Last Updated: October 10, 2020, 1:48 pm

How to identify dangerous relationship patterns

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October is dedicated to remembering those who are or have been victims of domestic abuse. Relationships may start out good, but turn abusive, and there are guidelines you can follow to recognize the signs of escalation. Photo by Tianna Major.


October is not just a month filled with chilling horror movies and haunted houses. Real life monsters make October Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the month for commemorating survivors of some of the most insidious acts of violence committed behind closed doors.

Relationships are anything but easy. Not every day will be smooth sailing, but how can we clearly identify the line between just a few bumps in the road and true toxicity within our romantic relationships?

Students, faculty and staff at Dixie State University can identify dangerous relationship patterns before they grow into something more severe by following these guidelines.

Acknowledge the red flags

Ashley Bates, police records and security supervisor, is a certified advocate for victims of domestic abuse. She said a lot of red flags begin as minor issues that initially do not seem to be toxic and can be hard to identify.

“A partner could just become jealous; they can start looking [at their partner’s] phone, their texts, their emails, their voicemails, kind of surveil their messages on social media,” Bates said. “This can escalate to [a partner] starting to threaten or coerce the victim into performing anything sexual that they didn’t want to do or, of course, violence.”

Bates said other psychological acts that are red flags include manipulation, blaming your partner, questioning your partner, and having to always be in control of your partner and their choices.

Though it’s important to understand what these red flags are, victims of toxic relationships must not only identify them when their partner commits them, but also acknowledge there is a real problem that must be handled instead of brushed off. That is where true change really begins.

Lindsey Boyer, executive director of the DOVE Center, said: “Having an open mind to the possibility that these issues happen, even in your own relationship, that they’re not just these fabricated stories that you saw on the Lifetime channel, is key to understanding how to identify if you’re treading in dangerous waters.”

Boyer said nobody wants to be in an abusive relationship and nobody wants to stay in one, but most of the time victims don’t acknowledge the red flags or admit there is a real problem in their relationship because they feel a deep attachment to their partner and they feel responsible for any of the issues their partner is upset about.

“No one wants to admit that they are experiencing issues within their relationship, but there comes time where you have to just accept that your partner has been doing something really toxic and save yourself from future issues that can lead to physical abuse,” Boyer said.

Trust your gut

Blair Barfuss, director of public safety and chief of the DSUPD, said you will notice when something is off about your partner, and once you get those uneasy feelings, you need to question if that is an issue you should be paying attention to.

“It goes back to the whole ‘trust your gut’ thing; if something is odd or something is different [in your relationship], it’s typically odd or different for a reason, and you really need to pay attention to that,” Barfuss said.

Boyer said when a victim is in an abusive relationship, they are living in the reality of the abuser, which can make it hard for the victim to trust their gut. Often, the abuser does things to make the victim feel as if they’re crazy or never right about the questionable things the abuser has done to them.

“The person who’s being abused doesn’t know where reality really sits when they are in this kind of relationship because it starts to become real cloudy once the abuser constantly imposes their ways on them,” Boyer said. “It’s so critical in understanding that just because your partner says it’s so, doesn’t mean it’s so; it doesn’t make it true. The underlying fact is that you need to trust yourself and your intuition when you experience red flags.”

Hazel Sainsbury, director of equity compliance and Title IX coordinator, said people should get in the habit of asking themselves if there is something off that they are noticing about their partner or their actions. If they feel anxious or weary about anything their partner has done or said to them, they need to trust those feelings so they can take the necessary safety precautions.

Sainsbury said: “Trust your instincts. If you’re starting to be threatened or uncomfortable because of your partner, it’s OK to lie to get yourself out of that situation.”

Recognize the Cycle of Violence

The Cycle of Violence is the toxic pattern that is repeated over and over again in abusive relationships. The only way to free yourself from the vicious cycle is to recognize that you are living it, Barfuss said.

Barfuss said the cycle begins with everything in a relationship being good, and both partners are happy, then things begin to slightly change. Little issues, like your partner constantly having to know where you’re at and what you’re doing, make things feel weird and throwing their partner off, then a larger issue arises, like your partner accusing you of infidelity, and the entire problem reaches its climax. This is where the abuser starts blaming, controlling and physically assaulting the victim. Following these toxic acts are the apology, everything becoming good again, and the cycle continuing over and over again.

“The longer [the cycle] goes on, the bigger and more uncontrollable it gets,” Barfuss said. “So each step of the Cycle of Violence has the propensity to increase and become more problematic and more concerning. Those that even see the smallest start of that cycle, it needs to register in their minds as a red flag, it needs to be properly addressed.”

Boyer said people stay in relationships despite going through the Cycle of Violence over and over again because they feel responsible for their issues with their partner and feel that there must be something wrong that they can fix in order to save their relationship.

“Pretty soon, that pattern cycles enough that it’s really embedded within the victim’s life, so it’s harder to leave than it is to stay once they’ve built a family or developed a longer history together,” Boyer said. “It’s imperative to get out when you first recognize the pattern or it can become too late when the domestic violence begins.”

Educate and evaluate yourself

“Understanding what healthy relationships consist of can help you evaluate your own relationship,” Boyer said. “If you don’t feel comfortable enough to go to an outside party and ask them to evaluate your relationship, educate yourself instead, and ask yourself if you’re in a healthy relationship.”

According to the Dove Center website, the Equality Wheel explains the components of a nonviolent relationship. Some of the components include respect, negotiation and fairness, trust and support, shared responsibility and economic partnership.

“You have to understand what a healthy relationship is in order to see the dangerous relationship patterns in your life,” Sainsbury said. “Take the responsibility to protect yourself by reading up and discussing with your partner the importance of maintaining respect and trust in your relationship. If you stop toxic traits early, you can save yourself from becoming another victim of domestic abuse.”

Get an outside opinion from someone you trust

It’s not always easy reaching out to someone else about your relationship issues, but it can be really eye-opening to get an outsider’s opinion, especially since they may see prominent issues easier than you do. Consider reaching out to someone you trust only if you are comfortable enough and ready to hear their honest opinion, Sainsbury said.

“It’s critically important to establish connections to people you trust outside of your relationship so if needed, they can intervene in your situation in a safe way,” Sainsbury said. “Using this buddy system can really help you when you need someone to vent to or talk to in case you are experiencing any abuse or red flags.”

Barfuss said typically our close friends and family can tell when something is wrong, especially in our romantic relationships. They can clearly see if your partner is being mentally or physically abusive because they do not have a deep connection with them.

“If they’re noticing changes in you or in your partner, then listen to that because often times we don’t see the problem, but others do,” Barfuss said.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of an abusive relationship or domestic violence and you or they are seeking help, contact the Dove Center 24-hour helpline at (435) 628-0458 or reach out to the DSU Women’s Resource Center at womensresource@dixie.edu.

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