Identify Dating Abuse

What Is It?

angry aggressive teen boyfriend with teen girlfriend
jealous, controlling boyfrend text messages

An abusive partner may not always be abusive, which is why teens sometimes can't discern that they are, in fact, in an unhealthy relationship.

In addition to moments of affection or loving behavior, an abusive partner may also exhibit extreme jealousy, seek to control what you do and who you talk to, be physically forceful or aggressive, be hypercritical of you, insist on access to your social media or text messages, want to track your location, tease you in ways that are hurtful or embarrassing and many other things that are not okay.

These kinds of behaviors are all about power and control and it's a common misconception that if they don't hurt you physically that it's not dating abuse or an unhealthy relationship.

Young people with little dating experience may think controlling, manipulative behavior is acceptable. When you're first dating and have little to compare your experience to, some of these behaviors can look normal, under the premise that a partner loves you and they are just worried about losing you. What they are actually worried about is losing CONTROL of you.

But to be very clear, love is never about controlling, manipulating, shaming or hurting someone. Those have no place in a healthy relationship and nobody deserves abuse, no matter what.

Read more about abusive behaviors in the sections below...

Verbal Abuse

Verbal abuse, which is also a form of emotional abuse, can sometimes be difficult to identify because the damage is internal. There are no physical marks or scars, just a broken spirit and a damaged sense of self-esteem. The use of words to punish or hurt is a very covert attempt to control and regardless of how loving your partner may appear to be, verbal abuse really does cause harm and it's never okay, regardless of the reason or excuse. If your partner says hurtful things that upset you and then claims "you're too sensitive" or that you "can't take a joke" or they are "just trying to help you", those are red flags. Click below for more info...

Examples of Verbal Abuse

1. Being called names by your partner. Any negative form of name calling is unacceptable. There are names that are obviously abusive. Then there are the covert, veiled attempts to put you down that are trickier to identify. Verbal abusers love to use "constructive criticism" to put you down. If your partner is constantly criticizing you, “for your own good,” be careful. This is the most insidious form of verbal abuse.

2. Using words to shame. Critical, sarcastic, mocking words meant to put you down, when you are alone, or in front of others. These may be comments about the way you dress, talk or your intelligence. They are intended to make you feel inferior and ashamed.

3. Yelling, swearing and screaming. This is called the “walking on eggs shells” syndrome because you are spending time with someone who can go verbally ballistic over any little thing.

4. Using threats to intimidate. No threat should be taken lightly, even if your partner says they're only joking, especially if it causes you to change behaviors or to feel on guard in the relationship. The verbal abuser wants to cause feelings of fear in you because it makes you easier to control. There is no better way to manipulate and control someone than inducing fear.

5. Blaming the victim. Your partner gets explosively angry and then blames you for their actions and behavior — if only you were better in every way! No matter what happens, the abuser will find a way to blame you. 

6. Your feelings are dismissed. Your partner refuses to discuss things that upset you. They avoid discussion of any topic where they might have to take responsibility for their behavior. Instead they may tell you you're oversensitive, overly dramatic, a crybaby or imagining things.

7. You wonder why you feel so bad. You suppress your feelings, walk on eggshells and work so hard at keeping the peace that every day is emotionally exhausting. You feel depressed and even wonder if you are crazy. You're turning your anguish inward and punishing yourself for your abuser's bad behavior.

8. Manipulating your actions. The persistent and intense use of threatening and demeaning words to get you to do something you may not want to do. This form of verbal abuse is common at the end of a relationship. If your partner doesn’t want to break up (and they rarely do) they will say whatever it takes to manipulate your emotions and get you to stay in the relationship.

9. Your self-esteem is non-existent. The verbal abuser wants you to doubt yourself, your ability to make decisions and your own opinion. Being with someone who criticizes you constantly will destroy your self-esteem. 

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Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is more than just verbal insults. Emotional abuse is a series of repeated behaviors that may include a pattern of insults, criticisms, aggressive demands, unreasonable expectations, threats, extreme jealousy and possessiveness, accusations, digital or physical stalking, emotional manipulation and control, isolation, guilt-tripping, threats of suicide or gaslighting. Emotional and verbal abuse are often the precursors to physical abuse but emotional abuse can take a greater psychological toll on a victim and take much longer to recover from. Click below to learn more about these behaviors...

Examples of Emotional Abuse

1. Your partner criticizes you relentlessly and makes you feel like you are stupid, unattractive and inept.

2. Your partner is extremely jealous and possessive and constantly accuses you of cheating or wanting to cheat.

3. Your partner tells mean, inappropriate or demeaning jokes at your expense and intentionally embarrasses you in front of other people.

4. Your partner tries to control every move and decision you make right down to who you are allowed to associate with and what you're allowed to wear.

5. Your partner will deny things you know to be true and tells you that you're imagining things or that you are crazy, also known as gaslighting.

6. Your partner threatens to harm you, your family, friends or pets if you ever leave him.

7. Your partner says or implies that your dreams, goals and accomplishments are stupid or insignificant and you will never succeed at anything so don't even bother trying

8. Your partner shares or threatens to share your secrets or intimate photos/videos with others.

9. Your partner tracks your location and movements via your cell phone and social media.

10. Your partner accuses you of things that are obviously untrue and seems to enjoy your getting upset and trying to defend yourself.

