Am I Dating an Abuser?

One way to address intimate partner abuse is to assist and support people during and after abuse. Another way is to inform people of the early warning signs of a possible abuser.

Abusers can be quite clever at hiding their abusiveness, particularly in the early days of a relationship but they can not totally hide their true natures. Many survivors say that the abuse didn’t start until six or more months after the relationship began. However, there almost certainly were warning signs from the beginning.

Being aware of warning signs that a person may be an abuser can help you make a conscious choice about whether to move forward with the relationship or at least let you know what questions to ask to determine if you want to continue the relationship. This list is not a formula or a recipe or complete, it alone can not determine whether someone is or might be an abuser. In the end you have to make your own decision about the relationship, but after considering this list you can make a more informed decision.

There are three categories of warning signs. One category is Alert Signals which are characteristics related to abusive behavior. The second category, Warning Signals, is abusive behaviors. The behaviors and characteristics of these first two categories do not necessarily mean a person is an abuser, but they need to be considered and explored before committing to a relationship. A third category is Serious Flaws. If a person has any one of these characteristics, think very, very carefully about proceeding with a relationship.

Alert Signals

  • Has a history of animal abuse
  • Has a fascination with weapons, such as guns or knives; may have a collection of weapons or read weapon magazines
  • Witnessed violence as a child between adults, especially between parents or parental figures
  • Holds negative stereotypes of gay, bisexual or transgender men
  • Has a history of intense, but short-term relationships

Warning Signals

  • Wants to formalize the relationship too quickly; wants to be exclusive, get married or move in together before you really know each other
  • Speaks disrespectfully of former partners or dates
  • May lavish praise on you, but at the same time or soon into the relationship begins to treat you disrespectfully; puts you down; doesn’t treat your thoughts and feelings with respect; doesn’t listen; criticizes you
  • Shows signs of strong possessiveness or unreasonable jealousy; wants to know your plans, what you’ve been doing and with whom
  • Does favors for you that you don’t want or puts on such a show of generosity that it makes you uncomfortable; showers you with gifts or is too lavish in paying for dating activities
  • Seeks to take control, or does take control, of decision-making regarding the relationship (for example, asks what you want to do on the first date, tells you what you are doing for the second date); does not respond well to negotiating decisions
  • Is easily angered; uses intimidation when angered; may break or damage objects
  • Tries to control you or your behavior; starts giving you orders
  • Maintains that nothing is his/her fault, blames others; may blame you
  • Is particularly self-centered; has difficulty understanding other people’s points of view; chronically shifts the topic of conversation back to himself/herself
  • Pressures you for sex or pressures you for sex in ways you do not want and has trouble accepting a “No” or “Not now”; uses unwanted “playful” force in sex and doesn’t respect your boundaries
  • Treats you one way in private (more negatively) and another in public (more positively)
  • Has Jekyll (“Mr./Ms. Nice”) and Hyde (“Mr./Ms. Nasty”) sides to his/her personality
  • Wants to be with you all the time and alone – without family or friends
  • Is violent, belligerent or aggressive when using drugs or alcohol

Serious Flaws

  • A criminal record that involves violence; current involvement in criminal activities, especially violent activities
  • Abuse of a prior partner or date
  • Acts of violence against people other than partners, such as strangers or the police; brags about hurting people
  • Current abuse of an animal or a person, such as a parent or roommate
  • A diagnosis of a serious personality disorder, particularly Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder or Anti-social Personality Disorder
  • Current serious drug or alcohol overuse
  • Any physical assault of you or your property, no matter how mild

Verbal abuse needs to be singled out as an important early warning sign. Verbal abuse – such as put downs, frequent criticism, demeaning names or comments – usually appears first before other forms of abuse. Sometimes this abuse is masked as a form of “loving” behavior such as playfulness or suggestions for improvement. It may signal partner abuse or it may just be abusiveness but either way, take care.

Again, no one of these signs tells you whether an individual is a possible abuser. But all of these signs should be seriously considered when entering a relationship. In a healthy relationship they would be discussed by the partners. If your date can not or will not reasonably discuss these issues and accept your boundaries – be warned.

Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s worth taking a closer look at the relationship. Discussing the relationships with someone objective, such as a Client Advocate with the Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project, may be helpful.

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