Learning Relationship Red Flags: What to Look Out For

Partners in a relationship can experience domestic abuse in various forms, and learning how to recognize toxic relationship red flags is crucial. While signs may be difficult to detect, over time an abusive partner will unveil numerous red flags. There are various red flags individuals in a relationship should look out for, so the likelihood of avoiding a much more serious situation can be avoided.

What Is Intimate Partner Abuse?

Intimate Partner Abuse is a type of domestic abuse that can appear in many forms, but ultimately one partner utilizes various mechanisms to gain control or manipulate the other partner. There are instances when one or both partners actively abuse each other in one or more ways. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. For one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men. 

The legal definition of “domestic abuse” under Minnesota’s Domestic Abuse Act encompasses abuse of one household member by another household member or former household member, including, spouses, unmarried couples, children, and even roommates. It also includes abuse between any persons related by blood. However, the types of abuse included in the legal definition are limited to a present intention to inflict physical harm, bodily injury, or assault, or to inflict a fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, or assault. Obtaining an  Order for Protection (OFP) requires a claim that abuse that meets the legal definition has occurred. 

However, practically speaking, abuse covers a broad spectrum of behaviors and actions. There are a few most recognized types of abuse that occur in partnerships, marriages, and long-term relationships.

  • Emotional: The abuser places the victim in constant denial of any thoughts, feelings, and emotions. This can appear in the form of invasions of privacy, criticism, name-calling, preventing contact with friends and family, and even withholding of approval or support.
  • Psychological: Usually, a combination of emotional and verbal abuse occurs in psychological abuse, meaning many of the signs are similar. This can appear in the form of playing mind games, refusing to socialize, ignoring, and threatening to take children.
  • Verbal: The abuser may practice some verbal abuse in private, but it’s common that they also aren’t afraid to make statements in public settings. This can appear in the form of small, repetitive comments to loud, angry shouting that is meant to belittle the victim.
  • Physical: One of the most common and blatant forms of abuse is physical, and it can quickly lead to an assortment of physical and mental health issues. Physical abuse can appear in many ways, from pushing and strangling to food deprivation and slapping.
  • Sexual: Physical, psychological, and emotional abuse are all intertwined in sexual abuse, making it very complicated. Sexual abuse can occur in both short and long-term relationships, regardless of marital status. Sexual abuse usually appears in the form of forcing unwanted sexual acts, forcing any sexual act using guilt, coercion, or manipulation, and withholding sex to hurt or punish someone. However, there are many more types of sexual abuse, such as sexual criticism, anger, jealousy, and publicly showing interest in others.

Honeymoon Phase

It’s common for abusers to begin a relationship with an overabundance of love and charm, whether through professing undying love for the victim, moving the relationship along more quickly than usual, or placing the victim on a pedestal. Regardless of the approach, it is the abuser’s goal to forge an instantaneous bond with the victim, so the victim feels the relationship is healthy and normal. This is a form of manipulation called love bombing. Relationships aren’t meant to feel like a race, and it can be a red flag if one partner is pushing the other to the next stage without both agreeing to  the transition. Setting and adapting to changed boundaries is part of a healthy relationship, but if  one partner continually tries to cross or push boundaries, this may also present a red flag. A partner who attempts to control whom the other partner speaks to or spends time with can also be a sign of an abusive relationship.

Blame Shifting

Abusers rarely take responsibility for their words or actions. Instead, these individuals push the blame to someone else. Even if they are clearly at fault, the abuser will never admit to any wrongdoing. They may even state that someone else made them do it, so all fault is dismissed from their character. Along with blame shifting, an abuser is also likely to refuse to take responsibility for their actions. 

Glimpses of Anger

When entering an abusive relationship, many are unaware that they are in such a relationship  until it’s too late. It isn’t likely for an abuser to show their full anger potential right away, meaning, early on in the relationship, the victim will only see glimpses of their partner’s anger here and there. This anger can either be toward an outside individual or the victim, but it’s  common that the abuser is apologetic and loving shortly following an anger  episode. It’s encouraged to observe what surrounding family and friends think of a partner, as more times than not, outside perspectives help those in a relationship see factors that might not have been recognized before. Finally, observing a partner’s behavior towards other people is vital. Everyone has bad days, but it could show how the relationship may be in the future if they treat others rudely.


This psychological tactic can occur in both intimate and non-intimate relationships. Gaslighting refers to creating a situation to make another feel like their reality isn’t authentic or their perceptions are incorrect. Over time, the victim fully believes their abuser and no longer trusts their own interpretations. Gaslighting can appear in many forms, from trivializing how one feels to hiding important objects and denying having any knowledge about it.

Lack of Empathy

An abusive partner may display a lack of empathy, whether through not having the ability to put themselves in another’s shoes or understanding another individual’s feelings. This is common in abusers, as many are devoid of empathy altogether. Along with a lack of empathy, abusive partners also have difficulty apologizing. This struggle goes hand in hand with not taking responsibility for one’s actions. If a partner has trouble admitting fault, the future relationship can be extremely challenging.

Jekyll and Hyde

Entering a new relationship can be exciting, and many couples go through a honeymoon stage. However, each partner must observe how the other acts in public versus behind closed doors. Usually, one of the most common signs of an abusive relationship is how someone can change in each of these scenarios. An abuser will usually treat a victim poorly behind closed doors while acting loving and attentive in public.

Repeated Lying

If one partner suspects the other of lying frequently, this could be a sign of an abusive relationship. Abusers lie to their partners regularly, as this is just their way of life. Commonly, the abuser may have trouble remembering each lie they tell, resulting in many more lies to back up the original. Frequent lying can also be a sign that this individual has something to hide. While each partner in a relationship has a right to privacy, becoming overly possessive of a phone or other electronic device could mean something is being hidden.

Condescending and “Joking”

While many involved in a relationship can be condescending like during an argument, an abusive individual will incorporate this nature into everyday life. Abusive individuals will continually insult the victim and belittle their intelligence. Insults can be focused on the victim’s appearance, family, or friends, and if the victim reacts, the abuser may state the victim is hypersensitive, and they’re only joking.

What to Do if These Red Flags Exist?

It’s incredibly important for each partner in a relationship to be knowledgeable and aware of red flags in a relationship that may indicate abuse. However, experiencing a few red flags may not indicate an abusive relationship as the other partner may not be aware of their actions. If one identifies any red flags or points of concern, it’s best to attempt to discuss the situation with the other partner. This will allow them to make a change and try to improve. If the occurrences still continue, it may be time to seek guidance from a counselor or an attorney experienced in divorce and domestic abuse.

Next Steps

Intimate Partner Abuse can quickly encompass someone’s life, and the victim must be aware the abuse is never their fault. Those involved in a relationship with domestic violence are encouraged to reach out for support as soon as possible to avoid physical harm..  An Order for Protection (OFP) won’t be able to address all forms of abuse. However, that does not mean there aren’t other ways to safely and successfully exit an abusive relationship. Whether it’s filing an OFP or simply ending the relationship, many resources can be accessed and utilized by the general public.

This article contains general legal information and does not provide legal advice. For legal advice, please contact M. Sue Wilson Law Offices directly.