How to recognise an abusive relationship

You can tell by mapping your partner's behaviour towards you, expert says

In Summary

• Most people think that abuse is only physical but there are various forms of abuse

• It does not occur overnight. There are signs that most people ignore or fail to see


Often when people hear the word abuse, they think of physical abuse. While this is a major form of intimate partner violence, there are many more ways abuse occurs.

The US Centres for Disease Control cites emotional, psychological and sexual abuse as well as stalking.

Relationship coach Dayan Masinde says you can tell whether your partner can be abusive by mapping their behaviour towards you.

"Abuse does not occur overnight," Dayan said. Usually, there is a pattern or series of events that leads to the abuse. These patterns are the signs to watch out for, he says. 

It starts with how they view the other gender besides their partner. So if it’s your husband, you start to see that they view other women negatively. Then you start seeing that your voice is being silenced, your opinion is not put into consideration, and when you call them to account, they become aggressive towards you. 

“They start being manipulative, using power over you to fight you, such as money or even your children. It slowly degenerates to throwing things at you, and then it could build up to violence. It’s a progression,” Dayan said. 

Psychological abuse can show through insults, demoralising comments and anything that brings down one's self-esteem. Your partner may want to put you down and make you feel worthless through this abuse.

This can escalate to stalking, where your partner follows you without your knowledge or consent, either physically or spying on you on social media in an attempt to have control over you.

Abusers have a very possessive nature. They may then not want you to be with friends or colleagues of the opposite sex because they get jealous or feel you only belong to them.

If you are in defiance of these 'rules', then the abuse can escalate to physical violence. They may hit you, kick, slap or harm you through physical force of any form.

Physical abuse may be combined with sexual abuse, which includes rape, being coerced into sex or even being denied the right to reproductive health services, such as contraception.

Being denied access to shared finances or not being given financial help by your spouse that they previously provided is neglect that also constitutes abuse.

Although women are the majority of victims, men also fall victim to abuse from female partners.

Dayan says victims stay in abusive relationships and stay silent because they feel ashamed.

“They feel that if people know what they're going through, they’ll think they don't make the best decisions. Men, especially, feel people may see they’re weak if a woman is abusing them. Women have hope that their partner can change, and that’s why they may stay,” he says.

“The bad thing about abuse is that it makes you lower your self-esteem. You start to feel like you deserve the abuse, and you think, ‘Who is going to love me when I leave here?’”

Pressure from people around is another reason Dayan says makes victims stay. Their own family members may tell them to stay and hold on. Having a history with the abuser and having children together makes it difficult to leave as well.

There also isn’t enough information about services offered to victims, policies regarding gender-based abuse and where to seek help. Most victims find they don’t have many options to choose from, especially if they are married to the abuser.

Research by Akili Dada last year on GBV in public universities found many young people are unaware of the policies, procedures and regulations put in place to tackle intimate partner abuse.

If the country's youth, assumed to be the most informed, are unaware of policies set to curb gender abuse, then what about the rest of the population?

“The options are increasing but we are not there yet,” Dayan said.

“More and more people are embracing counselling. People are starting to talk, although there is a lot of stigma that comes with talking. People feel uncomfortable when they confide in others. There is still a lot to be done.”

We only hope that more can be done before it is too late and we are watching yet another story on the news about a person slain by their partner.