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Having relationships can be fun and exciting. But sometimes, people can get into unhealthy and abusive relationships. These can hurt you in a lot of ways, so it’s important to learn the different signs of abuse. If you think you may be in an abusive relationship, there are many things you can do.
For many people, healthy relationships can make their lives better. They might feel happy, confident, proud, safe, or loved around their partners. Learning about healthy relationships can help you build the best relationships for yourself. Here are some signs of a healthy relationship:
- You feel supported by your partner(s).
- You trust each other.
- Your privacy and boundaries are respected.
- You can be honest with your partner(s), especially about problems in the relationship.
- You have a life outside the relationship. You don’t need to do everything with your partner(s).
- No one has all the power in the relationship. You and your partner(s) feel like equals.
- No one threatens the other.
- Your sexual needs are respected by your partner(s), whether you want or don’t want sex.
Unhealthy and abusive relationships
Unhealthy relationships affect people in a bad way. Unlike in a healthy relationship, they bring more negative feelings into your life than positive ones.
One type of unhealthy relationship is an abusive relationship. In an abusive relationship, one person (sometimes called the abuser) uses their power to control the other person. This can happen in any kind of relationship. Open, polyamorous, monogamous, same-gender or different-gender, casual or serious, long-term, long-distance, online…these can all be unhealthy or abusive relationships. Abuse can also happen between people of any genders, races, nationalities, sexual or romantic orientations, anatomies, and ages.
Abuse can start as soon as the relationship starts. It can even start before that! A relationship that used to be healthy can also turn unhealthy or abusive over time.
This article will talk about different kinds of abuse in a relationship:
- Financial or economic
- Other signs of abuse
While there are many different kinds of abuse, it’s common for them to happen together. Someone who is physically abusive can also be emotionally abusive. Sexual abuse is often also physically and emotionally abusive by nature. If you’ve experienced any of these things, know that there’s no wrong way to feel about them.
Physical abuse involves your body or your partner’s body, or other things that can be touched or felt. Many people will first think of physical abuse when someone mentions an abusive relationship. But this doesn’t mean it’s the only kind of abuse.
Some examples of physical abuse are:
- Hitting, punching, choking, kicking or tripping you
- Grabbing, slapping, scratching or biting you
- Pulling your hair
- Controlling where you go, what you eat and how or when you sleep
- Making loud noises that hurt you
- Using or threatening to use weapons
- Hurting your pets, threatening to hurt them or damaging the things around you
- Locking you in or out of places on purpose
- Making you sick or not letting you see the doctor
Emotional abuse tries to make you feel a certain way, like scared or powerless. Sometimes, it can be hard to prove emotional abuse to other people. They might not believe you. Or they might think that if it wasn’t physical, then it wasn’t abuse. But emotional abuse can be just as hurtful as any other kind of abuse.
Some examples are:
- Yelling at you
- Calling you names you don’t like or making fun of the way you look, speak, or act
- Always telling you what to do and forcing you to do it
- Blaming you for everything bad that happens
- Trying to confuse you or making you feel “crazy” and not trust your own mind (gaslighting)
- Not letting you meet with people you know, like friends or family
- Being extremely jealous and possessive
- Telling you you are worthless, bad, or other insults or insulting you in front of other people
- Threatening suicide to stop you from doing things
- Not letting you break up with them
- Telling other people your private information
- Making you lie about what happens in your relationship
Sexual abuse is loosely defined as any sexual activity done without consent. Sometimes, people think that sexual abuse only includes forced or non-consensual penetration of a vagina. But any kind of sex act can be abusive if it’s done without consent. That means sexual abuse can include:
- Kissing or groping you when you don’t want it
- Pressuring you into sexual acts that you don’t want, or not letting you say no to sex
- Doing sexual things to you when you’re sleeping, drunk, or unconscious
- Messing with your birth control or the ways you protect yourself from STIs, like poking holes in condoms, throwing out your birth-control pills, removing condoms against your will or not letting you get tested
- Trying to hurt you during sex (outside of negotiated and consensual BDSM)
- Saying sexual things to you that you don’t like
- Making you have sex with people you don’t want to
- Spying on you when you’re alone
- Shaming you or making you feel bad for your sexual desires or needs
Financial or economic abuse
Financial or economic abuse involves jobs, money, income, and property. This can make leaving an abusive relationship really hard, because you might not be able to support yourself after.
Some examples are:
- Stopping you from starting, keeping, or quitting a job
- Taking your money, paychecks, credit cards, etc. without asking or trying to access your bank accounts
- Controlling how you spend your money including not letting you use your own money or making you pay for things you can’t afford
- Stealing and destroying your things
- Harassing you at work
Digital abuse involves using technology like texting, calling, websites, and social media to threaten, humiliate, or control someone.
Some examples are:
- Putting your private information, photos, videos, and recordings online
- Sending you threatening messages
- Stealing your passwords or hacking into your accounts
- Monitoring the websites and apps you use
- Always checking your phone or email without your consent
- Pretending to be you online
Other forms of abuse
There are also many other kinds of abuse. Some other common ones are:
- Stalking: following you around and trying to contact you (or people you know) all the time
- Not letting you have your legal documents
- Spreading hurtful or damaging rumors about you
- Making you do things that are against the law
Even though this article lists a lot of signs of abuse, it doesn’t have everything! Everyone is different, and peoples’ experiences of abuse can vary widely.
There’s no one right or wrong way to feel or talk about abusive things that have happened to you. If something your partner does or says makes you feel worthless, scared, powerless, or in pain, you might be in an abusive relationship. But you don’t have to call it that in order to end the relationship or get help!
What’s the difference between an unhealthy relationship and an abusive one? How can I tell the difference?
While all abusive relationships are unhealthy, not all unhealthy relationships are abusive. Sometimes relationships can be unhealthy simply because people don’t have compatible wants or needs. Relationships can also be unhealthy for reasons that have nothing to do with the people in them! Everyone is different, and relationships can be complicated. But that doesn’t explain or excuse abusive behavior.
For example, some people might go through times in their relationship where it’s hard to talk to their partner about something important. Because communication is key in relationships, not being able to talk about important things can be unhealthy. But lots of people struggle with communication! As long as everyone involved is respectful and kind, working through issues like this can be a learning experience, or even make the relationship stronger in the long run.
But if someone’s partner often communicates with them in a hurtful, coercive, or threatening way, then that would be a sign of abuse. Not knowing how to talk about something important is different from talking about important things in a hurtful way.
That being said, the line between unhealthy and abusive relationships isn’t always clear. Sometimes people only realize that a relationship was abusive after the relationship ends. If you’re in a relationship that feels bad to be in, but you’re not sure if it’s abusive or not, know that only you get to define your experience. It’s okay to say when a relationship makes you feel bad, no matter how you categorize it!
If you think that your relationship might be abusive, it’s not your fault. You can reach out to organizations like SACOMSS or Tel-Jeunes for support, and learn more at loveisrespect.org. You can also check our resources for more organizations that can help.