Signs of an abusive relationship

Content warning

This article discusses abuse.

If you’re currently in distress, please head to 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) for support.

It’s not always obvious that you’re in an abusive relationship. This article flags some of the key signs to look for when you’re in an abusive or controlling relationship. It’s common for someone who is being abused to believe that it’s their own fault and that they somehow ‘deserve’ the abuse. It’s important to know that you’re never to blame for the way an abusive person treats you.

This can help if:

  • your partner tries to control your behaviour.

  • your partner threatens to harm you, your pets or the people you love.

  • you’re scared of your partner 

  • you’re looking for safe ways on how to get out of an abusive want to know how to help someone in an abusive relationship.

young woman curiously looking out window

Key signs of an abusive relationship

An abusive relationship isn’t just limited to physical violence. It can include sexual, emotional and physical abuse, and may involve control of your finances. Here are some signs to look for.

Controlling and possessive behavior

  • They check on you all the time to see where you are, what you're doing and who you're with

  • They try to control where you go and who you see, and get angry if you don't do what they say.

Being unreasonably jealous

  • They accuse you of being unfaithful or of flirting

  • They isolate you from family and friends, often by behaving rudely to them.


  • They put you down, either publicly or privately, by attacking your intelligence, looks, mental health or capabilities

  • They constantly compare you unfavourably to others

  • They blame you for all the problems in your relationship, and for their violent outbursts

  • They say things like, 'No one else will want you.'


  • They yell or sulk, and deliberately break things that you value

  • They threaten to use violence against you, your family, friends or a pet.

Physical and sexual violence

Things you might feel in an abusive relationship

'My partner isn’t violent all the time – they love me'

Your violent partner may act lovingly towards you at other times and may truly feel sorry for their horrible behaviour. So it might be hard to stay angry and upset with them. However, there is quite a high chance that their violent behaviour will continue. Abusers can be incredibly charming people, especially if they’re trying to make you or others see them in a good light.

'Things will get better – they didn't mean to hurt me'

After a violent episode, it's common for both you and your abuser to try and downplay what happened with excuses, apologies or promises to change. You may feel embarrassed or scared to acknowledge what actually happened. Things might settle down for a bit, but it’s often only a matter of time before abuse happens again. It's very difficult to completely get rid of physical abuse in relationships, and any abusive behaviour, without professional help.

'It's so confusing – I'm sure it's a one-off'

If you’re experiencing abuse, things can feel really confusing, especially if it's your first relationship or if it is the first time your partner has shown abusive behaviour towards you. You might not be sure what to expect next. Abusers often try to influence your sense of what’s real, to make you feel confused or even that you’re going crazy. This is known as ‘gaslighting’. Statistically, though, if someone behaves violently once, they’re very likely to do it again.

'Maybe it's my fault'

You may begin to think that you’re to blame for your partner’s abusive behaviour. An abuser may excuse their behaviour by saying something like, 'It wouldn't have happened if you hadn’t…'. The truth is that no matter what you do, another person’s abusive behaviour is never your fault.

'I'm scared of what will happen if I leave them'

It’s not unusual to feel afraid of leaving your abuser. You might feel unsafe, or scared of what the person might do to you or themselves. You might also feel that you aren’t capable of making it on your own without them. It’s important to remember that there are people who can help you every step of the way.

Support options for people in abusive relationships

Click here to learn more about what you can do if you’re in an abusive relationship.

You can always call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), a free national hotline that provides information, referrals and counselling for domestic violence, family violence, and sexual assault. It’s available to call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

What can I do now?

  • Find out what you can do about domestic violence.

  • Want to chat with a peer worker who can listen to you and support you? Book a free, text-based session with ReachOut PeerChat.

  • Seek help from local support services.