Relationship abuse isn’t always easy to spot — even if you’re in the relationship.

While physical violence is the first thing to come to many people’s minds, abuse often involves other types of maltreatment. Sometimes it’s subtle manipulation, cruel words, giving the “silent treatment,” or taking extreme control of the finances.

Recognizing abuse when you see it is the first step toward helping yourself or someone you love stay safe.

Relationship abuse, or intimate partner violence (IPV), is quite common, affecting more than 10 million people per year in the United States.

In many cases, IPV falls under the umbrella of domestic violence, which is any violence within a family unit. However, IPV can also happen among couples who are not living together.

IPV may involve emotional or psychological aggression, physical or sexual violence, financial abuse, or stalking behaviors.

The frequency and severity of abuse in relationships can vary widely from occasional instances to daily maltreatment. A common thread among all cases is the abusive person’s attempts to control their partner.

There are several types of abuse:

  • Physical abuse. Physical abuse involves intentional bodily harm. This could include slapping, punching, choking, kicking, pinching, shoving, forcing drugs, or physically restraining a partner against their will.
  • Emotional abuse. Emotional or verbal abuse involves cruel words or attitudes meant to control, demean, or punish in some way. (eg. calling a partner worthless or stupid, or giving the “silent treatment”) Research shows that emotional abuse may be a contributing factor to the development or severity of illnesses, such as chronic fatigue syndrome.
  • Psychological abuse. Psychological or mental abuse involves the slow wearing down of a person’s sense of self over time, and may even make them doubt their sanity. Gaslighting falls under this type of abuse.
  • Sexual abuse. This involves any type of sexual assault, rape, or the weaponizing of sex.
  • Financial abuse. This involves the controlling of money so the partner is unable to have or spend money without the other’s permission.

What motivates abusers to control?

Research suggests there are several reasons why abusers attempt to control their partners:

In general, abusive behaviors are those that intend to:

  • harm
  • control
  • intimidate
  • threaten
  • humiliate
  • manipulate
  • degrade
  • blame
  • harass
  • isolate partner from others

Signs of relationship abuse

IPV can be difficult to identify. There are many things a partner can do to act in an abusive manner. These are some of the more common ones.

Does your partner…

  • blame you for how they act or feel?
  • say that you’d be nothing without them?
  • make you feel like there’s no way out of the relationship?
  • blame alcohol or drugs for their behavior?
  • act extremely jealous or possessive?
  • call you numerous times to make sure you’re where you said you’d be?
  • say cruel things to you or call you names?
  • intimidate or threaten you to get what they want?
  • embarrass you in front of your friends and family?
  • make you feel like you can’t take care of yourself or make decisions?
  • pressure you into sex?
  • minimize or make fun of your accomplishments?
  • prevent you from doing what you want?
  • keep you separated from your family and friends?
  • control all the money?
  • interrogate you about where you’ve been?
  • threaten you with violence?
  • treat you in a rough way: push, grab, shove, or hit you?

This brief, time-saving questionnaire is designed for anyone looking to find out whether they may be in an abusive relationship.

If you’re in a domestic violence situation, knowing the signs can help you navigate the situation.

Even if it’s not a domestic violence situation, a mental health professional can help if you’re having trouble with conflict resolution and establishing healthy relationship boundaries.

This online screening is not an official evaluation of your relationship or your partner’s behavior.

It’s a tool to help you better understand whether you may be involved in a relationship that could be considered abusive — emotionally, physically, or both.

If you’re in a domestic violence situation, knowing how to navigate the situation safely is crucial.

When you’re ready, consider reaching out to a mental health professional or social services about next steps. You’re not alone, and help is available.

If you feel you’re in danger and need help immediately, call 911. You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 (SAFE) or text “Start” to 88788 for help.

There are numerous resources available to you if you’re experiencing IPV. Here are a few: