Abuse Comes in Many Forms

Domestic violence is all about power—abusers exert control over their partners in whatever form they can. While physical violence may be the first thing that comes to mind when one pictures domestic violence, abusers exert their control in many other ways. Below are some of the forms in which this abuse can take place.

Physical Abuse

Abusers will exert physical force like: pushing, punching, strangling, burning, shooting, dragging, restraining, locking in the house, throwing down stairs, kicking, poking, slapping, cutting, tripping, holding down, hair pulling, squeezing, suffocating, kidnapping, etc.

Verbal Abuse

Abusers partake in: name calling, yelling, making demeaning comments, nagging, cussing, threatening, belittling, constant phone calls, actively undermining their partner’s authority with children, telling them that they are a bad parent, telling them they can’t control their kids, and setting them up to be humiliated in public or in front of family and friends.

This often occurs early in the relationship, and continues to increase in severity as time goes on. Survivors often report that this type of abuse is more difficult to heal from than the physical injuries because verbal abuse is such a betrayal of trust and harmful to the victim’s self esteem. Verbal abuse is often accompanied by Controlling Behavior.

Controlling Behavior

Abusers are trying to undermine their partner’s independence, make them feel bad about themselves, and get them to take the responsibility for whatever is wrong. Often there is a long period of controlling behavior that begins with dating relationships and is initially interpreted as love by both parties in the relationship. These behaviors include verbal messages of “star-crossed” love, like: “You’re the only one that understands me,” “I can’t live without you,” “I could never love anyone else,” and “We will take care of each other’s every need.”

Other examples of controlling behavior can include: sexual jealousy that grows to extreme proportions very quickly, including obsessive focus on prior relationships or becoming extremely angry when prior relationships are even hinted about. Abusers will often accuse other people of looking at their partner or flirting with them; tell their partner what they should wear, who they can talk to, and that the abuser’s opinion is always the right one. Abusers are frequently critical of family and/or friends and will do things that sabotage their partner’s ability to get together with their family/friends, and will often cause scenes. Abusers also will sabotage their partner’s employment, like refusing to get a car repaired that will result in their partner’s inability to reliably get to work, as well as going back on agreements to provide child care and/or other parenting obligations.

Sexual Abuse

Abusers may exhibit behavior like: making degrading sexual comments, forcing sex, assaulting breasts or genitals, forcing a partner to have sex with a third person, criticizing appearance, bragging about infidelity, and forced cohabitation.

Emotional Abuse

Abusers might employ the tactics of: making threats of violence, forcing their partner to do degrading things, controlling activities, frightening their partner, using their partner’s children or grandchildren as leverage against them, killing a family pet, creating crisis, embarrassment, and threatening to tell others about their sexuality in the case of LGBTQ+ couples.

Financial/Economic Abuse

Abusers might: destroy property, prized possessions, relatives’ property; take or deny money; restrict access to household finances and withhold medical treatment; not allow their partner to work or attend school;  and force their partner to work.


Abusers might omit or fail to do what a reasonable person should do under certain circumstances. It includes failure to provide food, shelter, clothing, and personal hygiene to a dependent person who needs such assistance; failure to take care of the needs of the dependent person; and the failure to protect the dependent person from health and safety hazards.

Think You Might Be Experiencing Abuse?

If you’re unsure if your partner is being abusive, you can take a short quiz to help you think about your experiences.