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Across the nation, statistics show 1in4 to 1in3 women experience Domestic Violence in their lifetime. And please realize that with the current societal expectations of secrecy and privacy, & victim shame, the numbers are likely higher than that.

Signs of Abuse and Abusive Relationships

Domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone, yet the problem is often overlooked, excused, or denied. This is especially true when the abuse is psychological, rather than physical. Noticing and acknowledging the signs of an abusive relationship is the first step to ending it. No one should live in fear of the person they love. If you recognize yourself or someone you know in the following warning signs and descriptions of abuse, reach out. There is help available.

Understanding domestic violence and abuse

  1. Occurs when one person in an intimate relationship or marriage tries to dominate and control the other person. Domestic abuse that includes physical violence is called domestic violence.
  2. Abusers use fear, guilt, shame, and intimidation to wear you down and keep you under his or her thumb. Your abuser may also threaten you, hurt you, or hurt those around you.
  3. Domestic violence and abuse does not discriminate; it happens among heterosexual couples and in same-sex partnerships. It occurs within all age ranges, ethnic backgrounds, and economic levels.
  4. The bottom line is that abusive behavior is never acceptable, whether it’s coming from a man, a woman, a teenager, or an older adult. You deserve to feel valued, respected, and safe.

Signs of an abusive relationship

There are many signs of an abusive relationship. The most telling sign is fear of your partner. If you feel like you have to walk on eggshells around your partner—constantly watching what you say and do in order to avoid a blow-up—chances are your relationship is unhealthy and abusive. Other signs that you may be in an abusive relationship include a partner who belittles you or tries to control you, and feelings of self-loathing, helplessness, and desperation.

To determine whether your relationship is abusive, answer the questions below. The more “yes” answers, the more likely it is that you’re in an abusive relationship.

Signs that you’re in an abusive relationship

Do you:

• feel afraid of your partner much of the time?

• avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?

• believe that you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?

• wonder if you’re the one who is crazy?

• feel emotionally numb or helpless?

Does your partner:

• humiliate or yell at you?

• criticize you and put you down?

• treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your friends or family to see?

• ignore or put down your opinions or accomplishments?

• blame you for their own abusive behavior?

• see you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?

• have a bad and unpredictable temper?

• hurt you, or threaten to hurt or kill you?

• threaten to take your children away or harm them?

• threaten to commit suicide if you leave?

• force you to have sex?

• destroy your belongings?

• act excessively jealous and possessive?

• control where you go or what you do?

• keep you from seeing your friends or family?

• limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?

• constantly check up on you?

Physical abuse and domestic violence

When people talk about domestic violence, they are often referring to the physical abuse of a spouse or intimate partner. Physical abuse is the use of physical force against someone in a way that injures or endangers that person. Physical assault or battering is a crime, whether it occurs inside or outside of the family. The police have the power and authority to protect you from physical attack.

Sexual abuse is a form of physical abuse

Sexual abuse is physical abuse. It is also sexual assault. Any situation in which you are forced to participate in unwanted, unsafe, or degrading sexual activity is sexual abuse. Forced sex, even by a spouse or intimate partner with whom you also have consensual sex, is an act of aggression and violence. Furthermore, people whose partners abuse them physically and sexually are at a higher risk of being seriously injured or killed.

It is still abuse if...

• The incidents of physical abuse seem minor when compared to those you have read about, seen on television, or heard other women talk about. There isn’t a “better” or “worse” form of physical abuse; you can be severely injured as a result of being pushed, for example.

• The incidents of physical abuse have only occurred one or two times in the relationship. Studies indicate that if your spouse/partner has injured you once, it is likely he will continue to physically assault you.

• The physical assaults stopped when you became passive and gave up your right to express yourself as you desire, to move about freely and see others, and to make decisions. It is not a victory if you have to give up your rights as a person and a partner in exchange for not being assaulted!

• There has not been any physical violence. Many women are emotionally and verbally assaulted. This can be as equally frightening and is often more confusing to try to understand.

Source: Breaking the Silence Handbook

Emotional abuse: It’s a bigger problem than you think

Understanding emotional abuse

The aim of emotional abuse is to chip away at your feelings of self-worth and independence. If you’re the victim of emotional abuse, you may feel that there is no way out of the relationship, or that without your abusive partner you have nothing.

