It should be emphasized at the outset that no one should be blamed for having an abusive partner. The energy and attentiveness provided in the ‘courtship phase’ of such a relationship will feel good to anyone. Let that be repeated, it feels good to anyone, not just people with a supposedly defective partner selection. While there may be some reasons of personal history that render someone more susceptible to power behaviors, unless this is discussed sensitively and individually, it becomes victim blaming.
However, there are warning signs to an abusive relationship that become much easier to spot with information and experience. All the abusive behaviors described elsewhere in these pages are warning signs, and in a way this list will describe some of these behaviors. There is also some overlap between abusive and narcissistic behavior, the latter of which is not addressed directly on this website.
Remember, it is the goal of ‘power over’ that defines abuse. Relationships don’t become abusive, they start out that way. But the tactics are less severe in the beginning, before much commitment exists. The behaviors listed below are all very strong signs of an abusive (controlling) disposition, that might still be apparent even when a primary aggressor is ‘trying to be nice.’
Intensity and High Involvement Controlling partners usually seem to immediately organize their lives around you. This is flattering even if the ‘too-muchness’ is recognized. Often there is elaborate planning for vacations, get-aways, and ‘fun’ outings. Dates are over-elaborate and may create in you a sense of obligation.
He may suddenly become very interested in your previous activities and want to participate with you. Conversely he may keep you so busy you may not be able to pursue your usual activities He may presume a level of intimacy that you do not feel. Gifts and other nice things seem to be too much. There is a strong pressure to accept and like his gifts and plans.
Need for constant contact. This can be constant text paging, long phone calls, insisting on accompanying you to all appointments and interviews, visiting you at work, etc.
If he panics or rages when he cannot contact you immediately, that is a very strong warning sign indeed. It speaks to severe emotional dependency and angry attachment. This attention may feel good, but it does not bode well. Though it may sound unromantic, a healthy man will be able to get involved in other things beside his partner.
Jealousy without reason. This is not love for you expressing itself, this is angry attachment for all women expressing itself.
Pressure for early commitment This can include the desire to marry, move in together, buy property together, or have a child. The aggressor may assume or insist commitment exists where it does not. This is evidence of a desire for direct and total control.
Blaming orientation toward life. Some upset is understandable when something unfavorable happens, but blaming his feelings, life situation, and his disturbing actions on other people, especially previous partners, is closely associated with other abusive behaviors.
Too good to be true. Everyone tries to appear their best when starting a new relationship, but grandiose claims that turn out to be unfounded are a warning. There may be a lot of name-dropping, especially in a field of your interest. If these are famous people it will be hard for you to verify. Merely mentioning a name tends to imply that the named person likes the naming person, but the opposite may be true or the named person may barely know the namer.
Of course it will never be easy or natural to verify this, so the impression of being vouched for remains. Equally a warning is witnessing him show a strong and manipulative interest in managing impressions in other people. If he is doing this to them, he is doing it to you. At the least, this will continue to be a burden on you to maintain appearances.
Isolating. This can be a gradual process, but also will show up very promptly when he senses that someone is expressing doubts or a critical view of him. Often he will say he doesn’t like that person, or that the person is a bad influence on you, and insist you not talk with them.
Frequent talk and argument about trust and betrayal. This indicates that the aggressor believes other people not doing what he wants them to do is a crime. This is the start of justification of abuse
Road Rage There is something slightly disinhibiting about driving a car. Most people do not have rage just under the surface however. While the details of a road rage incident may vary somewhat, they are not really about the driving but more about a seething feeling of wanting to punish another violently for perceived affronts. A road rage incident can be a preview of how this person will act when he perceives a fault from you, once you too have become an acceptable target.
Ingratiating manner when he wants something. Friendliness is common when requesting something, but ingratiation is an insincere, entirely overdone friendliness. It is intended to take away the option of saying no from the other person, because that would appear cold. Ingratiation shows a will to get what he wants at all costs.
Describing previous partners cheating on him. While this could be the case, it is very probably part of his imagination arising from pathological jealousy. If a man reports that multiple ex’s have cheated on him, it is very likely that he will come to believe that you are too.
Tries to get back with his ex while wooing you. Apart from the obvious exploitation implied, this is evidence that the aggressor doesn’t really believe a partner has the right to end a relationship. Getting into a relationship with you very quickly after ending a relationship can be evidence of how desperate he feels when someone tries to separate from him.
Secretiveness. Next to brute force, the second most effective building block of power is to know something that someone else does not know. Secretiveness in relationships is the plain attempt to create the feeling or the reality of power by compartmentalization.
Showing up unannounced or uninvited. This is meant to keep you off balance. It is also a sign of pathological jealousy. This is an act of stalking.
Few or no close male friends. The link is not clear, but angry attachment interferes with male bonding.
Difficulty cooperating with others As each opportunity to cooperate arises, a strong reason is given not to, and at first this may seem like a independent, non-conforming stance toward things. As time goes on, however, hardly ever being willing to cooperate, suggests a tendency to see all things in terms of control/being controlled. Frequently changing jobs, chronic unemployment, or having to have a job where he works by himself, can be a sign of non-cooperativeness. But someone in an executive or leadership position may be able to turn non-cooperativeness into an asset, at least in employment.
Attachment Swings. These are sometimes referred to as mood swings. Mood swings go from sad to happy. Attachment swings go from pleased with people to suspicious and blaming with people. Can also be referred to as Jekyll and Hyde behavior.
Has to be right This is an effort by the aggressor to make what he wants something more, and therefore something he feels others must give him.
Author: Michael Samsel