Abusive relationships involve a pattern of verbal, physical, emotional, financial, psychological, and/or sexual abuse used to establish power and control within the context of an intimate relationship. One partner uses abusive behaviors to assert power or maintain control over the other. It is also known as:
Although the media often portrays relationship violence in heterosexual couples with a male abuser and female victim, abuse can and does happen with female perpetrators and male victims, though it is much less common. Abuse also occurs in same sex relationships at approximately the same rate as in different sex relationships.
People who are abusive want power and control from the relationship, though they often try to portray their abuse as love. Their need for control is obtained through psychological and verbal abuse, threats and intimidation, physical abuse, sexual abuse, social abuse, and controlling or possessive behaviors. Visual representations of power and control can be helpful in understanding abuse. Click here for a visual representation of power and control in dating relationships. Because of systems of power and oppression in our culture, such as sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and ableism, abusers may use identity-specific threats to control their partner. Check out other representations of equality or of power and control at the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence webpage.
Once the cycle of abuse begins, it almost always continues to get more severe, more explosive, and move more quickly. If you’re concerned about your safety because of your partner’s behaviors, check out the Safety page or see The Compass Center’s (formerly Family Violence Prevention Center’s) Safety Planning page.
Someone who is abusive is likely to:
Abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, cultural, and/or verbal and is designed or used to control, coerce, humiliate, demean, or otherwise cause harm.
The objective of abuse is to maintain power and control over one’s partner.
The abused partner often feels alone, isolated, afraid, and usually believes that the abuse is her/his/hir fault or could have been avoided if she/he/ze had only known the right thing to do.
Abuse can be lethal.
Safety planning can help victims/survivors in an abusive relationship or who intend to leave.
For more information on Safety Planning, please see The Compass Center for Women and Families’ website.