Emotional safety - in any and all relationships - is critical for the health and growth of the relationship. One of the key skills an adult must acquire is learning to discern between those who can be trusted and those who can't.
I'm deeply uncomfortable around anyone I perceive to be "unsafe" but unfortunately, there isn't a perfect "radar" that can identify abusers with 100% accuracy (if there were, I'd pay through the nose for it). One can only keep one's eyes peeled, be wary and always always pull in your community and family to back you up, keep you accountable and protect you. I cannot emphasize this last enough: A key trait of nearly all abusive relationships is the isolation - the victim is brought to the point where he/she no longer has anyone else to trust or confide in.
Even as I write this though, I know. In the end, it is God who protects, unfailingly and lovingly. Guarding the heart, guarding the mind and self is done through seeking wisdom in scripture and embedding yourself in a community, amongst other trusted Godly men and women. It is important to highlight that abuse is a manifestation of sin - and that in guarding you against sin, your community can and will guard you against abuse as well.
Note: I reserve a special brand of dislike for those who use their faith to emotionally blackmail people into doing things - emotional blackmail is abuse. Utter selfishness and an inability to understand or try to understand another's needs is abuse wrapped up in another word.
There is only one thing to do if a relationship begins to corrode in this manner (oh and it's biblical too): Flee.
A key question to ask: Do you feel safe expressing your thoughts/feelings to this person?
Excerpts from Yv:
Another mark of something being wrong is secrecy. Secrecy that isolates you from your friends and family is not acceptable. In fact, too much secrecy in a relationship can be the first sign of manipulation and coercion. The more you keep abuse — physical, emotional or sexual — secret from your family and friends, the more ashamed you become. Communication is vital for safety.
The abuser disguises his true intention of control and domination in two ways. First, he performs actions that he knows are interpreted as signs of love and devotion by most women. Second, he convinces the woman that his other actions, the ones that reveal his true intentions, *are also demonstrations of love*.
Two of the key tools he uses are focus and intensity.
Focus: They will use the information you give them to “package” their promised rewards and punishments. The more they match your desires in their promised rewards and dredge up your deepest fears in their punishments, the more control they get and maintain. Throughout your r/s with an abuser, he will be able to get a smile on your face and make your heart flutter with pleasure. He will also know how to make your stomach clench in dread and sweat break out on your brow. He was given the means of doing both of these things *by you* in the early stages of your relationship. NOTE: This wearing down of resistance happens in brainwashing cults, sects, religions, state propaganda, etc etc as well.
Intensity: They let you talk on and on, or find time to ask you very personal questions and demand completely honest answers. This is more common when an abuser believes he has enough advantages over you and you will want him regardless. He gains power by getting you to do what he asks, every time he asks, without question or hesitation on your part. You are too overwhelmed to ask yourself why he wants to do everything so fast and so completely — it’s not passion. It’s training. He’s psychologically training you to submit to his emotional control and the abuse that will accompany it very soon.
Physical abuse is not what you’re going to be afraid of. What’s most damaging sometimes is emotional abuse. Here are guys who know exactly what the girl wants to hear, how special and wonderful she is, they can say it with the straightest face — and then with the same straight face they can crush your spirit without even touching you.
Stage I: Tension building
She feels as though she’s walking on eggshells. He is edgy, moody, easily agitated, unpredictable. There’s an air of heightened anxiety.
Stage II: Acute or abusive
Concentrated and intense emotional and verbal abuse, actual physical abuse, an eruption of the tension previously described.
He says “I’m sorry, I’ll never do it again.” He may blame her for his actions with “If you wouldn’t…I wouldn’t get angry.” He makes up with “hearts and flowers” or sex. She experiences many feelings from anger to love to confusion. She believes him and the cycle continues.
Shame is one of the most powerful emotions the abused feels. They don’t see it as rape, they are not outraged. They absorb all the shame and humiliation that a rape victim experiences, but they blame themselves, not him. She won’t tell a parent or a therapist. If the girl has strong rescue needs, a suicide threat is an effective way of keeping her trapped in an abusive relationship. It’s the ultimate manipulation.