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9 Subtle Signs You May Be in an Abusive Relationship

When we are falling in love with someone, we often look at our partner and relationship with rose-colored glasses. It’s easy to see flaws as quirks, and mistake dismissive treatment as your partner playing “hard to get”. However, there are a few signs you may be in a tumultuous relationship.

If you pay attention and don’t let love blind you, you can escape an abusive relationship before you get in too deep.

Recognizing the Signs of an Abusive Relationship

What follows is a list of red flags you may be in a not-so healthy relationship.

1. Your Partner Dismisses Your Feelings or Desires

People who don’t listen to you when you say “No” or “No, thank you,” should be side-eyed closely.

For example, if you’re on your first date and you want to take the subway home, but your date is pushing to drive you and doesn’t oblige when you say no, pay attention to that.

When someone pushes what they want on you, especially in the beginning, it’s a red flag.

These types of people typically want things to go their way, always. And in some darker cases, this can be a sign of a date rapist.

When someone isn’t able to handle you saying no to arbitrary suggestions, they may not listen when you say no to getting physical too.

In relationships and friendships, it should be a give-and-take dynamic.

However, when one person is calling the shots, you’re not on an equal playing field, you’re playing ball on their field.

That being said, there’s nothing wrong with a gentle suggestion.

For example, if you’re having a hard time choosing a meal on a date at a restaurant, and they say, “Their lobster is excellent, give it a try!”, and you say no, and they drop it. Fine.

But if you find yourself already arguing on your own behalf and defending your own wants and desires, be mindful.

One of the signs of a tumultuous relationship is you don’t feel free to do what you want or express your opinion.

Recommended read: 4 Examples of Gaslighting — and How to Respond, According to Experts

2. Your Partner Is Always Late or Flaking on You

Time is one of the greatest gifts we have in this life.

It is what determines everything we do, and your time is valuable.

If you find yourself waiting for your partner, moving your schedule around for them, and always making excuses for why they aren’t at an event, the dynamic in your relationship may be toxic.

When someone values their time above yours, this is something you should keep an eye on. In some cases, people who make others wait, do it as a power move and this can be an action of a textbook narcissist.

I used to be friends with a woman who always made me wait, no matter how much time I gave her, no matter how much I communicated with her, I always ended up waiting for her to get ready, grab one last thing, feed her cat, etc.

Some people are just scatter-brained and others only value their time. How do you tell if the person is valuing their time over yours?

If your partner seems apologetic, stressed, and is normally very respectful of you, they may just have a problem with time-management.

However, if they continuously seem to disregard your schedule and cancel without explanation, tread with caution.

There are also exceptions

Keep in mind there may be exceptions to this – not everything is a sign your relationship is toxic.

For example, my husband is in the military, and when we first met, he was getting called away a lot for work.

He missed a lot of important events, however, when work wasn’t an issue, he was there. Always.

When we began dating, he warned me that his job was demanding and to expect some blips.

Once we became more serious, he actually switched from the Infantry to a less demanding trade to be with me.

This isn’t always possible, but he wanted to do this, and I gladly let him.

So if someone has made it clear from the beginning that they will be having problems with being on time or being there because of work or their children, don’t enter into a relationship with them if you cannot accept this type of lifestyle.

If you have been dating someone and they aren’t there when they should be without an explanation or with plenty of excuses and zero changes, jump ship.

It’s hard to build a life with someone who is never around.

3. You’re Always the One to Initiate Contact

If you’re dating someone who always makes you feel like you’re begging for crumbs of attention by being evasive and not contacting you first, this might be a sign of a toxic relationship.

When you’re always the first person to make contact, this makes for a very degrading dynamic, and it’s not in your favor.

Having to constantly be the first person to reach out will slowly affect your self-worth.

You will wonder, “Am I not good enough?” and start to question yourself.

However, when someone keeps you at arm’s length, they know what they are doing and this is a “them problem”.

There is a new term in the dating and friendship world called “breadcrumbing”.

This is when a friend or partner only contacts you with a small text or message to keep you hooked in.

For example, say you haven’t heard from John in a while, and you’re sick of making contact first. So you decide to live your life and stop being the first to message.

Then John sends you “What’s up?” after a few days.

Nothing of substance, just a short message. People with low self-esteem will think, “OMG, he misses me!”. Nope. If he missed you, he would make a real effort to see you.

His short message is a way of making sure you’re still interested without having to commit. Don’t let people “breadcrumb” you to keep you hanging onto something that isn’t there.

4. Your Partner Tries to Make You Jealous

One of the worst signs of a tumultuous relationship is when your partner tries to make you feel jealous on purpose. And they do it often.

These people are the worst to deal with.

I used to date a man – actually, we were engaged to be married at one point – who was very lookist.

He would always comment on other women’s appearances right in front of me.

I’m not talking about famous people, because most of us will say “Oh he/she/they are cute!” when we watch a movie or TV show with our partner. Celebrities are unattainable.

I’m talking about your partner commenting on “real-life” men or women.

