7 Signs Of A Dangerous Relationship

I am sure most of you have either heard stories or know someone personally who is in a relationship with someone who treats them badly and think to yourself, "Why do they let that person treat them like that?  It just doesn't make sense. Why don't they leave? They deserve better?"  Nobody believes they will ever end up in a relationship like that.  Most of us think, we would never let someone treat us that way.  The women and men who do end up in abusive relationships, thought the same thing.  If you happen to believe it only happens to weak, insecure, women, you are very wrong.  It can happen to anyone. So, why is it so prevalent? And, how does it happen to men and women who are confident, successful, educated, and seem to have some much going for them?

Individuals who engage in abusive behaviors toward others are usually masters at manipulating other people.  They gain your trust, make you feel special, and slowly start to ease their way into abusive behavior.  Usually the recipients of abuse are so high on emotional bliss, they are blindsided by the first signs of abuse and are prepared to believe just about anything to make it not true, which leaves them wide open for the abusers manipulative behavior.  Abusive relationships are not just intimate relationships. They can also occur with friends, co-workers, bosses, and family members.  The only way to protect yourself from becoming a victim of an abusive relationship is to become familiar with the warning signs and learn how to respond appropriately and if needed, get out before the abuse begins.

I highly recommend reading, Noelle Nelson's book Dangerous Relationships, whether your single, in a relationship, or if you have older children who are learning relationship skills.  Dr. Nelson, outlines 7 warning signs of a dangerous relationship and provides recommendations for what to do if you recognize any of these warning signs.  The list is provided below, but I urge you to read the book because it provides many examples of each of these warning signs that might not be so easy to recognize.  That is how abusers are so good at what they do, many of the behaviors leading up to abuse are too subtle to notice, but if you know what to look for, you can get out before it starts.

7 Warning Signs of A Dangerous Relationship   

1. A Whirlwind Beginning: The other person comes on too strong, too quickly. He wants to spend all of his time with you. He gives you a lot of attention. Your put on a pedestal. If it seems too good to be true, there might be a problem.

2. Possessiveness: Monopolizes all of your time.  Remember, this is typically done in subtle ways, (not the very obvious, "No you can't have friends, you belong to me"). He might make plans that interfere with plans you already had, but acts like it was done on accident.  He may begin to make subtle remarks suggesting that your friends have betrayed you.  He will slowly chip away at your other relationships in one way or another.

3. The Switch: Look for overly emotional reactions to things.  In the beginning this is more likely to be directed at other people or events, but eventually it will be directed toward you.

4. Blame: Look for signs that someone else always seems to be blamed for his problems.  Again, this will be directed at other people first, but eventually it will work its way to you.

5. Verbal Abuse: Direct cut-downs are easy to identify.  Abusers will also, put you down by down playing your achievements and putting down things that you cherish.  The only acceptable source of happiness from an abusers perspective is from him, so anything else that makes you happy will be criticized or destroyed in some way.

6. Insensitivity: Very few of us can hear or see stories about human suffering without feeling some type of sympathy.  Laughing or finding pleasure in other peoples suffering is not normal and definitely a red flag. Indifference may also be something to be worried about. 
7. Past and Present Violence: I think most of us by now, know that if he hits you once, he is very likely to do it again.  Violence against others (bar fights, fighting with family members or friends), however, tends to go unnoticed. These however, are good indicators of future violence, so do not take them lightly.

I want to urge you again to read the entire book.  The book provides detailed examples of each of the warning signs and provides good advice on how to handle these situations.  It may be the case that all of us might do some of these things every once in awhile and that doesn't mean we are an abuser, it just means, we have either developed a really bad habit or we were just having a bad day and took it out on someone we care about.  In an abusive relationship these things are behavioral patterns that occur repeatedly.  More importantly, a very good indicator of a dangerous or healthy relationship occurs when you make your personal boundaries very clear to that person.  In a healthy relationship, the other person will respect your boundaries.  In an abusive relationship, your boundaries will not be respected and the other person will likely try to make you feel like there is something wrong with you for feeling like your boundaries have been violated. 

If you have abuse in your history, you do have a higher risk of getting into an abusive relationship.  There are probably two main reasons why individuals who have experienced abuse at some time in their life are more at risk for entering into an abusive relationship. The first is the more obvious, you are more likely to get involved in an abusive relationship when that type of relationship has been modeled for you as an appropriate relationship.  Even though it might be painful and scary, if it is what you are used to, it is likely to have a level of comfort that other relationships won't provide.  The second, is a less obvious, and a little harder to explain.  One of the side effects of experiencing abuse, is the constant fear of experiencing abuse again.  The endless suffering because we can't predict the future and know for sure that it will never happen again, drives many sufferers of abuse to engage in destructive behavior as a way of numbing the pain. Sometimes, it is in the form of drinking, using, and/or reckless sexual behavior or other unhealthy behaviors.  Often times, it seems the only way to get rid of the fear of our uncertain future is to make it certain. One way to do this, is to jump right into a dangerous relationship. Sometimes the peace of knowing what's going to happen seems like a better option than the constant fear of the uncertain future.  If you have experienced abuse at any time in your life, it is very important to see a therapist to help you sort through the effects of abuse.  Abuse hurts a person so deeply that it wounds us in areas we may not even know about.  It is very important to focus on your current behaviors and learning how to sit with your emotions in a healthy way and not let them drive you into another dangerous relationship. 

National Domestic Violence Hotline
1.800.799.SAFE (7233) 1.800.787.3224 (TTY)


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  • 3/10/2011 11:09 PM Medical Alert wrote:
    Growing up in an abusive family, I understand the true dangers of these relationships. Watching my mother deal with this for years was very traumatic and changed the way I view my own personal relationships. If there was a way for everyone around these relationships to know these 7 steps, the world would be a better place for it.
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  • 4/15/2011 3:42 PM Anonymous wrote:
    This book has been around for over 10 years. The fact that it's still being published, tells you that there are still a lot of people who need to hear the message.
    Reply to this
  • 7/21/2013 8:08 AM Leilani Baltazar wrote:
    Often grew up around violence. Many tolerate it even though they don't recognize it or would like to admit to it. Abusers hurt themselves the most at times. Please be aware of these signs and be diligent in seeking help.
    Reply to this
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