Dating can be a fun and exciting time. Most of us are on our best behavior when we meet someone new. We’re looking for love and following our hearts. But the heady romance of those first few dates can mask warning signs and red flags that could spell trouble down the line.

SafeNest is a nonprofit agency that works toward ending domestic and sexual violence in Clark County. Since its establishment in 1977, SafeNest has answered over 500,000 hotline calls and sheltered over 20,000 individuals in crisis. 

The experts at SafeNest have provided us with insights into how to identify when a relationship or marriage is abusive and what steps to take should you find yourself in a bad and potentially dangerous situation.

Defining Domestic Violence & Abusive Relationships

Singles should also know that domestic violence is not always physical.  Emotional manipulation, verbal abuse, and financial abuse can also be damaging to a person’s well-being.

According to SafeNest, the first step is to identify the abuse. Domestic violence can encompass a partner’s use of intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and other abusive behavior as part of a pattern of power and control. Such abuse is perpetrated by one intimate partner against another, and it can start with small abuses that slowly escalate over time.

  • Physical violence, such as pushing, pinching, biting, slapping, spitting, beating, kicking, choking or backing you into a corner. Pinning you down, throwing objects, pulling your hair or not allowing you to leave a room.
  • Sexual violence includes unwanted touching, fondling, kissing or any type of unwanted contact.
  • Psychological violence is confinement, isolation, humiliation, intimidation or any other treatment which may diminish a person’s sense of identity, dignity, and self-worth.
  • Emotional abuse is yelling or swearing, bullying, name calling, insults, mocking, threats, ignoring or exclusion.
  • Financial abuse is controlling a victim’s ability to acquire, use, and maintain financial resources. Restricting their access to money or stealing their money.

Recognizing different forms of abuse can help individuals determine whether they are in trouble and what they can do to get help or remove themselves from the situation.

“Domestic violence abuse is an epidemic affecting individuals regardless of age, economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or nationality,” said Liz Ortenburger, CEO, SafeNest, based in Las Vegas.

Red Flags of Possessive & Controlling Behavior

An abusive partner will attempt to establish or gain power over their partner through physical, financial, or emotional manipulation. It can be masked as taking care of the partner. For example, paying for the partner’s groceries, utilities, or other essentials can create an unhealthy dependence that can be used as a threat or a trap over time.

Based in Austin, Texas, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has identified many ways of identifying abusive partners. 

Its experts warn, “At the start of a new relationship, it’s not always easy to tell if it will later become abusive. In fact, many abusive partners appear like ideal partners in the early stages of a relationship.”

An emotionally abusive partner may try to undermine your power by pointing out what you do wrong and making you feel small. It can start with a few joking comments, but it may become a pattern of insults and public shaming. Demeaning words are not acceptable in healthy relationships, and such toxic habits can lead to further emotional and physical abuse in the future.

SafeNest provides helpful resources for abuse survivors.

Of course, not every domestic violence situation looks the same. Some partners may have a too-good-to-be-true feel early on and then become more controlling and jealous as time goes on. Some partners are manipulative early on and use love as a weapon or a threat to control behavior – as in, “If you cared for me, you’d cook me dinner for our next date.”

The SafeNest team has worked with abuse survivors who have been gaslighted into thinking an abusive part of their relationship is normal. That’s why its prevention services focus on raising awareness and talking to young people about their relationships to make sure they have the tools they need to stop situations from escalating to domestic violence.

It is a bad sign if a partner discourages you from spending time with friends or family members. That is how an abuser isolates a victim and exerts sole influence over the relationship.

Physical abuse can start with intimidating looks and threatening postures. The abuser may say mean things that create feelings of guilt or inadequacy when it comes to things like household chores, sexual acts, or romantic feelings. Some arguments may include breaking or throwing objects. In very bad situations, threats can be made regarding knives, guns, or other weapons.

If a partner threatens you with violence, regardless of the circumstances, that should never be tolerated. It is not OK, and action should be taken immediately to make sure physical harm does not come to you or anyone in the household. It doesn’t matter if the weapon wasn’t in hand, or the person was intoxicated, or you started the argument in the first place – don’t let any of those reasons stop you from seeking help. Threats of violence are serious transgressions, and it takes more than an apology to make the situation safe again.

SafeNest has safety planning resources for individuals who need to leave an unsafe situation.

SafeNest Stands Behind Abuse Victims & Offers Support

If you are worried that you’re in an abusive relationship, you’re not alone. According to studies, about 1 in 4 American women will experience intimate partner violence in her lifetime, and many of these situations go unreported.

You don’t have to go to the police to get help. Plenty of organizations exist to offer abuse survivors the help they need to leave an abusive household and move forward with their lives. SafeNest offers a safe haven in Nevada for people escaping domestic violence of all forms.

SafeNest’s programs include a 24-hour domestic violence hotline, confidential shelter, protection order services, counseling, advocacy, court assistance, and domestic violence prevention education. 

For immediate assistance from a professional team, you can call or text the domestic violence hotline at 702-646-4981. The hotline is available 24/7.