Worldwide, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will experience violence at the hands of an intimate partner in their lifetime.
Fighting against domestic violence is a cause close to my heart because I know how frighteningly easy it is to inadvertently slip into an abusive relationship.
When I was much younger, it happened to me. I was living at home with loving and observant parents, enrolled in feminism studies at university (the irony), and hanging around with a big group of feisty, supportive friends. I had strong opinions on men and relationships, particularly the bad kind.
Not exactly a sitting duck, right? Wrong.
It happened as quietly, quickly and easily as walking through an open door.
It did not begin with a light-bulb realisation, or a drastic tear-stained dash for safety. There were no punches, slaps or shoves. Instead, it began as a subtle and creeping chain of inconspicuous moments.
Before I knew it, it felt too hard to get out, too late to change the situation and too embarrassing to admit the relationship had failed.
Today, I am in a stable marriage with a kind, genuine man – however, I wish I’d known the early warning signs to look out for, to help spot abuse in a relationship before it went further:
1. You will be romanced.
Most of the time, abusive behaviour arrives in disguise. It often masquerades as a core-shaking, mighty love – a love you may never have experienced before.
The abuser wants you all to himself and wins your trust quickly. The behaviour hides itself amongst good feelings, also known as the honeymoon period. These feelings can be glorious and giddy, exhilirating and exciting.
Obviously, romance is not an automatic precursor to abuse but it can be used as a manipulative technique to camouflage other worrying behaviours, such as jealousy, putting you down or making you feel guilty.
2. Abuse rarely begins physically.
That’s the thing about violence in a relationship – it rarely starts with a punch or a push, which makes it extraordinarily difficult to recognise.
Abuse almost always begins mentally, and it often starts with control. In my case, the control came hidden in the first love letter I’d ever received – a letter that asked me to cancel all my plans with friends to spend more time with him. (Red flag number one, right there.)
“I just want to see more of you,” the letter read. I held it close to my chest and felt a delicious flutter of exclusivity. The control had begun, but I was none the wiser.
Controlling behaviour has a talent for cloaking itself in compliments, followed by contradictory comments.
“You are so beautiful,” then “those jeans make you look fat.”
“Babe, I love you so much,” then “why are you so fucking stupid?”
And it can quickly escalate.
“You should stay away from your friends – you’re better than them.”
“Don’t talk to that guy.”
“Forget what your family say, they only want to control you.”
It’s hard to sum up how this behaviour can make you feel in one word. The dictionary definition could be: “total mind fuck”.