Our work with couples and families has opened our eyes to the often hidden struggles of those suffering in situations of domestic abuse. The statistics related to abuse are eye-opening. While most incidents never get reported, at least one in four women (and a growing number of men as well) experience abuse from their spouse or partner at some point in their life. This warped cycle of abusive behavior creates a toxic environment in the home and often perpetuates a continued cycle of abuse for future generations if children witness or experience the abuse.
Even when physical abuse hasn't happened (yet), there are many forms of abuse that can eventually escalate into physical violence. According to SafeHorizon.org,__ these are ten warning signs that an abusive climate is being created in a relationship:
When your spouse...
1. Consistently accuses you of cheating and being disloyal
If there's a cycle of distrust and false accusations, then it's a warning sign of a toxic situation brewing in the marriage. Every healthy marriage is built on trust and mutual respect.
2. Makes you feel worthless
Your spouse should be your biggest encourager; not your biggest critic! If there's perpetual criticism in the marriage, then it's no longer a marriage. This is a form of emotional abuse.
3. Hurts you by hitting, choking or kicking you*
This is clearly illegal and should be reported immediately. Any form of physical assault isn't just out-of-bounds; it's a crime. At this point, authorities need to be involved to protect your safety and the safety of any children who may be in the home.
*These violent situations are often linked to drug or alcohol abuse. If your spouse becomes violent when drinking, you may need to leave the situation until he/she will get help for the addiction.
4. Intimidates and threatens to hurt you or someone you love
If you feel that your safety or the safety of your children is in imminent danger, then you need to put some physical distance between you and your spouse. I almost never encourage spouses to separate, but when violence or the threat of violence is present, leaving may be the only way to protect yourself.
5. Threatens to hurt themselves if they don't get what they want
This is a form of emotional sabotage, and you can't allow yourself to be held hostage by it. If your spouse is truly a threat to himself or herself, then encourage them to call the suicide prevention hotline or call 911 if you feel they are a threat to themselves or others, but don't get caught in the twisted trap of making decision to appease the whims of an unstable, abusive person.
6. Tries to control what you do and who you see
This can be done in many different ways, and this is much different than simply having opinions about what you should or shouldn't do. When your spouse starts trying to enforce the kinds of rules and regulations that a parent would enforce with a child or teenager, then the marriage is no longer a partnership but a dictatorship.
7. Isolates you
A healthy relationship is empowering and freeing, not stifling and imprisoning. Coercive isolation is a manipulative form of imprisonment to control every action and movement of someone. Isolation is abusive.
8. Pressures or forces you into unwanted sex
Every marriage has some level of "pressure" for sex, but this crosses the line into a forceful or demanding posture of abuse or possibly even rape. Whenever you are not in complete control of your own body, you are being abused.
9. Controls your access to money
Financial abuse is one of the most common forms of abuse in marriage. When your spouse insists on controlling all of the money and limiting your access to the family funds, or making you ask (or even beg) for every dollar you need to make necessary purchases, this is a coercive form of control and abuse.
10. Stalks you, including calling you constantly or following you
This is yet another form of manipulation, intimidation and control. Your spouse is supposed to be your biggest protector, not your biggest threat. They should always make you feel safe, and if you find yourself feeling unsafe around your spouse, it's time to get help.
If you are experiencing abuse in your relationship, please get help. Don't expect the behavior to change on its own. It usually escalates if there's not intervention. The first priority is the safety of you and your children. For more information, please call the confidential, national hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
This article was originally published on Patheos. It has been republished here with permission.