Gabby Petito

Murder mysteries. Missing persons. Unsolved Cases. There is something that pulls us into these stories–the twists, turns, and plot changes. Finding out the truth can be shocking. No one really knows what goes on behind closed doors—especially when it comes to relationships with emotional abuse and manipulation.

If you are involved in a toxic-relationship, it can feel as if you are the only one who knows what is really going on. What is portrayed to others of one’s daily “real-life” experiences are not always what they appear when only observed from the outside. Those following Gabby-Petito’s social media posts of her adventures with Brian-Laundrie see her smiling as though everything is great. Those who have lived through abusive relationships can relate to the “darker side” when your relationship is an “emotional roller coaster”.

Patterns of abuse can start off as slowly, especially in a new relationship. Over time, the abuser uses various tactics to maintain power and control within the relationship and over the other person. Emotional and psychological abuse is just one type of abuse. Tactics might include being possessive/ jealous, keeping tabs on your whereabouts and “monitoring you”, accusing you of cheating, and blaming you for their responses. You may begin to question your own self-worth. You may even question your own reality of accounts when gaslighting is being used. The abuser may further attempt to control you by isolating you from loved ones, using threats, and misleading you about your options in a relationship.

The cycle-of-abuse and power-and-control wheel are two models that can be helpful in understanding dynamics and patterns that are present within abusive relationships; however, abuse does not always follow predictable patterns. In the cycle of abuse, tension builds. You may begin to feel anxious and afraid, as if you are “walking on eggshells” within your relationship, leading up to an “incident”. This may be a physical or verbal altercation in which the abuser uses tactics to regain power and control. The third stage is reconciliation, which leads to the calm “honeymoon” stage. The abuser may accuse the victim of provoking them or justify their behavior; the victim may end of taking responsibility through blaming themself.

Power and control are central themes in the wheel model; these are viewed as the subtle and continually elements. Using coercion, threats, intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, economic abuse, children, male privilege and minimizing, denying & blaming are behaviors within the wheel that are reinforced by the outer rings of physical and sexual violence.

Gabby Petito’s friends described her relationship as “toxic at times”. Friends say they “always had some drama”…“very low lows and very high highs” but… “always seemed to love each other”. Those who crossed paths with the couple also saw warning signs—those who witnessed “a commotion” and saw a “domestic dispute” may have never imagined how the narrative would unfold. Sadly, Gabby was never able to finish sharing her adventures and unfortunately, subtle “red flags” in an unhealthy relationship can quickly escalate to deadly results.

If you or a loved one are currently involved in a toxic relationship, please reach out before it is too late.

Hotline Numbers

DayOne Crisis Hotline


Minnesota’s statewide hotline for people experiencing violence, 24/7/365

The National Domestic Violence Hotline

800.799.7233 or 800.787.3224 (TTY)

Esperanza United


Bilingual (español)

Domestic Violence Helpline

National Deaf Domestic Violence Hotline

Videophone: 855.812.1001

ThinkSelf – Deaf Advocacy Services

Videophone: 651.829.9089

Text Hotline: 621.399.9995

OutFront Minnesota


LGBTQ+ Anti-Violence Crisis Line


Teen Dating Violence Hotline

StrongHearts Native Helpline


Native American Domestic Violence Helpline

To schedule an appointment with one of our professional counselors, click here.

Written By: Charlotte Johnson, MA, LPCC

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