Sandisiwe Mbhele
Lifestyle Journalist
3 minute read
13 Aug 2021
8:32 am

Tell-tale signs of an abusive relationship, and how to get out

Sandisiwe Mbhele

If you are unsure whether you are in an abusive relationship, there are common signs that can help you.

If you unaware you are in an abusive relationship there are common signs that can help you. Picture: iStock

There is an uncomfortable, knowing feeling for people in relationships that they suspect could be abusive ones.

The change in behaviour is gradual and sometimes undetectable, but before they know it, the telling signs cannot be ignored anymore.

Relationships in the public eye are not easy. The scrutiny, and the need for fans to title you “couple goals”, can add unnecessary pressure.

Behind closed doors, most people are unaware of what goes on between any couple.

So it may come as a surprise when a significant other publicly claims they were abused.

When a high-profile couple such as Somizi Mhlongo-Motaung and Mohale Motaung’s private matters are aired for all to see, the conversation heightens.

Despite living in the public eye, people are still shocked by Mohale’s abuse allegations.

ALSO READ: Somizi and Mohale: Abuse allegations spark conversation on abuse in queer relationships

As in any relationship, people only see what the couple puts out.

Conversations can be had in a broader context such as body language, and the need to look a certain way to loved ones.

Abusive tendencies in public

Speaking to The Citizen, clinical psychologist Joel Mbhele says in his experience working with couples, “abusive partners hardly show abusive tendencies in public.”

He further explains: “They tend to create a façade of a safe and happy relationship in public. It’s not unusual for an abusive partner to display affection in public.

“They will open doors for you, pull a chair at the dinner table or bring flowers to your workplace. However, they will turn comment about your interactions with other people, such as accusing you of being in love with strangers, or entertaining strangers in public.”

He says an abusive partner will constantly give rules such as what to wear or not to wear.

“Giving manipulative statements such as, ‘I will kill myself if you leave me’. Or ‘if I can’t have you, no one will’, shouldn’t be taken lightly.”

How can family and friends assist?

Mbhele says people shouldn’t be hard on themselves if they don’t notice the danger signs.

“It’s not easy for family and friends to notice abusive tendencies from body language alone. But isolation and permission-giving are some of the most common symptoms of an abusive relationship.

“You will notice that the abused individual constantly gets calls to give an account of their whereabouts. Sometimes the abuser will insist on a video call just to confirm if their partner is where they claim to be,” he says.

Even if the relationship has its problems, the couple may take the next step to get married.

Types of abuse are different, and second-guessing your decision on whether to marry your significant other is normal.

Signs of an abusive relationship:

  • It can start from unwanted tickling or rough playing to making threats of assault to you or your family.
  • At times, the abuser will display weapons and make jokes about harming you.  
  • The most common habit is that of breaking into your online accounts, insisting that you give them your passwords.
  • Pressuring you to send photos of yourself.
  • Gaslighting.
  • Getting excessively angry when you don’t answer texts or calls.
  • You often have a feeling of being stalked. 

Initially, these habits appear to be coming from a place of love and care, but as the relationship progresses, you start feeling trapped and unsettled. 

Seeking help

People looking to get out or seek help can take practical steps. Options include creating an escape route, speaking to a neighbour or two about the violence they are experiencing.

“Coming up with a code word to use with your family, friends, and neighbours when you need emergency help, a ride, or someone to talk to,” Mbhele suggests.

Finding a professional counsellor to assist the “deep emotional complexities of being in an abusive relationship,” is also recommended.     

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