11. Your partner threatens suicide if he gets the impression you may want to leave the relationship.

12. Your partner makes you feel guilty about wanting to see your friends and family, or doing anything without them.

13. Your partner makes you feel like you aren’t good enough for them and tells you that you're just lucky they still want you because nobody else ever will.

14. Your partner constantly calls, texts or even shows up wherever you are to see who you are with and what you’re doing.

15. Your partner wants access to your phone, text messages and social media and digitally stalks you.

16. You partner will say something nice about you one day and then insult or criticize you for the very same thing the next day. This keeps you confused and off balance so you are more easily controlled and manipulated.

17. Your partner constantly engages you when you're not around but shows little interest in any meaningful communication when you are together.

18. Your partner contradicts himself regularly and is rarely open or honest about anything.

19. Your partner gives you tiny crumbs of kindness, genuine affection or the rare compliment, usually just enough to give you hope that they will start treating you right.

20.  Your partner promises to stop his abusive behaviors, only to repeat the same cycle all over, again and again.

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Physical Abuse

Physical and sexual abuse are typically easier to identify but to clarify...any physical or sexual behavior that causes harm, crosses your personal boundaries or you are coerced into is abusive and often against the law. Forcing you to do anything physical that you don't want to do, touching or kissing you, even romantically, when you clearly do not want them to, coercing or nagging you to take drugs or drink alcohol when you don't want to and of course, hitting, hurting, restraining or physically degrading you in any capacity are all abusive behaviors. Period. You have the absolute right to not be touched or hurt. Click below to learn more...

Examplesof Physical Abuse

1. Scratching, punching, slapping, biting, or kicking

2. Throwing things at you

3. Pulling your hair

4. Spitting on you

5. Pushing, shoving or pulling you

6. Grabbing your clothing

7. Using a weapon to threaten or harm you

8. Smacking your butt without your consent

9. Forcing you to have sex or perform a sexual act

10. Grabbing your face to make you look at them

11. Grabbing you to prevent you from leaving

12. Grabbing you to force you to go somewhere

13. Unwanted touching and kissing

14. Restraining you against your will

15. Strangling or grabbing by the neck

16. Badgering you for nude photos

17. Taking sexual videos or photos without consent

18. Forcing you to have unprotected sex

19. Coercing you to use alcohol or drugs

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Early Warning Signs of an Abuser

Some signs don't become apparent until you are already well into a relationship but there are a few things that you may observe early on that are strong red flags and shouldn't be ignored:

A Push for Quick Involvement
This may be taken as a sign of your potential partner being extremely interested in you but pushing hard to date or have sex before you really know each other is a red flag.

Subscribes to Rigid Gender Roles
If a potential partner has strong feelings against feminists or alludes to the idea that women should be subservient to men or be "in the kitchen where they belong", this is a red flag.

Sudden Mood Swings
If a potential partner is fine one minute and the next they are visibly angry or lose their temper over little things, think twice about getting involved. Mood swings and anger management issues are red flags.

Animal Abuse
Studies show a definitive link between antagonizing or abusing animals and relationship abuse. If a potential partner is antagonistic, cruel or abusive to animals, they may abuse you, as well. Do not ignore this red flag.


Digital Abuse

Digital abuse is a common form of abuse and control that involves harassing a victim through their digital devices. This can include constant texts demanding to know where you are, who you are with and what you are doing; anger and accusations if you don't respond fast enough; harassment through social media or threats to post or share private or embarrassing photos, videos or text messages.

More than half of all teens who experience digital abuse will also be physically abused by their partner.

Most abusive relationships display a distinct pattern, known as the Cycle of Abuse. Typically, the abuse becomes more frequent and severe and the Honeymoon Phase becomes shorter and shorter, and sometimes even disappears completely. Download a PDF copy


Stalking is yet another form of abuse and can happen both digitally or in real life. Every year in the United States, 3.4 million people are stalked and girls between the ages of 18-24 experience the highest rates. It's a common assumption that stalkers are strangers, but in reality, three out of four victims are stalked by someone they know.

If you are in immediate danger, call 911 and report everything that’s happened to the police. The police can help you get an order of protection (also known as a restraining order) that makes it illegal for the stalker to come near you or contact you.

It's critical that you SAVE evidence such as:

  • Text messages
  • Social media posts & DM's
  • Voicemails
  • Letters, photos and cards
  • Unwanted items or gifts
  • Social media friend requests
  • Call logs
  • Emails
  • Videos

You should also keep a detailed journal of the times, places and dates all incidents occurred. Include the names and contact information of people who may have witnessed what happened.

Experts advise cutting off all ALL CONTACT with a stalker. Block them on your phone and on all social media and if they come to your house, do not answer. Ask your friends and family not to engage with the stalker.

Being stalked is traumatic and you may feel stressed, scared and anxious or have trouble sleeping or concentrating at school. Make sure you tell your family and friends (and school administrators, if applicable) what is happening and develop a safety plan. You can download one here.