- Gabby Petito’s death has sparked a national conversation about intimate partner violence.
- Experts told Insider withdrawal from friends and hobbies can signal a loved one is being abused.
- Victims may also become timid, and make excuses for their partners if they talk about them at all.
Gabby Petito’s death and the manhunt for her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, set off a national conversation about domestic abuse.
The 22-year-old was on a cross country road trip with Laundrie, when officers pulled the couple over on August 12 after they were involved in an altercation.
The Petito family launched the Gabby Petito Foundation in October to funnel support to missing persons cases and offer financial assistance to victims of domestic violence.
Experts say domestic violence in relationships can be hard to spot.
“Abusers are manipulators and of course, the survivor didn’t choose to be in an abusive relationship, but once you start getting manipulated and gaslighted, it’s a difficult relationship to get out of because people have the tendency to get brainwashed,” relationship expert Jaime Bronstein told Insider.
Here are three signs your loved one might be in an abusive relationship – and what to do about it.
They start cutting themselves off from friends and family
If a loved one stops returning texts, calls, and retreats from keeping up with you, it could be a warning sign of intimate partner violence. Victims may also stop participating in outside hobbies, psychotherapist Babita Spinelli told Insider.
Abusers often go to great lengths to cut their partners off from family and friends. Psychotherapist Ashley McGirt told Insider she’s seen cases where the abuser changes the victim’s contact numbers in their phones.
Withdrawal from friends and activities can also occur because victims feel shame about their situation and are protective of their families.
“They really don’t want to burden them,” McGirt said.
They start making self-deprecating comments
Spinelli said victims can go from being vibrant and confident to shy, anxious, timid, and being afraid to make decisions for themselves.
“When you’re told over and over, ‘You’re worthless,’ you start to believe it’s true,” McGirt said.
Plus, since they’re cut off from other relationships, they’re not getting much, if any, validation elsewhere. That’s been particularly true during the pandemic when people have been trapped with their abusers at home – even lacking in-person contact with coworkers.
Research suggests the stress and isolation of the pandemic is linked to increased intimate partner violence.
They make excuses for their partner, if they talk about them at all
If a friend doesn’t talk about their partner, “that could be a red flag that they are in danger and they are protecting their abuser for fear that they will be more abused if someone finds out about what is going on,” Bronstein said.
Spinelli said an abused person might also start “hiding behind reasons their partner’s toxic behavior makes sense or shifting the conversation to what is ‘good’ about them.”
In that case, victims may truly believe they’re in a good relationship since the abuser has brainwashed them into a false idea of what love is by following similar tactics as cult leaders, McGirt said. They may boomerang between intense love and abuse, and continually bring up the “one time” they were there for their partners.
If you suspect abuse, keep in contact and provide resources
McGirt said family and friends who suspect abuse should keep in contact as much as possible – calling frequently, visiting if it’s safe, and video-chatting so you can see more of the situation or any signs of physical abuse.
Don’t be afraid to call law enforcement if necessary, she said.
McGirt also recommended providing resources for therapy like Open Path Collective and even sharing stories of your own or others’ problematic relationships. “If you had a personal experience, often that can be really helpful so they know, ‘It’s not just me, I’m not just in my head, this is wrong.'”