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Q: My new partner is acting strangely. How can I be sure his actions aren't hinting at future abuse?

Since August 2, 2011, Robyn Gardner, the 35-year-old divorced woman from Frederick, Maryland, has been reported missing from the same Aruba beach area as Natalee Holloway by Gardner's traveling companion Gary Giordano, age 50. According to Giordano, he lost sight of Gardner when she was swept into the sea while they snorkeling.

When you first heard about this incident, you probably shared a similar reaction of others: Oh no, not again. And it seems, that based on current information about Giordano, you have good reason to worry. A report from WJLA-TV said that Giordano has a history of domestic violence.

According to an August 11, 2011 Associated Press article by David Dishneau, Gardner had doubts about going away with Giordano. Later, just before Giordano boarded his flight from Aruba to the United States, Aruba's Solicitor General Taco Stein arrested Giordano because of inconsistencies in his story about how Gardner went missing.  It's a real shame and probably a tragedy that, unlike Stein, Gardner avoided heeding her own warning signs about going away with Giordano. 

We often learn crucial life lessons from catastrophes, and Gardner's story holds particular instruction for women. Of course, the universe always throws a curve ball or two, but still there are precautions women can take to minimize disasters. Here are some tips gleaned over the years from my clients who have averted harm. Hopefully, these ideas will help you stay safe.

1. Don't make important decisions after a fight with your partner. Journalist Dishneau reports in his article that Gardner's boyfriend Richard Forester said he told WJLA-TV of an argument between him and Gardner before she left for Aruba. Forester also said that hours before her disappearance she emailed him and said she wanted "to sort things out" when she returned.  We may never know the details of the argument, but, it's possible that Forester raised some red flags about the advisability of going with Giordano. 

Regardless of your exact circumstances, heated fights with partners can often lead to hasty actions. My clients have summed up their state of mind as: "I stormed out and was bullheaded enough to defy him—even though I knew he was right." Unfortunately, defiance can set you on a course of no return where you ignore your misgivings. Your best strategies are to postpone decisions and talk things out with trusted friends and professionals.

2. Be wary of things that seem "too good to be true.  Allegedly, investigators in Aruba found pornographic material of Gardner. Use your imagination to create a possible scenario that would tempt a woman to throw caution to the wind: A man offers a woman a chance to make big money or become famous. Okay, maybe the opportunity is a little hard to believe, but then again, isn't life a gamble anyway, she reasons. 

I've counseled women clients who ran off with men to far-flung places only to find themselves used and abused. One of my single clients fell hard for a handsome pilot and found herself stranded on a tropical isle and forced to engage in video-taped group sex. Some opportunities are worth passing up.

3. Listen to that little voice of doubt. According to several media reports, Gardner had a tumultuous relationship with Giordano for about a year. Gardner's friends also said she was very "trusting." Even without knowing the details, we know from common sense that mature and mutually satisfying relationships are not filled with drama. Typically, though, hot sex or expensive gifts are usually the fallback "cure" for your emotionally and physically harmful interactions. Almost on the spot you find yourself lured back into the relationship. But these returns to love are brief and dependent on your having a lapse in memory of all the other terrible times. 

Step back in your mind and imagine your relationship is the featured story on a reality show. It probably would make you scream at the television: "Get out, girl." One way to increase the volume on that little voice of doubt inside you is to do a physical reaction check. Start with your head and work down to your legs. Do you feel cloudy-headed? Have a headache? Is your heart pounding or your tummy churning? Are you having trouble breathing? Do you feel anxious or nauseous? Are your legs shaking? Paying attention to your involuntary signals of your body can boost your danger detection.

4. Take a vacation from being "too nice." Gardner's friends describe her as someone "loyal" and "kind." Kindness is a great attribute but only if the other person reciprocates with kindness. Unfortunately, many women are too afraid to hurt a man's feelings, especially if he has done favors for her. You must first be kind and caring to yourself.  Don't accept emotional crumbs. You are not Little Orphan Annie who has to be grateful for every good deed from a man. 

5. Don't be afraid to be "judgmental." We loathe being judged, so it is no wonder that we hesitate to judge others. Think of judgment as an assessment tool to help you determine whether to trust a man. Not every man can benefit from your love and help.  If you are drawn to a man who prompts you to "understand" him or "fix" him, run.

You can never be too careful. When in doubt, take your time, talk to your friends, seek counseling or hire a detective!

Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, Ed.D, MSS, is a nationally recognized psychologist and licensed clinical social worker, specializing in women's issues in love, life, work, and family. Sign up on her website, http://www.lovevictory.com, to receive free advice, blog, cartoon, and information about her two upcoming research-based, self-help books for women: The Love Adventures of Almost Smart Cookie—a cartoon, self-help book and Smart Relationships. You can follow Dr. Wish on Twitter.