Violence in relationships is an issue that affects millions of people in the world. It occurs in all communities and to people of all races, religions, genders, and ages. It is important to be educated on what constitutes relationship violence, the problems associated with it, and how it can be stopped. This course will help both abusers and the abused to gain a better understanding of relationships or domestic violence, and learn how to take action against it.

What is Relationship/Domestic Violence?

In this article, we will use the terms “relationship violence,” and “domestic violence” interchangeably. They both mean the same thing in this course. Domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of abusive, controlling, or coercive behavior used by one partner to exert power or control over another in an intimate relationship.

The term “intimate relationship” refers not only to dating partnerships and marriage, but also to relationships with either biological or non-biological parents, children, siblings, and extended family members. When you hear the term “domestic violence,” physical violence is usually the first thing that comes to mind.

However, domestic violence can also be sexual, emotional, psychological, or economic. Domestic violence includes behaviors that hurt, injure, intimidate, control, threaten, manipulate, isolate, or humiliate another person. Here are some common signs and behaviors of the different types of abuse:

Physical Abuse:

ü Pushing

ü Hitting

ü Slapping

ü Kicking

ü Biting

ü Strangling/choking

ü Burning

ü Inappropriate physical restraint

ü Using weapons to threaten or injure

ü Damaging property (throwing objects, punching walls, etc.)

ü Forcing drug/alcohol use

ü Depriving a partner of basic needs (food, shelter, clothing, appropriate medical treatment)

Sexual Abuse:

ü Engaging in non-consensual sexual acts using physical force

ü Manipulating or using coercion to force sexual activity

ü Demanding sex when a partner is sick, injured, tired, or simply does not want to

ü Calling a partner hurtful sexual names

ü Humiliating a partner with sexual jokes

ü Forcing a partner to perform degrading sexual acts

ü Marital rape

ü Forced prostitution

ü Denying or sabotaging birth control methods

ü Preventing or forcing an abortion

Emotional Abuse:

ü Continuous insults and criticism

ü Public humiliation

ü Punishing by withholding affection

ü Attacking a partner’s self-esteem and self-worth

ü Not allowing a partner to make his or her own decisions

ü Monitoring what a partner is doing and who he or she is spending time with

ü Wrongfully blaming a partner

ü Continually accusing a partner of cheating

Psychological Abuse:

ü Threatening physical harm to oneself, partner, children, family, or friends

ü Isolating a partner from their friends and family

ü Forbidding a partner to attend school or work

ü Causing fear through intimidation

ü Manipulation and lying

ü Stalking or cyber-stalking

ü Using blackmail

ü Blaming the victim for the abuse

Economic Abuse:

ü Forbidding a partner to work

ü Withholding a partner’s access to his or her personal or shared monies

ü Controlling all finances, both individual and shared

ü Taking a partner’s money, either by using physical force or other manipulative means

ü Demanding access to a partner’s money or benefits

Everyone’s experience with relationship violence is different. Although abusive behavior can often leave noticeable physical effects, other times, it may not leave a trace. It can happen frequently, or only once. However, inflicting or experiencing any of these abusive behaviors can constitute an abusive relationship.

Abusive relationships all have one common feature: the abuser takes action to gain and maintain power and control over another. One reason an abuser aims to gain power and control is to fulfill his or her own emotional and/or physical needs. It is a normal inclination to want one’s needs met, but abusers go about meeting their needs in a selfish and inherently harmful manner.

Often abusers are afraid that their needs will not be met without using force or coercion, which motivates them to continue their abusive behavior. Gaining control and power over another is usually achieved through tactics such as intimidation, isolation, humiliation, and threats. These actions are reinforced when the victim complies, even momentarily, and the abuser begins engaging in a pattern of abusive behaviors to remain in power. With this power, the abuser can control an individual and either force or coerce him or her into abiding by the abuser’s wishes.

How Do You Know if You Are In an Abusive Relationship?

Most people do not enter into a relationship thinking that it will become abusive. In fact, in the beginning, the relationship may seem great, and that’s because most relationships aren’t abusive from the start. Most relationships take time to reach an abusive level of dysfunction.

Abusive behavior may originally occur in isolated incidents. The abuser may blame incidences on external factors, such as a bad day at work or increased levels of stress, or even on the victim. He/she may apologize or promise to never do it again. Another common reaction is for the abuser to downplay the event, tell the victim that he or she is overreacting, or deny the event altogether. These behaviors can increase in frequency and intensity over time.

If you are wondering whether or not your partner is abusive, consider asking yourself these questions:

ü Do you ever feel afraid of your partner?

ü Do you feel like you are walking on eggshells to avoid making your partner angry?

ü Does your partner respect when you say “no” to sexual activity the first time, or do they continue to ask?

ü Does your partner ever coerce you into engaging in sexual activities that you don’t want to participate in?

ü Does your partner monitor where you are, and/or what you’re doing at all times?

ü Does your partner get jealous when you spend time with friends and family?

ü Has your partner ever hurt you or threatened to hurt you?

ü Does your partner blame his or her anger on external factors such as drugs, alcohol, stress, or past experiences?

If you think you may be the abuser in your relationship, consider asking yourself these questions:

ü Do you often feel as though you cannot control your anger?

ü Do you feel the need to constantly know where your partner is, and whom they are with?

ü Do you ever unfairly lash out at a loved one?

ü Have you ever coerced or forced your partner to engage in sexual activity when he or she didn’t want to?

ü Do you feel like you always have to have your way?

ü Do you become very jealous when a partner is spending time with someone else?

ü Have you ever hurt or threatened to hurt your partner?

If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, your relationship may be abusive. In later lessons, we will discuss what to do if you feel that you are in an abusive relationship and how to find help. Will we also discuss what to do if you feel that you may be the abuser in your relationship, and how to change these behaviors?