No matter how happy someone looks on the outside, it’s impossible to know the hardships they’ve been through. Abuse in dating can affect anyone, even the happiest couple you know, which is why it’s important to talk about. Even if you never experience it, it’s still good to understand what kinds of abuse exist to look for warning signs in others.
What Does Abuse in Dating Look Like?
Unfortunately, abuse can take on many different forms. Which means it can look very different from what you’d expect. Not every form of abuse involves physical violence. A lot of abuse happens without the abuser lifting a finger.
No matter what kind of abuse you’re facing, power and control are bound to be at the center of it.
Types of Abuse in Dating
There are more types of abuse than you might think. Most of them don’t involve violence which can make it harder to see the signs, especially if you don’t want to see them in the first place.
The most obvious form of abuse is physical abuse. This abuse involves black eyes and long sleeves in 90-degree weather. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been severely physically abused by their significant other.
Not all forms of physical abuse are necessarily violent, though. Driving recklessly can also fall under physical abuse, along with restraining someone against their will or even invading someone’s personal space. One-off events due to circumstances may not indicate abuse, but it’s smart to be on the lookout for repeated actions.
Anything that makes you feel purposefully unsafe can be considered physical abuse.
Verbal abuse can be harder to break away from. Your partner may treat you well enough, especially in public, but they use words to tear you down behind closed doors. Telling you how awful you are, how lucky you are to have them because no one else could love you, etc. Trauma caused by verbal abuse can take years or even decades to heal.
Just because it isn’t physical doesn’t mean it’s not abuse.
Psychological abuse is a similar type of abuse to verbal. A psychological abuser may not just stop at words to tear down your sense of self, though. They will also often do everything they can to isolate you and make you totally dependent on them, all while gaslighting you and making you doubt your sanity.
It can be hard to call out this type of abuse because by the time you realize what’s happening, you could already doubt yourself and whether anyone would even believe you.
Psychological abuse isn’t limited to just verbal insults. It can also include subtle actions that make you question your judgment.
Financial abuse in dating happens when one person in a relationship controls all finances. Whether you have your own income or not, they find a way to take over and cut off your access to your own money. In severe cases, they will make you go to them for everything, from putting gas in your car to even feeding yourself. You won’t be able to pay a single cent without their knowledge and approval.
Other types of financial abuse can also mean they’re racking up debts in your name—opening credit cards, coercing you into co-signing loans or mortgages, etc. Even if you have your own income, you may have to spend it all to pay off their debts to avoid your credit being ruined.
Financial abuse is one of the most controlling forms of abuse. It often gets written off because it’s “not that bad” compared to verbal or physical abuse.
Sexual abuse in dating can be related to physical abuse. The most obvious form of sexual abuse is someone forcing their partner to commit sexual acts against their will. That isn’t the only form, though. It can also be things like withholding sex or using it to judge their partner. Telling them they’re only good for sex or, on the flip side, belittling them for not being good enough.
However the abuse manifests, it can make all intimacy feel one-sided. It’s hard to initiate anything on your terms because they’ll reject or turn it against you. Not participating when they initiate is pretty much out of the question.
If they have to force you to do something, they’ve made it clear they don’t care about what you want.
Digital abuse is a newer form of abuse. It involves technology and controlling your online presence. When dealing with digital abuse, an abuser may take physical control of your access to the internet and phone. They may also monitor how/ when you use either to control what websites you can access or which people you can talk to.
They may use the internet themselves to belittle you online or track you. Some abusers even go so far as to give you technology with tracking devices pre-installed so they can see exactly what you’re up to without your consent.
Digital abuse can be anything that involves controlling or tracking you via technology.
Whenever you’re having a conflict with someone, no matter what it is over, it never hurts to keep a record of what happens. It is especially important to have a record when dealing with abuse in dating.
When dealing with an abusive relationship, you absolutely want to have some record of the abuse. Whether that means:
- Writing in a diary
- Taking notes on your phone
- Taking photos
- Taking videos
- Seeking medical attention, even for non-visible injuries
Whatever you need to do to keep the details fresh.
It will be painful to document everything, but having a record is important so you never have to doubt what they’ve done. No matter what they say or how they try to wiggle out of any blame, you’ll have proof.
Make an Exit Plan
Building a healthy relationship after someone abuses their partner is nigh impossible. Even if they change their behavior, trauma is still to be overcome. It especially won’t be easy to process what happened to you while still with your abuser. Which means having an exit plan is a must.
Leaving someone you care about is never easy. That doesn’t mean tolerating the pain they cause you, especially when they’re doing it on purpose. You deserve better than that, and hopefully, your leaving is the wake-up call they need to change their ways.
You are your first priority. Do what you need to do to keep yourself safe.
Even when a relationship isn’t abusive, it’s not necessarily healthy, which is why it’s a good idea to read up on toxic relationships.
If you cannot make a plan on your own or need some help, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline. They’re available 24/7 and can help you figure out the best step forward for your specific situation.
They have a website with a live chat feature or a hotline that is always available. You can call 1-800-799-7233 or even just text “Start” to 88788.
They can also help you get local support wherever you are, so please don’t feel like you need to go it alone. You deserve better.
What advice would you give to someone in an abusive or toxic relationship?