Domestic Violence: Know the Warning Signs

Jenni Jacobsen

As the tragic case of the murder of Gabby Petito has dominated recent news headlines during the past few months, the topic of domestic violence has come to the forefront. News stories tell of multiple altercations between Petito and her fiancé Brian Laundrie, including one in which law enforcement was involved after a witness reported Laundrie was slapping Petito, and another in which onlookers observed Petito crying in a restaurant while Laundrie was visibly hostile toward staff.

While not every abusive relationship has such a tragic ending, the reality is that domestic violence can be deadly. In fact, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), shows that homicide is the 5th leading cause of death among women aged 20 to 44 in the United States, and unintentional injuries, which can in some cases be attributed to domestic violence, are the leading cause of death in this age group.

Domestic violence can place victims in serious danger, and while the abuse is never a victim's fault, there are early warning signs that can signify that a relationship is becoming abusive and has the potential to escalate to physical violence.

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Early warning signs in a relationship can indicate a risk of future physical violence.Petr Kurecka

Consider the warning signs of domestic violence below, which have been validated in research:

  1. High Degree of Monitoring: Early in a relationship, constant monitoring from a partner is a red flag for domestic violence. This may involve the partner constantly checking on your location, calling you multiple times per day to ask what you're doing, or checking your email or phone messages without your permission. While repeatedly calling may seem flattering in the beginning of a relationship, the reality is that an abusive partner who engages in this level of monitoring is attempting to control their victim, and ensure that they constantly know where the partner is and what they're doing.
  2. Showing Controlling Behavior: A partner who has a propensity for violence is likely to demonstrate controlling behaviors, such as telling their significant other where they can go, what they can do, and who they can see. Controlling behavior can involve preventing a partner from visiting with friends, telling them how to dress, or even stopping them from doing things they need to do, such as studying or going to work.
  3. Degrading the Partner: One common tactic of abusers is damaging their partner's self-esteem through degrading behavior, such as insults, negative remarks about their appearance, or criticisms that the partner cannot do anything correctly. This behavior is meant to eat away at the victim's self-esteem, which ultimately causes the victim to believe that they are to blame for the problems in the relationship.
  4. Aggressive Tendencies: Sometimes, victims will state that there isn't violence in the relationship, because their partner has never hit them, or has never laid hands on them. Unfortunately, physical violence is typically the last step in an abusive relationship, with threats of violence occurring before physical attacks become a part of the abuse. An abusive partner may intimidate the victim by threatening physical harm, yelling at the victim, displaying extreme anger, or destroying property. These are indicators that there is a high risk of future physical violence in the relationship.
  5. Extreme Jealousy: Abusers are often prone to excessive jealously and possessiveness, meaning they may accuse their victims of flirting with others or cheating, even when there is no evidence of such.

All of the above red flags are early warning signs that indicate a partner may become physically abusive. While the signs above may not seem abusive since they do not involve physical violence, they do constitute emotional or psychological abuse. A partner who engages in the behaviors above may become violent.

Many of the early warning signs of domestic violence are an attempt to control a victim and decrease the victim's sense of self-worth, so the victim is less able or less willing to leave the relationship when abuse escalates to physical violence.

If you or someone you love is in an abusive relationship, help is available. Visit the webpage of the National Domestic Violence Hotline or contact the hotline 24 hours per day, 7 days per week at 1-800-799-7233.

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Jenni Jacobsen is an Assistant Professor in a social sciences department at a small liberal arts college in central Ohio, and she has been producing content on relationships, mental health, addiction, and general health and wellness for over 10 years. Most of her content is on healthy relationships, relationship improvement, communication, resolving conflict in relationships, and the impact of mental illness and attachment styles on relationship satisfaction.

Ashland, OH
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