Signs Your Friend Is in an Abusive Relationship

Updated on August 22, 2017
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Sadie Holloway is a workshop facilitator who teaches interpersonal communication skills to help people strengthen their relationships.

Are you worried that a friend or loved one is caught up in a bad relationship? Are you worried she is being abused, but you haven’t actually seen a physical assault, you just have a gut feeling that something is wrong?

It can be difficult to know for sure if your friend is in a bad relationship because there may not be any visible signs of abuse. However, even if you can’t see any physical indicators of domestic violence, there are other subtle clues that you might notice. Here are some things to look out for if you suspect a friend might be in an abusive relationship.

The signs of a bad relationship aren't always obvious on the outside.

Are you worried that your friend is in an unhealthy relationship? Learn how to spot the signs of emotional, physical, and financial abuse.
Are you worried that your friend is in an unhealthy relationship? Learn how to spot the signs of emotional, physical, and financial abuse.

If you're scared your friend is in a bad relationship and she is being hurt physically, it may help to understand some of the signs of domestic abuse and relationship violence. Women who are being physically abused may:

  • Have frequent unexplained injuries or accidents.
  • Have frequent bouts of absenteeism at work, school, or social activities. A woman who has been assaulted and has visible physical injuries may be afraid to been seen in public. Or she could be forced to stay home by and abusive partner who doesn’t want her to leave the house. If you are noticing a significant decline in a friend’s involvement in activities outside of her home, that may be a sign that she is in an unhealthy situation.
  • Dress in clothing chosen specifically to hide injuries (bruises, burns, cuts). Have you noticed that your friend is wearing seasonably inappropriate clothing (e.g. wearing turtlenecks and long sleeves in hot weather or sunglasses indoors)? This could indicate that your friend is trying to cover up the physical signs of abuse.

If you can’t see any signs of domestic abuse, but you know deep down that your friend is in an unhealthy relationship, it may be because she is being victimized behind closed doors. Or she may be suffering from another form of abuse that leaves a different kind of scar.

In addition to physical abuse and assault, relationship violence can include emotional abuse, financial abuse and sexual abuse. A woman who is being abused, whether physically, emotionally or financially, by a spouse or partner may:

  • Be unusually scared afraid of making mistakes
  • Seem anxious to please their partner all the time
  • Go along with whatever her partner says and does even though she doesn’t want to
  • Receive persistent, harassing phone calls at work or while out with friends
  • Drop hints or talk about how jealous and possessive their partner is
  • Call and check in with her partner to report on where she's been and what she's been doing. This a sign that your friend may be in a controlling relationship. Jealousy and mistrust are not signs of a healthy relationship.

If you are concerned about a friend being abused, you can call a domestic violence hotline, even if you aren't the one being abused. Most trained crisis line workers know how to provide support to concerned friends and family, not just the victim of violence.

Even if you are second-guessing yourself and you aren't sure about whether or not your friend is being abused, calling a qualified domestic violence support line can help you explore your concerns is a safe, anonymous manner.

Another sign of abuse is social isolation. Have you noticed that your friend is spending less time with her friends and family? Abusive partners often restrict their spouses from seeing family and friends. A domestic abuse victim may rarely be allowed to go out in public without her partner. Her controlling spouse may limit her access to money, credit cards, transportation and essential community resources such as doctors. An abusive partner doesn’t want to be found out. If his wife goes for medical care, she may reveal her injuries to her doctor.

People who are being emotionally abused and socially isolated may:

  • Have very low self-esteem, even if they used to be confident.
  • Show major personality changes (e.g. an outgoing person becomes withdrawn).
  • Appear to be depressed, anxious, or physically unwell due to the impact of stress in the immune system.

Have you noticed that your friend doesn't go out any more, and when she does, her partner is always with her? Social isolation can be a symptom of domestic abuse.
Have you noticed that your friend doesn't go out any more, and when she does, her partner is always with her? Social isolation can be a symptom of domestic abuse.

If your friend is being controlled by her husband or boyfriend, you might also notice some of these signs of financial abuse:

  • Having limited or restricted access to cash or debit and credit cards
  • Purchases being excessively scrutinized, restricted, or controlled by her partner.
  • Always being worried about how her partner will react to things that are normally considered simple, everyday purchases (i.e.; a small treat at a coffee shop, self-care items, magazines, etc).

It's one thing to be able to recognize the signs of relationship abuse, it's an entirely different matter to try to assist someone you think is in danger. If you're looking for information on how to help someone who is in an unhealthy, abusive relationship, these online resources may be useful:

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 24-hour support line for women experiencing domestic violence.
  • Help for Abused and Battered Women: Getting out of an abusive relationship isn't easy, but help is available. Learn how to protect yourself while you explore your options.
  • Women's Aid: This site provides domestic violence information and resources for women in countries outside of the United Kingdom.

Reading about the signs of domestic violence is an important step to helping a friend in trouble. The resources listed above can help you answer questions about what you can do to support a friend who you think is being abused. Seeking out additional support and resources for women who are being abused can help empower you to be in a healthy, aware frame of mind so that you can be there when your friend reaches out to you for support.

The most important this you can do for a friend who you believe is being abused in a relationship is to let her know that you are there for her. You are there to listen to her, not judge her or her choice to stay in a bad relationship. Leaving an abusive relationship can be a complex and confusing process. There are no simple answers for why a women being abused can't always leave a dangerous situation.

(Sources:, Photo credits: PIxabay)

Packing up and leaving an abusive relationship takes courage. Your friend will need your non-judgmental support when she is ready to make a change on her own terms.
Packing up and leaving an abusive relationship takes courage. Your friend will need your non-judgmental support when she is ready to make a change on her own terms.

Important Reminder: Even though you may be worried about your friend being in a bad relationship, it's important that you take time to take care of yourself too. The best way to help someone you care about is to make sure you are healthy and well. The old axiom about putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others applies to so many aspects of our lives. In order to care for others, you have to care for yourself too.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 Sadie Holloway


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