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What is Relationship Violence?

domestic-violence4Relationship violence is the physical, emotional and/or verbal abuse of one partner by the other partner in a current or former dating relationship. Abusive behavior is any act carried out by one partner aimed at hurting the other; the goal of the behavior is to establish and maintain power and control in the relationship. Relationship violence can happen in any relationship; domestic violence is not confined to a specific sexual orientation, socio-economic status, race, gender, age, religion, or (dis)ability.

Regardless of the abuser’s age, it is against the law for anyone to:

  • Hurt you
  • Try to hurt you
  • Force you to have sex
  • Threaten you with weapons
  • Harass you on the phone or through the mail
  • Stalk you
  • Destroy things that belong to you

There are many different forms of abuse in relationships, such as:


  • Using put-downs, insults, name-calling, humiliation
  • Threatening to harm or kill family, friends, a new partner, pets, etc.
  • Threatening to commit suicide if a partner leaves
  • Making threats like, “If you leave me I’ll … spread rumors about you, tell your parents we had sex”, etc.
  • Blaming the person who is being abused for the abuse or for all the problems in the relationship
  • Minimizing or denying abusive behavior, playing mind games
  • Possessiveness and/or constant accusations of cheating

Physical Abuse

  • Hitting, grabbing, pushing, shaking, restraining you physically etc.
  • Intimidation (blocking exits/doors, hitting things or throwing objects at or near partner)
  • Using or threatening to use weapons
  • Stalking

Sexual Abuse

  • Ignoring partner’s sexual choice(s) through pressure, manipulation, coercion (e.g. saying, “You’d do it if you loved me”)
  • Rape: Forced penetration without consent (including use of intimidation, threats, weapons etc.)
  • Sexual Assault: Forced sexual contact
  • Sexual Harassment: Unwanted sexual attention

Financial Abuse

  • Controlling all money, using money to threaten or manipulate
  • Controlling possessions like: a car, phones, clothes, jewelry
  • Excessive gift giving with strings attached, for example “I gave you this, now you owe me”
  • Using gifts to make up for abusive behavior
  • Sabotaging a partner’s work or school career, for example harassing a partner at work and causing them to get fired or refusing to give a partner a ride to work or school, etc.

Social Abuse

  • Spreading rumors or using blackmail to control a partner’s actions
  • Keeping a partner “in check” by monitoring their cell phone constantly or using friends to keep tabs on them
  • Isolating a partner from her/his friends and family
  • Using religion/culture to control partner

The Power & Control diagram below is a particularly helpful tool in understanding the overall pattern of abusive and violent behaviors, which are used by a batterer to establish and maintain control over his partner. Very often, one or more violent incidents are accompanied by an array of these other types of abuse. They are less easily identified, yet firmly establish a pattern of intimidation and control in the relationship.