You can never tell for sure, really. But there are some warning signs that can help you to identify controlling, potentially or already abusive personality traits before the situation escalates. The more characteristics that apply, the more urgent the danger. And remember, any act of control is an act of violence.
Check all that you recognize
Violent Home Life: We are all products of our environments, in other words, we are copycats. Seventy percent of people who grow up in families where they are abused (emotionally or physically) as children, or where they saw/heard one adult mistreating another grow up to repeat this behavior. It is not to say they are doomed to be bad, although they may feel that way. They have been raised to think that violence (verbal, psychological or physical) is normal. While they may grow up swearing that they will never behave "that" way. Control and violence are the only real methods of problem-solving they were ever taught. In addition, generally a negative relationship with or attitude towards a mother or father may very well lead to a harsh, degrading opinion of women or men in general. This may then be directed to all women or men.
Jealousy/Possessiveness: Does your partner "keep tabs" on you or accuse you of flirting or cheating with other people? Does your partner become angry when you look at or speak with a member of the opposite sex or if you go out alone or with friends? Does your partner criticize your clothing and appearance and call you hurtful names?
The fact is that your partner's suspicions have nothing to do with your actions, but instead, center on your partner's own insecurities. Those same qualities which attracted your partner to you, will attract other people as well. No matter how much you reassure your partner, it is not really your loyalty or love that is in question. It is your partner's confidence in themselves.
Isolation: Have you been distanced from your friends and family because of your relationship with your partner? Are your activities limited, or does your partner supervise/select your friends, entertainment and travel? Does it sometimes feel like you're being interrogated as to where, how, and with whom you spend your time?
Your partner's unwillingness to "let" you do something or achieve a goal of your own, as well as their criticisms of your loved ones are signs of your partner's insecurities. If you have a strong system of support outside of your partner, your partner cannot be "in charge" of everything because you are less likely to be dependant on your partner and more likely to hear criticism of your partner and of your partner's violence. If your partner can prevent that contact your partner can prevent you- and themselves- from hearing any negative things about their violent behavior. As your partner deprives you of all social support, your partner also reduces your ability to resist or to receive objective advice. Your partner's intense envy and seeming paranoia can leave you living in the "world according to your partner" without anyone else with whom to speak. Of course, if you know that avoiding friends and family will spare emotional or physical pain for you or your loved ones, you are more likely to withdraw from them. An outgoing person may become quiet and shy to avoid being yelled at and this loss of their sense of self may cause a person to become depressed, angry and alone. By degrading you and/or isolating you, your partner can control you.
Put Downs & Threats: Does your partner put you down and threaten to leave? Does your partner walk away in the middle of arguments or give you the silent treatment? Isolation works two ways. This second type of isolation is when your partner makes you feel unworthy of your partner's affection. Your partner may tell you that you are nothing without them, and even deny you the right to speak with them. Not only have you been separated from your family and friends, having become dependent upon your partner, your partner can withdraw or deny their affection, leaving you feeling rejected, desperate, scared and alone. You may even chase after your partner, or beg your partner not to leave. You do this because you believe you are somehow at fault and have become convinced that you cannot live without your partner, not because you are crazy or because you want to be hurt. These episodes only help to reinforce your feelings that your whole world may fall apart on your partner's whim. But you are someone special on your own and it's never your fault.
Quick Temper, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde Personality: Is your partner destructive when they get upset- punching walls or throwing things? Does your partner strike out over little things like dinner not being on time or burnt, or not finding a parking space? Is your partner cruel to animals? Does your partner have extreme mood swings- "a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality"- when your partner goes from extreme highs to extreme lows, or it seems that your partner almost has two different personalities?
Your partner's most likely not crazy, and they don't just "lose control." A person who is quick to overreact or become angry is someone who needs to have absolute control over their environment in order to be happy. In an intimate relationship, you are part of that environment, which means that your partner feels the need to control you as well. Moreover, seeing things destroyed can be terrifying and can scare you into acting as your partner wants you to. It may convey to you that the "cost" of resisting your partner may be more damaging to you (emotionally and/or physically) than simply doing as your partner wishes. If your partner were simply a violent person in general, they wouldn't reserve their violence exclusively for the home- where they are least likely to be punished for it. These behaviors may be a sign of a person who was learned to work out bad feelings through violence and should not be underestimated. And always remember that it is only your partner who can control or stop the violence- never you.
No matter what the situation or argument, is it somehow always your fault?
Consciously and/or unconsciously, your partner may find fault with you for anything and everything, even if it has absolutely nothing to do with the problem at hand. This may be especially true in situations where your partner knows that they have done wrong. It may be so painful for your partner to confront their own problems and shortcomings that, instead, your partner blames you for everything or criticizes your efforts to "do better". Manipulating you to feel responsible for the violence (by calling you names, degrading things you do or excusing their behavior by telling you that you deserved the abuse and/or made them behave as they did) allows your partner to avoid any real feelings of guilt or remorse.
