Defining Relationship Violence

Relationship violence is a pattern of abusive and coercive behaviors used to maintain power and control over a former or current intimate partner.  An abusive relationship means more than being hit by the person who claims to love or care about you.  Abuse can be emotional, psychological, financial, sexual, or physical and can include threats, isolation, and intimidation.  Abuse tends to escalate over time. When someone uses abuse and violence against a partner, it is always part of a larger pattern to try to control her/him.

Emotional abuse

This type of abuse is also referred to as psychological abuse.  It is often the form of abuse that is most difficult for people who have never been abused to understand. When taken out of context, emotional abuse may look "normal."  For example, joking about a mistake someone has made can be a normal part of a relationship.  However, when it is part of ongoing insults, criticism and put-downs, it reinforces a victim's feelings of worthlessness. Other examples of emotional abuse include:

  • Isolating the victim
  • Tracking everything the victim does
  • Threatening to "out" the victim
  • Threatening to turn friends against the victim
  • Threatening suicide
  • Withholding emotion
  • Blaming the victim for everything
  • Keeping someone from studying or doing things they enjoy

People who have been abused consistently say that emotional abuse is the most difficult form of abuse to recover from.  Bruises and broken bones can heal, but recovering from feeling worthless is a much more difficult process.

Economic abuse

Money is a difficult thing to negotiate in a healthy relationship.  When someone is abusive, money becomes a way to control the victim.  Economic abuse can include:

  • Using the victim's credit cards or meal plan
  • Ruining someone's credit
  • Paying for things the victim needs and using that to manipulate the victim
  • Making someone feel guilty about their financial status
  • Stealing money
  • Not paying bills

Sexual abuse

The most obvious form of sexual abuse involves forcing someone to have sex. More subtle forms include:

  • Pressuring someone to have sex or to engage in sexual activities
  • Manipulating someone into having sex, through false promises, emotional pleas or alcohol and other drugs
  • Not allowing the victim to use birth control or protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections
  • Forcing a woman to have an abortion -- or not allowing her to have an abortion
  • Forcing someone to watch pornography
  • Forcing someone to act out pornography

Sexual abuse in an intimate relationship can be very confusing. Because the victim has consented to be with this person sexually, they may feel that they have to agree to everything their partner wants. In a healthy relationship, a person's sexual boundaries are always respected.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse can include:

In many abusive relationships, physical abuse is not very frequent. However, once someone has been physically abusive, the threat of it happening again can be a powerful way to control the victim.

  • Hitting or slapping
  • Pushing, grabbing or choking
  • Restraining the victim
  • Burning the victim
  • Hurting pets
  • Damaging the victim's property
  • Using weapons