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  • Writer's pictureDina McMillan

Abusive Relationships – The First 30 Days

It’s easy to find information and discussions about abusive relationships. It’s a popular topic. These usually advise paying attention to excessive jealousy, possessiveness or frequent anger in a new relationship.

A crucial aspect of prevention, however, is offering insights into how abusive relationships are created. Recognizing these moves can be the key to remaining safe.

Abuse Doesn’t Just Happen

It’s rare for a normal relationship to transform into an abusive relationship. In the few cases I’ve witnessed, the causes included a brain tumor, having an affair and wanting a divorce, and addiction to drugs, gambling or pornography. I didn’t find someone suddenly changing into a monster simply because a crisis occurred.

We can’t predict everything someone else will do. People may become erratic when their life circumstances become challenging. Breakups can be emotionally caustic and ugly.

But in most cases, abusive relationships are significantly, noticeably different from the start.

Smart from the Start

When meeting someone new, it’s crucial to observe everything, not just the pleasant parts. While the Abuser wears that ‘nice guy’ mask, there are red flags a discerning person can learn to spot.

If you recognize any, don’t rationalize away their importance or ignore them. And don’t believe any smooth explanations offered to placate you.

Abusers move quickly to establish trust, forge a strong emotional bond and gain control. There’s some variation – some Abusers move faster than others. But there are some that are likely to appear in the first days of an abusive relationship.

You’ll notice some moves can be misinterpreted as positive, passionate and a sign someone is really into you. That’s why this warning is necessary.

Weaving the Web

In most cases, Abusers pretend to be a great catch. They have to get someone to enter an imbalanced relationship where they’ll be emotionally, psychologically and perhaps even physically harmed on a regular basis.

Truth in advertising would leave Abusers lonely. They don’t want to be lonely. But they’ll only accept a relationship on their own terms.

By late teens, Abusers have a range of well-practiced moves to appeal to targets within their preference group. These scripted lines and behaviours are repeated like a choreographed dance every time they draw someone into a new relationship.

Fast and Furious

The Abuser’s behavior is all about intensity. They know how much the brain – and heart – love intensity.

You should understand it, too. Whether good or bad, being with someone who provokes strong feelings and arouses primal drives gives the Abuser a huge advantage.

By primal drives I mean the Abuser stirs powerful urges. This can be any of the four F’s – fight, flight, food or fornication. Get someone emotionally and primally aroused and good sense takes a distant back seat. Someone who makes you angry, then you desire them, then they make you happy has enormous power. If they also feed you a great meal, you’re really in trouble.

Abusers are also moody and unpredictable. This is partly their psychological issues and repressed rage. Yet, it’s also intentional. Their aim is to keep their new target uneasy and off-balance. It’s a way of establishing control and domination. Most Abusers know being unpredictable is more enticing than being safe and conventional. The bond created by this rollercoaster is robust and often lasting.

I hate the fact intensity builds bonds in ways moderation doesn’t touch. Your brain isn’t always your friend. You need to find ways to add healthy intensity to a stable relationship, so you get the benefits without the terrible costs that come with attachment to an Abuser.

Strategic Use of Early Tactics

Abusers understand they’re on the clock. They have to get their target to commit to the relationship before the Abuser’s twisted psychology and unreasonable demands become impossible to hide. They also rush because they’re incredibly uncomfortable with a partner who can defy their will or say, “No”.

The success of Abusers’ strategy relies on their willingness to deceive and manipulate, skillful application of effective tactics, and basic understanding of the human mind. It doesn’t require academic intelligence.

Devious cunning, twisted psychology, and years of practice provide the necessary ingredients to push through your defenses. All it takes for it to work is for you to remain unguarded.

Tactic One: Testing and Training

In the first 30 days, consider everything the Abuser does as part of their Testing and Training strategy. They need to test you to establish how far they can push your boundaries. And they have to train you to submit.

Basic operant conditioning is used here, punishment and reward. The carrot and the stick.

Gaining authority helps it work. In my Unmasking the Abuser TED talk, I mention the most often-used choreographed moves to do this – if he’s not already your boss, your professor or someone in a position above you.

An Abuser will test to see how much you’ll accommodate them. They may start by changing the time, day or location of your first in-person meet at the last minute.

