Are you dating an emotional abuser or is it normal conflict?

Every day it seems as though a woman is found missing and the boyfriend is a prime suspect. The latest victim is Gabby Petito. The confusion around the stories is rampant and it’s difficult to trust sources. Even parents will often say they had no idea their child was dating an abuser. In Gabby’s report, the couple had been together an extensive amount of time and traveled together before supposedly uneventfully, despite some conflict in the past. What is the difference between typical relationship conflict and emotional abuse?

Conflict is a normal part of any healthy relationship. It happens because partners invest deeper into the relationship and express more intimate feelings and emotions with their partner. This is what adds meaning to the relationship; working it out together brings the couple closer together. Emotional abuse involves non-physical threatening behavior that one partner uses to belittle, insult, or degrade their partner. Their partner begins feeling inferior, ashamed, and afraid.

If you are dating an emotionally abusive partner, you may feel as though you have a knot in your stomach; you can’t sleep due to anxiety and often feel afraid and alone. Below are five clear warning signs of emotional abuse. If you are experiencing any of these five, talk to someone close to you as soon as possible. Getting out of an abusive relationship is possible, but it requires you to find at least one person you can trust to help.

1. They ignore your boundaries and privacy. Even though you may want to spend all your time with your new date, you have a right to your own space. No one should demand you spend all your time with them. If they move the relationship too fast or pressure you emotionally with guilt or shame to spend time together, they have a problem. No one should check your phone, emails, or anything belonging to you without your permission.

2. They are critical and judgmental toward you. In a healthy relationship, your partner wants to support you and build you up. Healthy couples may judge from time to time, but emotional abusers go to extreme. They put their partner down in public, humiliate, or embarrass them, and use sarcasm or jokes about something their partner is sensitive about. Emotional abusers also will poke fun at their partner if their partner doesn’t dress a certain way or agree with them.

3. They are possessive. This is the red flag that confuses daters, because they misread it as a sign of devotion or love from their partner. Emotional abusers are jealous due their deep-seated insecurities and attempt to control your every move to protect their interests. They are constantly keeping tabs on where you are, who you’re with, and try to isolate you from your closest friends and family.

4. They try to minimize your value and your feelings. If you confront your emotionally abusive partner, they will claim you are too sensitive or too dramatic no matter how you approach it. They try to make you feel like you are the problem. If you have dreams or goals, they will make you feel stupid for believing and working toward something good for you. Anything bad that happens is always your fault with an emotional abuser.

5. Emotional abusers are manipulative. In a healthy relationship, partners don’t withdraw affection after a conflict or accuse you of doing something wrong. They don’t ignore or exclude you when they don’t get their own way. They don’t use guilt trips to persuade you or make you doubt yourself.

If you are someone who feels locked into a relationship with an emotional abuser, you don’t have to stay. You have the key to unlock this prison. It starts by telling one close friend that you believe you are dating an emotional abuser. Be candid and honest about what is going on. It’s not your fault this happened, but it is your responsibility to end it. If you’re a concerned parent of someone your child is dating, you can find out more by going to the emotional abuse hotline: 1-800-799-7233. Awareness, courage, and knowledge can free you from the chains of emotional abuse