Identifying an abusive relationship

Happy Friday, everyone! And, of course – Happy Small Lights Friday! It’s the first Friday of autumn, so I hope everyone is sipping their pumpkin spice coffee and wearing their maroon cardigans!

I thought today would be the perfect opportunity to talk about how we can be Small Lights for the people in our lives who might be struggling in a toxic relationship. I’m sure everyone has been following the devastating news regarding Gabby Petito. Losing her was entirely preventable. A lot of women in toxic relationships do not realize it’s unhealthy. Often, it isn’t until we’ve stepped away from a toxic partner when we truly begin to recognize the behavior. Of course, by then, we may have suffered greatly at the hands of an abusive partner. 

Let’s go over what makes a toxic relationship, and what we can do to be Small Lights for people in need. I will be utilizing Love is Respect for the bulk of my sources in this article.


Contrary to popular belief, your partner does not have to hit you for your relationship to be abusive. There are all different manners of manipulation and force that are employed against a victim of domestic violence. There is physical abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse, and stalking.

Before we dive into details, let’s take a look at some very chilling statistics. From the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:

Physical abuse

This is the type of abuse most people associate with toxic relationships. Hitting, pushing, shoving, or holding you down are all examples. It is also physically abusive if your partner keeps you in control using physical force even if it’s not directed at you. Backing you into a corner and punching the wall next to you is an example of this.

The most important piece of information you need to take from this is regarding strangulation. If a partner ever chokes you, studies show the chances of your partner attempting or completing a homicide increase 6 fold. I can speak directly to this – I am only alive today because several people warned me of my ex-partner’s plan (he was a chatty, violent idiot). Please, if your partner ever puts their hands on your neck, please recognize this as a massive red flag.

Verbal and Emotional abuse

An extremely common form of controlling and abusing one’s partner, this can take many forms. It can be insults, telling you what to wear, intentionally embarrassing you, or constant “checking in,” AKA a barrage of unwanted texts while you’re out with your friends, or even just out of their line of sight. Emotional abuse can look like withholding affection, gaslighting, or making you feel guilty for not wanting to have sex. None of these behaviors are okay and all of them, together or alone, are unhealthy norms in a relationship. 

Your partner should be loving and supportive, should listen to you when you speak, and should take everything you say seriously, because you are valid. Even in moments of anger, there is no excuse to disrespect or belittle your partner. 

Financial Abuse

This type of abuse isn’t discussed often and is a much more subtle form of toxicity. I can speak from experience how demoralizing this abuse can be. It can take the form of an allowance of your own money, preventing you from working – either through verbal manipulation or literally taking your car keys, or harassing your coworkers.

For me, it took the form of documentation. Every dime “spent on me” was documented and my ex-partner kept a running tab of what I owed him. (After I broke up with him, he tried to have me charged with identity theft. Again, a stupid, violent idiot).

Sexual Abuse 

We know the main definition of sexual abuse. Forced or coerced sex, unwanted touching and kissing. It can also take the form of removing a condom during sex, or refusing to use protection. Sexual abuse leaves lifelong marks on a person. Take a moment to read about informed consent. 


Stalking has its obvious definition as well, but there is a little more to it than just following you around: It can also mean using other people to find out about what you are up to or where you are. It can mean damaging your car, or showing up to your work unannounced. 

Well. That was exhausting.

Now that we’ve defined the different types of abuse- a truly exhausting list to go through, let’s talk about how we can help!


It sounds daunting, doesn’t it? Reaching out to a friend or loved one to try and help them – especially when it’s likely they are not actively seeking help. I struggle with this. Thankfully, this website has fantastic information. Everyone’s situation is different and the levels and types of abuse are unique to each individual. According to Love is Respect, while it’s important to recognize and factor in the uniqueness of any given relationship, there are some universally acceptable means of helping:

  • First and foremost, do not be afraid of asking someone you might think is in need of help. Do not attack their abusive partner (as much as you want to); it is important to center the conversation around their safety.
  • Be supportive, listen, and honor their decisions – even if they choose to remain in the relationship. It is incredibly difficult to navigate – let alone end – an abusive relationship. In fact, the most dangerous time for a woman in a domestic violence situation is when she is attempting to leave.
  • Help create a safety plan. Ask them how they would like you to respond in a crisis, ask them who to contact and be sure to ask if they want the police involved.
  • Help them make copies of important documents in case any are stolen (social security cards, ID cards, birth certificate, etc).
  • Document the abuse as much as possible. Dates and descriptions will be helpful in the event your friend would like to seek help.

At the top of the article, I mentioned Gabby Petito. We lost her to domestic violence. We lose women every day to domestic violence. While we’re on the subject, there is one more statistic I would like to address.


Native American women are murdered at a rate that sometimes reaches ten times the average number. It’s not just murder. Rape, assault, and abduction all have sky-high numbers. Why are these women not getting the national attention they deserve? The Missing White Woman Syndrome is very real. As a country, we need to address this epidemic. It is an epidemic. 

Losing any woman to domestic violence is a tragedy, especially considering that these deaths can certainly be preventable. This is what I want everyone to take away from this piece. All women are deserving of a peaceful life, and of justice when their peace is disturbed. Visit MMIW Texas to see what you can do right now, today, on Small Lights Friday. Justice for Gabby, and justice for every woman who experiences violence.

Talk about this with your friends and be a part of the solution.

Happy Friday, stay safe, and be well.

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