He seemed sweet at first. In fact, he had many sweet moments. But then there was the other stuff …
Abusive behavior isn’t as simple as we, as a society, want it to be. We often think that the kinds of signs that tell you a man could be abusive are very obvious. We imagine monsters, overtly misogynist thugs. We think of extreme physical violence as being the key – or the only – signifier. But often the violence doesn’t start until a relationship is already established – sometimes not until after a woman has moved in with her boyfriend, marries him, or becomes pregnant. In fact, the leading cause of death in pregnant women is domestic homicide, which is to say they are killed by their intimate partners. If we limit our understanding of abusive behavior to physical violence, we risk ignoring other red flags we should be heeding.
Abusive relationships are about more than physical violence and usually involve emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse as well. While it is never the responsibility of a victim to somehow “avoid” abuse, it can be useful to learn about some behaviors that tell us a man might become abusive down the line.
Here are some red flags I experienced in a relationship that told me I needed to get out:
1. Irrational Jealousy: Jealousy isn’t always just about your partner worrying you’ll cheat or feeling insecure about people you might be attracted to. What I didn’t realize right away was that jealousy can show up just because you pay attention to someone or something that isn’t your partner. An ex of mine once – no joke – got jealous of my dog, becoming angry and anxious that she was trying to “keep us apart.” Once at a party he grabbed my wrist and pulled me away from a female friend I was talking to because he felt angry I was focused on her instead of him. He was irrationally obsessed with the idea that I was cheating on him and when he started accusing me of “picking fights” so I could sneak off to have sex with my ex, I knew things had gone way too far. But the warning signs were there all along.
We sometimes think of jealousy as a flattering display of love. Abusive men will often tell you that they feel jealous because they just love you so much and want to be near you at all times. Alas wild, irrational accusations or displays of anger or aggression when you pay attention to your friends, your pet, your child — or even when you talk to other men — isn’t about love. It’s about control.
2. Anger: Temper tantrums, outbursts, getting irrationally angry over small or insignificant things are signs that a man has anger issues and can’t (or won’t) control his behavior. An ex once tried to force me to stop wearing a piece of jewelry given to me by another ex-boyfriend. It wasn’t something that held any emotional significance — just a piece of jewelry I liked, had picked out myself and had been wearing every day for years. He demanded I take it off. When I refused, he flipped out, threatened to break up with me, and then said: “It’s either me or the ring.” I told him I didn’t do ultimatums, that it was an inappropriate demand and that his behavior was controlling. He had no choice but to let it go, but looking back, that was an early red flag.
When men lose their temper in extreme ways over small things on a regular basis it can function as a control mechanism, forcing you to walk on eggshells around him. My ex did a lot of freaking out and storming off early in our relationship over things that felt completely ridiculous to me. He often seemed out of control when angry, screaming things at me that made no sense. If your partner seems to have a kind of “Jekyll and Hyde” personality – meaning that he displays extreme personality changes, rendering him like a totally different person — it’s a bad sign. It’s also common to most abusive relationships. Being hypersensitive and overreacting is a way abusers can control you (by provoking a response) and force you to try to cater to their mood swings.