Signs of relationship abuse and what to do

October 03, 2023 | by NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health

You chose them because they were kind, respectful and caring — at first. But their behavior has changed. This person isn’t the person you thought they were. You feel scared, isolated, helpless. Has your relationship become abusive?

More than 1 in 3 women, more than 1 in 4 men, and 1 in 2 transgender individuals in the U.S. have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Relationship abuse, also known as domestic violence or intimate partner violence (IPV), is a pattern of behaviors used to maintain power and control over a partner in an intimate relationship. It can happen to anyone at any age and at any point in the relationship.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and an opportunity to recognize the signs of relationship abuse and how to get help. 

Warning signs of abuse

The foundation of abusive relationships is control. It may start with verbal abuse. An abuser may begin to track your every move or accuse you of being unfaithful. They may restrict your access to friends and family and control money. They may become physically violent.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline lists some common signs of abusive behavior in a partner:

  • Telling you that you never do anything right
  • Showing jealousy of your friends and time spent away
  • Keeping you/discouraging you from spending time with others
  • Insulting, demeaning or shaming you with put-downs
  • Controlling household finances, taking/refusing to give you money
  • Insulting your parenting or threatening to harm or take away your children or pets
  • Intimidating you through threatening looks or actions
  • Intimidating you with guns, knives or other weapons
  • Pressuring you to have sex when you don’t want to or aren’t comfortable
  • Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol
  • Destroying your property or belongings
  • Preventing you from making your own decisions

How to help yourself or a friend/family member

For many people who experience abuse at the hands of a partner, leaving isn’t easy. On average, it takes an average of seven times for a victim to leave before leaving permanently, due to barriers and fears.

There are many reasons why a victim might stay in an abusive relationship, from a fear of heightened violence to a belief that they, the victim, are to blame. It can be incredibly difficult to leave, so how do you take that first step?

If you notice any signs of abuse in your own relationship or if you think a loved one may be in trouble, it helps to be prepared in case you or your loved one need to leave quickly. One way is to prepare ahead with a “go bag” and a safety plan. Learn other ways to support a domestic violence survivor.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, 24/7 help is available at 877-863-6338 (Illinois Domestic Violence 24/7 Helpline).

Health system resources

Domestic violence survivors can also access the followingNorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health resources:

  • Swedish Hospital and NorthShore (847-570-2203) offer the Pathways Program to support patients experiencing interpersonal violence through crisis intervention, safety planning, and connection to resources and referrals.
  • Northwest Community Healthcare offers WINGS (Women in Need Growing Stronger), hospital-based domestic violence program offering counseling services, resources/referrals, education and emotional support.
  • Linden Oaks Behavioral Health provides professional counseling and support groups.

Community resources

Note: In Illinois, domestic violence survivors have the right, via a law called VESSA, to take time off work to seek medical, legal, and emotional help without termination or discrimination. They also have the right to break a lease or change locks thanks to the Safe Homes Act. And they do not need an attorney or police report to seek an Order of Protection, although legal advocates are available to support in this process.

Support for sexual assault survivors

Medical care with the support of an advocate is available for sexual assault survivors at NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health emergency departments:

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