It can be difficult to define what a healthy relationship looks like, as what is “normal” will be slightly different for everyone. With that in mind, our Advice Centre have pulled together some useful information and resources to help you spot the signs of an abusive relationship.
Content Warning: This article contains discussion of emotional abuse and domestic violence. If you need support, skip to the bottom of the article for a list of resources.
It can be difficult to define what a healthy relationship looks like, as what is “normal” will be slightly different for everyone. Broadly speaking, any relationship you have should be adding something positive to your life, and making you feel valued and respected. However, when you’re in a relationship, it can be difficult to be subjective about your and your partner’s behaviour, and you may be tempted to minimise any “red flags” which come up, for fear of changing the relationship you have. It’s always a good idea to check in with yourself regularly about the state of your relationship, and if you find it difficult to be truthful with yourself, consider asking a trusted friend to help you stay subjective.
There are a number of useful tools online which can help you to identify behaviour that may be cause for concern, such as this page put together by Women’s Aid, with a number of questions to consider and first-hand testimonies from abuse survivors. We’ve also put together some more information and resources below about spotting abusive relationships.
While some signs of an abusive relationship can be relatively easy to spot (though no easier to address), for example, physical abuse or explicit verbal insults, not all are.
Signs of emotional or psychological abuse can be easy to dismiss, particularly if the abuse involves gaslighting- when someone purposefully causes you to question your memory or judgement of an event. For example, your partner may make repeated negative remarks about your appearance, but when this is brought up, they will deny they have done anything wrong, and accuse you of being “oversensitive”, therefore invalidating your emotions and judgement of the situation.
Gaslighting can form part of a pattern of behaviour called coercive control, where a partner or family member acts in such a way that you can become dependent on them, and under their control. This can happen slowly meaning it is difficult to recognise when things have got out of your control. The BBC have an informative documentary about defining coercive behaviour- you can view a clip of this here.
There can also be an unhealthy power dynamic in relationships, especially if you are a member of a marginalised community. Love Is Respect is an American charity, but they have lots of information about how cultural influences can affect what form abuse in relationships can take - take a look here.
If you have questions about your relationship, or if you’re concerned about a friend, there are a number of places you can seek support from. In the event of an emergency, do not hesitate to contact the emergency services by calling 999, or Campus Security on 01784 443888 if you are on campus.
The Advice Centre is a free, independent and confidential service for all students here at Royal Holloway. Our friendly, experienced and professional staff will provide a listening ear and offer general and specialist advice. We’re here to support you with a whole range of issues, big and small, and if we’re not the best people to help you with a particular issue, we’ll point you in the right direction.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or to ask for a phone appointment.
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