel stuck am 25years old with no job and 7 kids I just had twin girl they r 3 months and my oldest is 8 I live with my kids father but its been hell for 3 years we have history of domestic violence in our past but know it to the worst we both hit each other and yell know he starting to do it in front of my kids just this thurseday we fought and he took all the air out my tires and smacked me I call the police and they told me we both live there to get a restating order and kick out so I can stay there …well I stayed at my moms last night and he broke in my van and took money gift cards ebt card driver licence because he denying it and I didn’t see they could do anything he keep calling me and it driving me crazy Monday seen so far away am just done and am scare they take my kids away for stay with him also he has a medical card and he’s high all day

  29. I am in the same position. I am 28 years. Old 37 weeks pregnant and have a 20 month old son. My husband of three years is very verbally, mentally, sexually, financialy abusive and denies both of our kids. I feel and am ttrapped. Because he don’t work nor want. To. He wants me to work and he holds my debit cards to pay bills…. and use the money on what he wants. I can’t work at the moment. Dues to being pregnant. I am fearful for my sons because he does not help me with anything. He complains about my son costing alot for diapers and basic things. He yells at him for doing toddler things. So i can just imagine what would happen if i went to work n he had to watch him. He don’t want to contribute. In anyway.it hurts so bad I went to college for medical assistant. And passed… that was before I met him and married him. I went to work a few days to make some money and he saw what iI made he stole my medical. License. And.threw them away. To make ends meet I had to go work at theme park park… I am tired and want a divorce. And full coustody of my babies. I need help. I don’t have a phone, he watches everyone I do n all that I talk to. #feels like I’m in prison

  30. Hey Drea,

    Thank you so much for reaching out. It sounds like you are really going through so much! Economic abuse is very, very common and one of the ways that abusive people keep you trapped. They control the finances so that you can’t support you and your children on your own. It also sounds like he is abusing the children which must be so stressful for you as well. I want you to know that you are not alone. You deserve to be with someone who is going to treat you with love and respect. What he is doing is not ok.

    You mentioned that you don’t have a phone. Know that you can chat with us here on our website Mon-Fri 9AM-7PM central time. We are completely confidential and anonymouys. Our hotline is 24/7 so if you do find a pay phone or other opportunity to call, you can phone us at anytime. Our number is 1(800).799.7233. We are here to help you figure out a safety plan and get you connected to local resources that can help.

    Until then,
    Hotline Advocate MC

  31. Jay9,

    I would say get your CNA certification. There are places where you can become a certified nurses assistant in as little as 3 days for less than $400.00. Sometimes Hospitals, or nursing homes will offer the CNA class as well. In my experience, it’s hard to get away when he controls all the money. You won’t get rich off of CNA, but at least there is a strong job market, so you will always have a job, you can work as many hours as you can stand to work, and it’s easy and cheap, and quick to get your state certification. You could move to any state if you wanted to, and lots of hospitals will PAY FOR YOU TO GO TO RN school if you get a job with one that pays for it. I have children too, and i’ve been in that situation. CNA is a good “stepping stone”, and if you have supportive family, and explain your situation, you can offer to pay them back after you’ve completed the CNA course and i’m sure someone will loan you the money, or… be slick and take a little here and there, like when you have to go grocery shopping.. You said he took your debit card, so there’s money right there… take $20.00 here and there, $30 or $40 when you go on the big grocery shopping trips, you can have the cash. This is just one option. I know CNAs that make $40,000/yr. It’s not a killing, especially with 7 kids to feed, but i’m sure you’d qualify for some sort of assistance, like food stamps maybe, and medicaid, so that eliminates health insurance and grocery bill right there. Just ideas. I’ve been in serious abusive situations in the past and I know how scary it is to think this big grown man is going to punch you, the fear that rises in your chest, not knowing what’s going to happen, being scared, upset, helpless, disappointed, controlled, i’ve been through it all. I’ve had a bone broken, been threatened that if I try to leave “one of us isn’t going to leave here alive”.. and this wasn’t some bummy guy, this guy is a registered nurse, going to be a nurse practitioner in less than 1 year.. Noone would think he was really like this. You never know what goes on behind closed doors. The thing is, formulate a plan, plan a way out. They have websites, legit opportunities to make money online.. as I said, maybe not a killing, but it’s money, and the more you save and keep quiet, be smart, make it seem like everything is normal, don’t react when he blows up over nothing.. I just didn’t care anymore. I decided I wasn’t going to be afraid, and he did that stuff to intimidate me. He would throw stuff around.. I learned the signs, and when he “exploded” I just removed myself from the situation (go for a walk, make sure you have the house key, and your cell phone) . I stopped being the scared little puppy.. tired of feeling like someone is going to hit me, angry that someone felt they had the RIGHT to hurt me and for no reason. I decided to keep my mouth shut, I wasn’t going to react at all, hid the knives when he went to work (im the only one who cooks, so he wasn’t going to ever use them). Only I knew where the knives were, and i’d take one when I needed it for cooking. There are lots of things you can do to better your situation… think outside the box, learn his patterns, get out asap and never look back.

  32. Nikki,
    Thank you for sharing. Those are some great safety planning tips and suggestions. It must have taken so much courage and strength to get out of your situation. You’re right in that it usually takes some creativity and resourcefulness to get out of an abusive situation. Abusers can be clever and manipulative. It’s definitely not easy getting out of an abusive relationship, especially with kids, but it is possible. Again, thank you for sharing your story and suggestions!

    Take care,
    Hotline Advocate VG

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