Whether or not the Abuser plays that game, they’ll often try to take control by deciding where you’ll both sit in the venue. They’ll have a rational reason for their preference, so you’ll be tempted to comply. Then they may suggest a drink or food for you to try.

No big deal, right? Yet, if allowed to take command in these small ways, your brain is quickly going to classify the Abuser as a legitimate authority. Keep going and in a short while you’ll do whatever you’re told without hesitation. The Abuser knows – even if  you don’t – God’s in the details and the Devil’s in the fine print. The fine print here says the more you give in, the more authority the Abuser gains.

And it works quickly.

Once you give in, the training starts. Compliance gets rewarded: compliments, warm looks, promises. Resist or hesitate, you’ll be punished. This includes coldness, ignoring you, criticism, admiring other women.

You’ll get the message. Do whatever the Abuser asks and have a great time. Resist or show defiance and this could be your worst date ever.

During the first 30 days, variations on these maneuvers will be reused as often as possible until the Abuser is assured of control.


Continue seeing the Abuser and you’ll be contacted constantly. You might think it’s romantic. But it’s texts and calls throughout the day and into the night, even when you have something important the following day.

The Abuser uses the Marathoning tactic, making each encounter last as long as possible. Nightly catchups are especially important. You’ll be persuaded to reveal things while exhausted that you’d hesitate to admit in the cold light of day. They may get you to promise things without sufficient time to reflect.

Your loved ones may notice this new person seems to be all over your life in a very short time. They’re right to be concerned. The artificial intimacy that’s created by frequent contact and prolonged talks is actually a type of cognitive distortion. It’s not real or reliable. That person is still a stranger.

The Abuser will also start using the ‘fairy tale lure’, promising you a wonderful future. It doesn’t have to be marriage. It can start with promised gift, a trip away or something to help you financially.

The critical part is getting you emotionally invested in something that’s hasn’t happened yet. This mentally and emotionally places this stranger at the center of your future – a powerful influence mechanism.

Abusive Relationships – The First 30 Days
Abusive Relationships – The First 30 Days

Aiming to Please – and Tease

Abusers also use love bombing. This involves showering you with compliments, declaring how special and unique you are. Telling you this feeling is new or this secret has never been revealed.

Clever Abusers use compliments based on your genuine assets or things you want to believe are true about yourself. The Abuser wants to make you feel good and crave more of what’s being offered. You need to want it enough to answer overly familiar questions that make you uncomfortable. You have to rationalize away excessive persistence. You have overlook anger and moodiness, and accept the Abuser’s excuses.

Keeping you off-balance is key. Perhaps you’ve had a lot of failed relationships, or your job’s mundane, or you haven’t travelled. The Abuser will ask about these and seem disappointed, perhaps mentioning an Ex who’s celebrated in the areas you’re lacking.

Abusers draw attention to your every flaw and mistake. Mispronounce a word, don’t know something and the Abuser will tease you or give you a smug look or bring it up repeatedly. They know a self-conscious target is easier to manipulate, so they’ll do whatever possible to increase your insecurities.

Falling in Love

Abusers don’t just want control. They need their partner to fall in love. These tactics can do that in spite of your resistance.

If you get upset, the Abuser will return to love bombing and add “You and Me Against the World”. This includes big, romantic gestures and declaring the world revolves around the two of you as a couple. The Abuser often tries to do splashy things in public, so your family, friends or work colleagues say you’re.

You and Me against the world sounds ideal. It’s the foundation of fairy tales and chick-flicks. In this case, the Abuser declares no one loves you as much, demands all of your time and attention, and pitches a fit if you want to socialize alone. You’ll be contacted endlessly with demands of immediate response. Soon you’ll be told what to say, do, eat, wear, how to spend your money, and what to support.

Any objections or disobedience results in punishment, even this early. It won’t be physical. It will be promises broken, lack of contact, mean comments.

It’s all too much too soon. Too many compliments, too many gifts and promises, too much talk about the future, too many demands on your time. There’s also moodiness, pushing against your boundaries, frequent anger, jealousy, control. There are comments and criticisms that make you feel unworthy mixed with efforts to make you euphoric. It’s overwhelming.

Your intuition will warn you. Will you listen?

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