Danger Sign 1: Violence—Once Is More Than Enough
As many as 40 percent of dating couples report that violence has occurred in their relationship, and a significant number wind up getting married anyway. So it’s clear that many people do not pay attention to violence, hoping it will just go away.
Not so, say the experts. On this issue they are unequivocal: If your partner hits you or tries to physically hurt you in any way, even once, get out. There may be extremely rare exceptions where a single slap or push occurs impulsively and is later profoundly regretted and forgiven. But the experts don’t see it that way. If it happens while you are dating, they firmly state, it will happen in your marriage; and if it happens once in marriage, it will happen again.
If someone is abusive to you early in a relationship, it’s not going to get any better as time goes by. It will get worse. If there’s an abusive situation, get out.
Danger Sign 2: Your Partner Is Controlling
If your partner engages in aggressive and persistent attempts to control you, your other relationships, and your behaviors, you should take a very serious look at the relationship. In the experts’ view, the underlying causes of such controlling behavior—insecurity, suspiciousness, jealousy—constitute a very poor basis for a marriage. Such attempts at control can be subtle at first, but later expand to the minute aspects of a person’s life.
Controlling behavior can be subtle, and you may not notice it at the outset. By the time it becomes apparent, it may be difficult to extricate yourself from the relationship. The experts offer a very useful tip if you are worried about this problem: Ask other people. Your suspicions are more than enough to go on, and you should check them out with people you trust. Ask your family and friends whether they notice potentially dangerous controlling behaviors. This “reality check” can save you from future heartache.
Danger Sign 3: Your Partner Demeans You
In marital research, these negative behaviors have been given a strong term: contempt. That is, one of the most damaging behaviors in which a partner can engage. Demeaning and contemptuous behaviors go beyond criticism, because they contain an element of cruelty. Contempt involves hostility and devalues the person as an individual worthy of respect. A hallmark of demeaning behavior is insults. It may sound like a high standard, because arguments do get out of hand and name-calling can be hard to resist. But the experts are clear on this point: Be very careful of a partner who insults you during an argument—it usually is a profound sign of disrespect.