If you have recently started dating someone new, you are probably focused on romantic dates and enjoying new experiences together. Thinking about red flags and watching out for abuse is probably the furthest thing from your mind. In fact, we rarely pay close attention to our partners’ behavior in the beginning of a relationship. We are so swept up in sweet words and the hope of new love that we will even overlook things that may otherwise concern us. And we rarely ever identify something our new love may do or say as even potentially abusive.
While we certainly want to be hopeful and optimistic in the beginning of any new relationship, it is also important to keep our eyes open and stay alert to potential warning signs. When we think of abuse, we often picture black eyes and other physical injuries. We think of the person who is being beaten by their partner and cowering in a corner. But, while abuse often does escalate to this level, it does not start out that way. In fact, abusive partners – in particular men – are often very charming, charismatic, and kind in the beginning of a relationship. An abuser will work to make you feel so appreciated and loved, you won’t even notice he is controlling you – sometimes, until it is too difficult to get away.
An abusive partner will often be overly romantic in the early stages of a relationship. He’s the guy who shows up with flowers and gushes about how beautiful you look. He may even be the most romantic man you have ever met. He will pay attention to you and make you feel special and wanted. He may ask lots of questions about you, and seem genuinely interested in your passions, hobbies, and friends. You may find yourself thinking that he is too good to be true – and that may be because he is. An abuser needs you to trust him and develop feelings for him, because it’s much easier to control someone who cares about you. He will make you feel like you are his entire world – because his goal is to make your world to revolve around him.
Of course, not all romantic men are abusive, and romance by itself is not a warning sign. But, when his romantic gestures are being used to cover up or distract you from more concerning behavior, it is definitely a red flag of more dangerous behavior to come. Some of the concerning behavior he may be trying to cover up includes his attempts to control you, which often starts off as jealousy. He may glare at other men for looking at you and ask a lot of questions about your male friends. You may see his jealousy as cute, or even a sign that he truly cares about you. But eventually, he may start to make you feel guilty for spending time with, or even talking about, anyone other than him. He may accuse you or flirting or cheating, and make you constantly explain where and with whom you have been. He will say he doesn’t want to lose you, because he has been cheated on in the past, or because he simply loves you so much, he can’t stand the thought of anyone else being near you. And soon, no one else will be.
An abusive partner will use romance and charm to get close to you, and then gradually push everyone else away. He will want to be your entire world. And soon, he will ask you to commit, so that he has even more control over you.
If these warning signs are happening in your relationship, even if he hasn’t hit you yet, please pay attention. Control, jealousy, and isolation are not love. And abusive behavior will not change – no matter how hard you try, or how much you love him. Eventually, the person who seems like your dream come true may become your worst nightmare.
You deserve to be safe and free. And you deserve real love, not manipulation and abuse. If you or someone you know is being abused, people are available to help, anytime, at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).