When someone openly flirts or talks about how attractive someone else is, right in front of you, that’s a move on their part to “keep you in line”.

They want to make you insecure, to question your position in their life, and to compare yourself to others.

It is a form of emotional manipulation.

It’s a way to coerce you into being like that person, getting that “cute little body” or “hot red hair”.

The goal of this type of behavior is to break you down, little by little. It also indicates that your partner has the potential to wander when you’re not around.

Recommended read: 9 Relationship Red Flags You Should Never Ignore

5. Your Relationship Is Based on Sex

When a relationship first blossoms, there may be more physicality. When people start falling in love, they usually can’t keep their hands off of one another.

However, when your relationship consists of getting drunk or high, having sex, and them leaving you the next morning, you may want to consider the possibility that this person doesn’t want an actual relationship.

Also, this is one of the worst signs of a tumultuous relationship.

They may just want a casual relationship with all fun and no commitment.

Sex is an important part of a relationship but if this is all you do with each other, you’re not going to build a life together.

You’re just having all of the good times with none of the real stuff.

Remember, in a marriage or long-term relationship, there will be times when you don’t want to or can’t have sex – such as the postpartum period.

When you’re dating someone – and you’re looking for something long-term – it’s important to remember that you can’t base a relationship on sexual chemistry.

Eventually, this chemistry does fizzle. And if you’re not left with love at the end of the day, your relationship will also disintegrate.

6. You Use Sex to Resolve Your Arguments

We all know these types of couples. They fight. Then they use their bodies to talk and all of a sudden everything is great again—until the next blowout.

If you and your partner are fighting one minute and then making love the next, this is not a healthy relationship.

It’s a toxic one.

When we don’t discuss the problem that caused the fight in the first place and cover our feelings with lust, we are not solving anything.

We are just allowing the problems in our relationship to build-up.

This dynamic is typically seen in relationships that are based on sex where there is love between the couple, but they are both unhappy and can’t seem to let each other go.

While sex is an important part of a relationship, it should not be used to solve arguments or as a weapon to get what you want.

Sadly, many people equate sex with love.

However, in most cases, the most loving relationships don’t focus on lust, they’re built on mutual respect and trust.

7. Being With Your Partner Is Emotionally Exhausting

When you spend time with your partner, you should leave feeling good, happy, fulfilled—not drained.

The ideal situation when you start dating someone is that you’re both already whole emotionally.

However, in some toxic relationships, one person always seems to be fixing the other. Leading to a therapist-patient relationship and not a healthy, balanced union.

As mentioned in an article published in Psychology Today, you are not responsible for fixing someone else.

When we are made to feel responsible for this major task, it literally drains us.

When you’re spending time with your partner, pay attention to how you feel afterward. If their negativity is draining you, you may want to consider breaking things off.

Also, if a relationship begins with an unbalanced dynamic, it will certainly end this way.

If you find yourself feeling totally drained or negative after spending time with your partner – and you notice that your only role in their life is as a “fixer” – your partner should probably be seeking out a therapist instead of a relationship.

8. Your Partner Seems to Have a Lot of “Unstable” Exes

If you’re dating someone and discussing your past relationships, pay attention to how your partner talks about their exes.

If they seem to have a lot of “crazy” exes, there may be a reason for this.

Many times, unhealthy people attract unhealthy people.

In particular, emotional baggage is one of the top reasons for the demise of romantic relationships.

Even if this is not the case, when people call their exes crazy, they may have been doing something to make their exes act this way.

Many people use the term crazy to deflect their own behavior.

Was she crazy, or did she just want attention from him?

Many times, people will do anything to take attention off of their own negative behavior. In particular, this includes blaming the other person for why it didn’t work.

And this can be considered one of the worst signs of a tumultuous relationship.

9. Your Partner Hides Things From You or Lies a Lot

This is a red flag, actually, it’s a “mayday!” callout.

If you have caught your partner in lies early on, it’s a sign you should run the other way, ASAP.

Some people are not honest about who they are from the beginning and when they show you this, pay attention.

Typically, people who are emotionally immature will lie.

They started as little kids, lying about peeking at their Christmas gifts. Only they never grew out of these childish fibs.

Granted, there are different kinds of lies, like little white lies to save someone’s feelings. These are the ones someone says out of kindness, without the intention to hurt.

However, if you start noticing little lies or grandiose stories that seem to be deceptive, this is a definite red flag and you should dismiss yourself from being lied to.

If your partner starts off with being deceptive, they will probably never change.

Dishonesty is typically a hard personality trait to break. And as much as you may want them to be different, you can’t change a person into what you want them to be.


These signs may not be something you notice right away. However, as your dynamic with your partner begins to materialize, you will notice the little things — if you pay attention.

Sometimes we don’t want to recognize that a relationship is unhealthy; this happens because we want to see the best in this person, and we may even be falling in love with them.

However, you are doing yourself a great disservice if you settle for less than what you deserve.

Photo by Christian Sterk on Unsplash

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