Your partner may also make light of the abuse or of your feelings- minimizing the emotional or physical injury that they have caused, denying it ever happened, or making a joke out of your pain. Your partner may even try to explain away their behavior by saying that it wasn't assault or sexual abuse. You don't have to be bruised, bleeding or injured to have been assaulted: any physical contact that is meant to hurt, scare, or upset you is an assault, including spitting on you, twisting arms, shoving, slapping, punching, grabbing, demanding sex, tripping, grabbing hair and throwing objects. While no one is perfect, no one can ever do anything bad enough to deserve abuse; and you cannot make, force or drive someone to hurt you. Being physically and verbally violent is an independent choice your partner makes that has nothing to do with what you say or do. The fact is that you can never do "everything right" no matter how hard you try because the problem is not yours- it is your partner's.
___ Substance Abuse: Does he abuse alcohol or other drugs regularly?
While the frequency and severity of your partner's violence may increase when your partner is using drugs or alcohol, it is important to understand that substance abuse does not cause your partner to be violent. Many people believe that a person may just be "a mean drunk" or that "if they just get help for their addiction, they'd change" - and indeed, in order for your partner to address their problem with violence, your partner does need to overcome their habit. The truth, though, is that use of any kind of drug is often another means that a person can use to feel that they are in control- the very same feeling your partner's trying to achieve by being violent towards you. Evidence of the fact that your partner is not "set off" merely by the alcohol or drugs is the fact that 80% of partners who are abusive are only violent in the home or with their family. They choose to act out where they are least likely to be held responsible for their actions. A partner who is violent and uses drugs or alcohol has two problems- not one.
Low Self Esteem:
Does your partner think poorly of themself? Do they think too highly of themself, acting cocky, thinking that they're right about everything? Does your partner try to "act macho" or tough? Does your partner put down the strengths and accomplishments of you, your family or your friends?
Any of these behaviors point to a low sense of self-esteem which simply means that your partner doesn't feel confident in themselves, so your partner needs to degrade and insult other people in order to feel better about their own insecurities. No matter how hard you try to make them feel good about themselves, you can't fix their negative feelings. They come from deep inside themselves., were likely present long before your partner met you and can only be made better by them.
___ Gender Roles:
Does you partner have very traditional ideas about what a man should be and what a woman should be? Does your partner have an almost fantasy approach to life, where women ought to be dependent, submissive, compliant, attractive and in the service of men- letting men be in charge? Does your partner think a "real man" is supposed to be the boss, the decision-maker, a dominant and macho person whose wife or girlfriend is to stay home and take care of her husband? In other words, does he act like women are second class citizens?
Someone who believes that men have the right and duty to "be in charge" may think it is his obligation to control you, punish you, or treat you like his possession. It is not. You are an independent person with the right to have and express your own thoughts, opinions and desires without judgment from anyone else.
___ Sexual Abuse:
Do you use sex to try to calm your partner down or prevent your partner from getting mad? Does your partner make demands of you, spit on you or ejaculate on you? Does your partner force you to have oral, vaginal or anal sex or threaten to leave you or hurt you if you don't? Has your partner made you have sex with other people or in ways that made you uncomfortable? Does you partner call you degrading names like "slut" and "whore?" Does your partner tell you that sex is the only thing you're good for or that you're a horrible lover?
Your partner may also make you feel that as their partner, it is your job to fulfill their sexual desires, fantasies or needs. It is not and this isn't just "rough sex." Your body is your own and you have no duty to anyone but yourself. Sex is not a job. Just because you are not screaming "no" does not mean you're not being raped or abused. Most abused partners report that their partners will demand certain sexual acts or will perform those acts regardless of their partner's feelings and expect them to respond as if they are enjoying it. Although it is the least talked about type of domestic violence, sexual abuse may be the worst in terms of physical and psychological pain.
___ Controlling/Dictatorial/Coercion & Threats: Does your partner expect you to follow their orders or advice? Are there consequences if you don't? Does your partner become angry if you cannot anticipate their wishes?
Domestic violence really isn't about violence, it is about one person's need to have absolute control over another in order to feel better about themselves. Physical, sexual and verbal violence are not the core of the problem, they are the painful, very dangerous ways in which your partner tries to achieve and maintain control over you. Your partner may dictate what you wear, your make-up and hairstyle, your choice of friends, prevent you from getting or keeping a job, or give you an allowance. Others' points of view are not important. Your partner's opinions, attitudes, and beliefs must prevail. Basically, your partner is in charge of everything in the relationship. Your partner's manipulation of your behavior will take whatever form it needs to in order to control you- from yelling, to insults, to threats, to violence or suicide, to using the children…and it will always get worse.
You are not crazy! You are not making a big deal out of nothing. Believe in yourself.