You may find yourself wondering if you’re dating an abuser, especially if your ex was abusive. Dating after divorce can seem tricky and many women fear winding up with a man like their ex. Abuse comes in many forms, including physical, verbal, and emotional. None of them are OK, and no one should allow themselves to be abused by another person in any of these ways. Be cautious when you’re dating someone new and watch out for those little red flags. Just don’t obsess over them. If you notice a couple of things that seem “off” and you just have a feeling something isn’t quite right, it probably isn’t. Take your time when dating someone new and watch out for the warning signs, especially if he’s displaying more than one.
Jealousy comes in many fashions and is sometimes one of the first signs that you are dating an abuser. Of course it’s nice to have a man’s attention and to hear him say that he’s so into you he just doesn’t want anyone else to be able to take you from him. However, it’s not OK for him to freak out if you happen to glance in the general direction of where another man is standing. Or be jealous when you spend an evening with your friends or kids or parents. Possessive behavior may feel flattering at first because he’s so into you that he doesn’t want to share you or your time with anyone else. However, that turns into obsessive and controlling behavior with time.
2. The Victim
The victim blames everyone and everything for his misfortune or bad deeds. He never takes responsibility for anything that goes wrong in his life. He typically starts out by telling you how awful his ex was and blaming her for his current lack of money, time, a car, or the reason he can’t pay child support. There will be many excuses and the fault will always lie with someone else. Remember that he will blame whoever is closest to him, which will at some point be you if you allow that to happen. He’s so wrapped up in feeling like a victim that he’ll never see the unfairness in how he treats others. He’ll be resentful and that negativity will seep into every aspect of your relationship. He feels entitled, like everyone and everything owes him. He feels superior and will at some point start talking down to you to make himself feel better. He’s probably also sarcastic and truthfulness is not his strong point.
3. Too Much or Too Little
Relationships are supposed to feel good and stay within comfortable boundaries of both parties. It’s not OK if he’s rushing you beyond your comfort zone, whether it’s for time, commitment, or sex. If he’s rushing you, he’s not respecting your boundaries. If he’s not respecting your boundaries now, can you imagine the lack of boundaries there will be later? On the other hand, if he’s emotionally unavailable and unreliable, he’s not ready and it’ll only cause you to wait on him. For example, if he says he’ll call you Tuesday but you don’t hear from him until Saturday. Or if you make loose plans to see each other but something always comes up. Every once in a while is understandable. Life happens. But if it’s always happening he’s not making you a priority and you shouldn’t make him one. He needs to respect your time to get any of it.
4. He Lives in an Alternate Reality
His expectations are unrealistic. He expects you to sound, look, and act perfect all of the time to live up to his “perfect” standards. That’s not possible and you’ll only set yourself up for failure. He’s probably insanely judgmental of others. Their clothes, car, attitude, education, or whatever doesn’t live up to his standards. He sneers at others. These could be red flags that you are dating an abuser. At some point, those nasty comments and put-downs will come your way. He probably has double standards, too. It’s OK for him to look at other women because he’s a man, but don’t you dare look at other men. He may be set in extreme gender roles as well. For example, his dinner better be on the table when he gets home and the house needs to be spotless and you should look like you just walked off a photo shoot.
5. Impossible to Read
Wishy-washy behavior now will only get worse if you are dating an abuser. For example, if he treats you different when other people are around he’s not showing you consistency. He may treat you better to put on a show, or put you down to make himself appear better. He may be super sensitive and everything you say is a “dig” at him. Watch how he responds to situations that don’t please him. If he’s got a split personality and goes from Mr. Perfect to The Hulk in .2 seconds, steer clear. You’ll end up spending all your time trying to appease him, which will be impossible.
6. Temper, Temper
Watch the way he reacts to his environment. If he blows up and drives erratically when someone cuts him off or drives recklessly when he’s angry, you may be dating an abuser. Quickly. Other issues you may notice, subtly at first, are cruelty to children or animals, talking about solving issues violently, or breaking things when he’s mad. If he grabs your face or points at your face when he’s upset with you, “to make you listen,” it’s a bad sign. He shouldn’t block doorways or trap you into staying somewhere you don’t want to be.
Disrespect is shown in many signs. It may seem like “nothing” at first, but those little episodes add up and will continue to get worse. If he gives you the silent treatment, ignores you, hangs up on you, or stands you up he doesn’t respect you. If you catch him in a lot of “little” lies, he’s going to continue and it will get worse. Watch for the guy who’s here today and disappears for days only to show up like nothing happened. A major sign of disrespect is if he’s comparing you to his exes.
There are multiple examples of each of these behaviors, some more obvious than others. Pay attention. Even if you’ve only known abusive relationships in your past, you can get past that to have a healthy, loving relationship. You just have to make yourself available to the guy who will respect your boundaries and avoid the ones who don’t. It’s easier to step away in the beginning if you notice too many red flags than to get away once you’re attached and have feelings.
Many of the warning signs were definitely in my marriage. I noticed it more as years went by and did not notice at the beginning. He would get mad about something and I tried to make it better. Then I would try to anticipate problems and solve them before they became an issue. I tried and tried, then I realized I could not stop him from getting upset. He couldn’t handle life’s ups and downs. Yes, there was sarcasm, blaming, the finger pointing, disrespect, in fact all the warning signs were there! Even with all this I still wish we were back together, but I know that I can’t go back. There are other complications involved, I was sick for 2 years after the divorce (which had nothing to do with the divorce). I am just now getting on my strength back. My daughters were affected by my illness and are angry with their father. He made their lives difficult also. I am seeing a counselor but have had to wait for an appointment as my insurance changed and did not cover my prior counselor (who was also our marriage counselor).