Emotional abuse includes verbal abuse such as yelling, name-calling, blaming, and shaming. Isolation, intimidation, and controlling behavior also fall under emotional abuse. Additionally, abusers who use emotional or psychological abuse often throw in threats of physical violence or other repercussions if you don’t do what they want.

You may think that physical abuse is far worse than emotional abuse, since physical violence can send you to the hospital and leave you with scars. The scars of emotional abuse are very real, though, and they run deep. In fact, emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse—sometimes even more so.

Economic or financial abuse: A subtle form of emotional abuse

Remember, an abuser’s goal is to control you, and he or she will frequently use money to do so. Economic or financial abuse includes:

• Rigidly controlling your finances

• Withholding money or credit cards

• Making you account for every penny you spend

• Withholding basic necessities (food, clothes, medications, shelter)

• Restricting you to an allowance

• Preventing you from working or choosing your own career

• Sabotaging your job (making you miss work, calling constantly)

• Stealing from you or taking your money

If you suspect

that someone you know is being abused, speak up! If you’re hesitating—telling yourself that it’s none of your business, you might be wrong, or the person might not want to talk about it—keep in mind that expressing your concern will let the person know that you care and may even save his or her life.

Talk to the person in private and let him or her know that you’re concerned. Point out the things you’ve noticed that make you worried. Tell the person that you’re there, whenever he or she feels ready to talk. Reassure the person that you’ll keep whatever is said between the two of you, and let him or her know that you’ll help in any way you can.

Remember, abusers are very good at controlling and manipulating their victims. People who have been emotionally abused or battered are depressed, drained, scared, ashamed, and confused. They need help to get out, yet they’ve often been isolated from their family and friends. By picking up on the warning signs and offering support, you can help them escape an abusive situation and begin healing.


  • Ask if something is wrong
  • Express concern
  • Listen and validate
  • Offer help
  • Support his or her decisions


  • Wait for him or her to come to you
  • Judge or blame
  • Pressure him or her
  • Give advice
  • Place conditions on your support

Adapted from: NYS Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence


More help for domestic violence and abuse

Abuse Help Center: Whether you’re the abused, the abuser, or a concerned friend or family member, it’s important to know that there is help available.

Related articles

Resources and references

Warning signs of abusive relationships and emotional abuse

Red Flags for Abusive Relationships – Checklist of warning signs and red flags that you’re in an abusive relationship. (Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance)

Emotional Abuse – In-depth discussion of emotional abuse, including types of emotional abuse and signs of abusive, authority-based relationships. (

Domestic violence and physical abuse

Breaking the Silence Handbook – Guide to domestic violence including spotting the signs and where to turn for help. (Nebraska Health and Human Services)

The Problem – Describes the problem of battering and signs of domestic violence. (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence)

For men

Intimate Partner Abuse Against Men (PDF) – Learn about domestic violence against men, including homosexual partner abuse, sexual abuse of boys and male teenagers, and abuse by wives or partners. (National Clearinghouse on Family Violence, Canada)

For teens

Dating Violence – Guide to teen dating violence, including early warning signs that your boyfriend or girlfriend may become abusive. (The Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence)

Teens: Love Doesn’t Have To Hurt (PDF) – A teen-friendly guide to what abuse looks like in dating relationships and how to do something about it. (American Psychological Association)

For gay men and women

Domestic Violence in Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Relationships – Learn about the unique problems victims of same-sex abuse face, and how to get help. (LAMBDA)

For immigrants

Information for Immigrants – Domestic violence resources for immigrant women. Also available en Español. (Women’s Law Initiative)

Domestic violence hotlines and help

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) – A crisis intervention and referral phone line for domestic violence. (Texas Council on Family Violence)

State Coalition List – Directory of state offices that can help you find local support, shelter, and free or low-cost legal services. Includes all U.S. states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence)

The Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men & Women – Specializing in providing support to male victims of abuse. (DAHMV)

International Directory of Domestic Violence Agencies – Worldwide list of helplines and crisis centers. (HotPeachPages)

Help for Victims, Family and Friends – Where to find help if you or someone you know is being abused. (NYS Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence)

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