My Partner Would Never Hit Me … Would They? Warning signs that verbal abuse might turn physical

There’s a thin line between verbal and physical abuse. Even if your partner has never been physically violent with you, there’s a chance the abuse will escalate. Would you recognize the warning signs?

Author Lundy Bancroft, who has counseled both victims and perpetrators of domestic violence for 30 years, has developed a checklist of red flags that indicate a potential for violence[i]:

  • When your partner is mad, do they react by throwing things, punching walls, or kicking the car? Do they use violent gestures like ripping their clothes or swinging their arms in the air to show their rage? Have you been frightened when they do these things?
  • Are they willing to take responsibility for those behaviors and agree to stop them, or do they throw the subject back on you, saying that you cause their behaviors, so it’s your own problem if you’re scared?
  • Do they attempt to use scary behaviors as bargaining chips, such as by saying that they won’t punch walls if you will stop going out with your friends?
  • Do they get too close to you when they’re angry, put a finger in your face, poke you, push you, block your way, or restrain you? Do they ever say they are “just trying to make you listen?”
  • Do they ever make veiled threats, such as “You don’t want to see me mad,” or “You don’t know who you’re messing with”?
  • Are they severely verbally abusive? (Research indicates that the best behavioral predictor of which people will become violent to their partners is their level of verbal abuse.)
  • Do they ever raise a fist, tower over you, shout you down, or behave in any other way that makes you flinch or feel afraid?
  • Do they drive recklessly or speed up when they’re angry?
  • Do they throw things around, even if they don’t hit you?


According to Bancroft one of these behaviors is cause for concern. Your danger increases even further if your partner:

  • Owns a gun
  • Uses illegal drugs
  • Controls your daily activities (dictating who you can be friends with, when you can see your family, how much money you can use, or when you can take the car.)
  • Follows or spies on you, leaves threatening notes or messages, destroys your property, or calls you when you don’t want them to.[ii]


Even if none of these behaviors are present, Bancroft adds, it is still essential to contact a domestic violence program. “The fact that you are even considering your partner’s potential for violence means that something is seriously wrong.”[1]

If you are concerned about your relationship, please call JBWS’ 24-Hour Helpline at 1.877.782.2873

*This article was written by a JBWS volunteer and member of our Crisis Response Team

[i] Adapted from Bancroft, Lundy. Why Does He Do That?, Berkley Books, 2003.

[ii] Campbell, Jacquelyn C, Ph.D., R.N. 2019;