Signs of an abusive relationship

Signs of an abusive relationship

Relationships are never easy, but physical or emotional abuse should never be tolerated. Whether it’s you, a friend or a relative, knowing the signs of abuse and how to get help could save a life. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that one in five women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes.

“Abusive relationships can affect the overall health of a person,” says Judy Petrushka, domestic violence specialist, at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill. “Domestic violence can put you at risk of not only a serious physical injury but also impact a person’s emotional health.”

Pestrushka works with Sarah Katula, APN, PhD, counseling and helping patients in these types of situations. Their work also includes stressing the importance of knowing the signs of abuse.

“Abuse can come in many forms, whether it is physical or psychological, and it tends to get worse and more frequent with time,” Katula says. “It can happen to anyone regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender and affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels.”

Signs of domestic abuse

Abusive behaviors or tendencies may be subtle in the beginning, Petrushka says. The following are red flags that may indicate a partner is potentially abusive, according to, a resource by the National Dating Abuse Helpline and the non profit organization Break the Cycle:

  • Checking your cell phone or email without permission
  • Constantly putting you down
  • Extreme jealousy or insecurity
  • Explosive temper
  • Isolating you from family or friends
  • Making false accusations
  • Mood swings
  • Physically hurting you in any way
  • Possessiveness
  • Telling you what to do

For women who are already in relationships, the following are questions to consider about whether your partner is being abusive. Is your partner:

  • Hurting you or threatening to hurt you?
  • Controlling you?
  • Isolating you from doing things you want to do, like seeing family and friends, or going to work or school?
  • Overly jealous?
  • Blaming you for his/her problems
  • Making you feel like you are crazy?

Answering yes to any of the questions above may be a first step in developing awareness about the health — or danger — of a relationship, Katula says.

Petrushka says that health issues, such as depression, anxiety, headaches, abdominal pain and chronic pain can all be side effects of an abusive relationship. “Making this connection can help a person take steps toward a safer, healthier life,” she says.

“Unfortunately, abuse is very common and domestic violence does not tend to go away on its own,” Katula adds. “Abusive relationships are a health concern. No matter the circumstance, every person should know that the abuse is not their fault and this is a place to disclose and get help.”

Getting help

The domestic violence program at Good Samaritan Hospital trains health care professionals to effectively assess patients for abuse and provide referrals to connect them with helpful resources such as counseling services, shelters and crisis centers.

“It can be difficult to leave an unhealthy or abusive relationship,” Katula says. “We encourage victims to consider making a safety plan, but also looking to local resources that can provide support as they consider possible options.”

Katula explains that self determination is critical. “Abusive relationships take the power from the abused person,” she says. “It is important that the abused person be empowered to make his or her own choices and decisions.”

Professionals, such as a physician or counselor, concerned friends and family need to know that the abused person must make decisions for herself/himself, Katula adds: “Making decisions for an abused person can put the person in danger if he or she is not prepared. There will need to be planning but most importantly safety should be the number one priority.”

Good Samaritan Hospital offers information about safety planning, hotlines, shelters and other resources to help people in abusive relationships.

Click here to view a video about a woman overcoming her experience in an abusive relationship and shares how she escaped and broke the silence.

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  1. I am a abuser and need some professional help. Where can I get help pls?

  2. Health enews editor March 1, 2017 at 10:04 am · Reply

    Hi Warren,

    I’ve included a resource that details some places to get help.

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About the Author

Sarah Scroggins
Sarah Scroggins

Sarah Scroggins, health enews contributor, is the director of social media at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She has a BA and MA in Communications. When not on social media, she loves reading a good book (or audiobook), watching the latest Netflix series and teaching a college night class.