Recognize the warning signs of an abusive relationship.

No relationship is perfect. And, truth be told, many of us can do a better job. We can be nicer, more willing to compromise, and argue fairly even when fired up. However, an abusive relationship is NOT something that you "work on to make better."

It's usually best to get out of an abusive situation as soon as it's safe to do so, and you have a clear exit plan in place. (See the Resource List at the end of this step to get help).

Abuse can take many forms. It's usually defined as  "doing hurtful things to get power and control" over another human being. It violates a person's sense of trust and feeling of safety. Abuse is not only physical or sexual. It can be emotional, verbal, digital, or financial. Abusive partners are often very controlling, threatening, possessive, or violent.  

In many abusive relationships, a partner isn't abusive all of the time — the abuse often occurs in episodes that may be spaced far apart, between periods of joyful times in your relationship.

Wondering if your partner is mistreating or abusing you? Some of the common warning signs below might be helpful. Remember to trust your instincts. If you believe someone is abusing you or treating you badly, they probably are. And, remember, there's NEVER an excuse for this behavior. And, you should NEVER blame yourself.

Type of AbuseExamples and Warning Signs
  • Often criticizes you, puts you down
  • Yells at you, has an explosive temper
  • Threatens you
  • Often tells you what to do, tries to control your decisions
  • Extremely jealous
  • Extremely possessive
  • Demands an excessive amount of your time
  • Isolates you from family and friends
  • Accuses you of doing things you didn't do
  • Unreliable, cancels plans at last minute
  • Threatens to reveal your sexual orientation and/or gender identity without your permission
  • Frequently lies to you
  • Engages in "gaslighting" (makes it seem like the problem is all your fault or that you're over-reacting)
  • "Guilt-tripping" combined with threats, such as "I'll kill myself if you leave me"
  • Pressures you to engage in sexual activity
  • Threatens you if don't engage in sexual activity
  • Forces you to engage in sexual activity (without your consent), including rape 
  • Forces you to engage in sexual activity when you are asleep, intoxicated or under influence of drugs (without your consent)
  • Pressures or forces you to engage in unsafe/unprotected sex (without birth control and/or condoms)
  • Pressures you to become pregnant or end a pregnancy when you don't want to
  • Engages in "stealthing" (takes off the condom during sex without your consent)
  • Lies about sexual health status (For example, doesn't disclose that they have an STI that can be transmitted to a partner)
  • Uses any physical force against you, such as hitting, punching, beating, pushing, kicking, shooting or stabbing
  • Makes threats of physical violence
  • Stalks you
  • Constantly calls or texts you
  • Tries to monitor where you are and who you are with (digital stalking)
  • Demands constant contact and quick replies to messages/posts
  • Sends unwanted, controlling, and threatening messages
  • Demands your passwords
  • Posts your private photos, messages, and information without your permission
  • Harasses you via social media channels, including posting "revenge porn"

It can be tough to recognize and admit that you are in an abusive relationship. It can also be tough to decide to leave a relationship, even if it's abusive. But remember, it's not usually possible to fix someone who is mistreating you.

If you are wondering whether your relationship is abusive, you can contact a professional organization or hotline that specializes in these issues. Many organizations — located throughout the country — can provide valuable support. And, they can help you deal with the situation, and create a safe exit plan before you take action. However, if you are in immediate danger, call 911.

You can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or have an online chat with a specialist at Specialists are available 24 hours a day/7 days a week, and it's confidential. Or, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) to get support and advice. Young people can also go to, call 1-866-331-9474, or text LOVEIS TO 22522.

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