Updated 25 March 2014

What do Reeva's messages mean?

The ongoing Oscar Pistorius trial has brought to light underlying signs of emotional conflict between him and Reeva Steenkamp. Was this a normal part of being in love or a glimpse into a darker side of their relationship?


Messages sent from Reeva Steenkamp to Oscar Pistorius in the weeks before her death show her describing how he made her feel unladylike, upset and scared.

All couples fight. The usual topics include spending habits, in-laws, fidelity, children, chores – the list continues. Sometimes, however, a line can be crossed. How can you tell when a relationship is abusive? When does the occasional bicker become a warning light?

During cross-examination of the cellphone analyst, Pistorius' defence highlighted messages which they believed showed that the couple were, in fact, in a happy and loving relationship. In turn, the prosecution pointed out that while these messages were more numerous, they were shorter and more casual, unlike the messages of hurt which were longer, more detailed and more visceral.

Gillian Eagle, a professor of psychology at Wits University who was interviewed by IOL, believes that the prosecution will use these messages to create the sense that there was a pattern of conflict in the relationship.

"There are many different types of abuse", says Ilse Pauw, Cape Town psychologist. "Some involve physical attacks or aggressive behaviour which can range from slapping to bruising, to serious assaults, to murder."

"Then there is sexual abuse within the relationship. Often the physical abuse culminates in sexual violence. Then there is psychological battering, which can constitute verbal abuse, harassment, excessive possessiveness, isolating the partner from family and friends, depriving the person of food, money and clothes, destroying her property and her self-esteem," she added.

Steenkamp was no stranger to abuse. The Daily Mail revealed last month that Reeva was due to speak about her experience of abuse at the hands of an unnamed ex-partner at a Valentine's Day speech just hours after she was fatally shot.

Check out this shocking gallery of abuse.

Signs of abusive relationships

Constant putdowns. If your partner ridicules you in front of other people, implying that you are stupid, uninformed and that your opinion on things is irrelevant, the behaviour is abusive.

Who was that who looked at you? Extreme jealousy and possessiveness is often a sign of an abusive relationship. If you feel as if you are constantly being watched and constantly questioned about everyone you spoke to, all your movements, chances are your relationship is abusive.

Demure and downtrodden. If you find yourself growing quieter and rather saying nothing at all than saying something that could unleash a torrent of abuse, you are in a danger zone. The same goes for starting to do things purely in order to avoid another verbal or physical attack. The sad thing, though, is that it is not your behaviour causing the abuse, so changing your behaviour won't put a stop to it.

Read: Facebook saves woman from abusive husband

All on my own. If you find that your partner is constantly criticising your family and friends, does not make them feel welcome in the home, and makes it more and more difficult for you to see them, the isolation process, which is so typical of the abusive relationship, has begun.

Last minute cancellations. You find that it happens more and more often that your partner provokes a scene or does something to effectively prevent you from attending social occasions to which you, or the two of you, have been invited.

Not a cent to be spent. Financial control is another form of abuse. Obviously unbridled spending on unnecessary luxuries cannot be justified. But if one of the partners is forced to hand over their entire salary, or ask for every little thing that is needed, or is not given any spending money, or is made to account for every single cent that is spent, it could be seen as abusive.

Read:Why was Oscar vomiting in court?

Temper tantrums. No one is always in a good mood, but there is a difference between feeling rather miffed and losing control, shouting, screaming and breaking things. If your partner is destroying your property, the message is clear: You could be next. If you are unable to raise even small issues without unleashing a torrent of abuse, there is a problem.

Violent assaults. Whether this happens once a year or every week, if there are violent episodes in your relationship, the relationship is abusive. Being bruised, battered and assaulted by your partner is not acceptable. No one ever deserves to be treated in this manner, whatever the reasons the batterer chooses to give. It is not your behaviour that causes this – if you do some research, you will more than likely find that there is history of this kind of behaviour long before you were ever on the scene.

Your children are quiet and withdrawn. Children who live in a home where the parental relationship is physically or emotionally abusive, quickly learn that it is better not to attract any attention. They are often withdrawn and overcompliant, and sometimes develop behavioural problems or psychosomatic symptoms as a resault of the stress they're under.

(Sources: IOL, Daily;

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated March 2014)

Read more:
Men also abused by partners
How to leave an abusive spouse
Your Oscar trial questions answered

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