What is Domestic Abuse?

Domestic abuse is a deliberate and ongoing pattern of behavior used by one person to control an intimate partner or family member’s actions and feelings. The Power & Control Wheel shown below illustrates the different ways abuse can affect a relationship.

The Wheel, designed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, Minnesota, uses “male perpetrator language” because most abuse reports have been, historically, males against females. We believe no one deserves to be hurt or abused, and that’s why our advocacy services are “equal-opportunity.” If anything in the Power & Control Wheel describes your relationship, or if you’re worried or confused, contact our Helpline. It’s free and confidential.

The Myth: An Abuser …

  • Is “out of control.”
  • Has a drinking or drug problem
  • Has poor anger control
  • Is just under stress
  • Has low self-esteem
  • Was provoked by the victim

The Truth: An Abuser …

  • Chooses who, when, and where to abuse
  • Who is under the influence continues to make choices about who, when, and where abuse happens
  • Can control anger on the job, with friends, in court, or when dealing with police.
  • Chooses to deal with stress through violence
  • Does not differ from non-abusers in their level of self-esteem
  • It is never justified in abusing someone

Red Flags of Abuse

Abusers use fear, guilt, shame, and intimidation to keep someone else, usually an intimate partner, under their control. Abuse is stressful, exhausting, and may even be life-threatening. Take a look at what’s going on in your relationship. Do you recognize any of these red flags?

Does Your Partner…

  • Make you feel like you never do anything right or well enough?
  • Try to make you feel like you’re “crazy” or that you’re “imagining things?”
  • Withdraw into silence, and wait for you to figure out what you’ve done wrong and apologize for it?
  • Threaten to leave you, threaten to make you leave, or lock you out?
  • Socialize or go out, leaving you home because “the children are your responsibility?”
  • Get angry if you suggest the situation isn’t fair?
  • Spend money on whatever they want to, but then get mad at you when there is none left for bills or groceries?
  • Act jealous when you spend time with friends or family or with anyone other than them? Exhibit obsessive, unreasonable jealousy?
  • Call you names or belittle you in private or in front of the children or friends?
  • Yell and scream at you?
  • Constantly criticize your parenting or housekeeping?
  • Threaten to take the children if you leave?
  • Block the door so you won’t leave during an argument, follow you around, or keep you awake to continue the argument?
  • Force you to have sex when you don’t want to or in ways, you don’t want to?
  • Threaten to hurt you or someone you care about? Be cruel to or belittle the children? Hurt your pets?
  • Constantly try to keep track of you by following you, reading your emails, listening to your phone messages, calling, or texting you obsessively?
  • Exhibit unpredictable mood swings, make you feel like you never know “who” will walk through the door?
  • Shove, hit, punch, kick, strangle, spit on, or beat you?

If you answered “yes” to even one of these questions, abuse is likely part of your relationship. Even if the abuser never touches you, emotional and psychological abuse can be as terrifying and debilitating. Every relationship has its ups and downs, but if you have a healthy relationship, you should look forward to being with your partner, enjoying your time together, and supporting each other. Your relationship should not make you feel sick or afraid.

Are You Abusing Your Partner?

What’s Going on in Your Relationship?

  • Do you often lose your temper?
  • Have you ever hit, pushed, grabbed, or threatened your partner?
  • Have you frightened or intimidated your partner in any way?
  • Has your partner said that they are afraid of you or shown fear in other ways?
  • Are your children afraid of you?
  • Do you frequently insult your partner, call them names, or say things that make them feel uncomfortable?
  • Do you often pressure your partner to do things your way, even if they don’t want to?
  • Do they complain that you are trying to control their life?
  • Do you feel jealous or anxious when your partner spends time with other people?
  • Do you need or want to know where your partner is at all times?
  • When you mistreat your partner, do you believe it’s their fault?
  • Do you blame your behavior towards your partner on alcohol, drugs, stress, or family problems?
  • Have you cheated on your partner?
  • Have you ever been accused of mistreating your children?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might need to take a close look at what’s going on in your relationship and at the damages your behavior is causing. If you already understand how much you’re hurting your partner and family, if you feel guilty and apologetic after an abusive incident and promise yourself and them that you’ll change. Still, the abuse doesn’t stop. You’re not the only one. But you may need some outside intervention.

Barriers to Leaving

If you’re struggling with abuse, you know that leaving your partner isn’t easy for many reasons, even though you may know you’re not in a healthy relationship. If you’re concerned about a friend, relative, co-worker, or client, it’s important to understand why it may be hard, and even risky, to leave an abusive relationship.

“Walk out the back, Jack” is a cute song lyric, but real life isn’t that simple. Relationships involve a complex intertwining of emotions, memories, and behavior patterns that can take a long time to unravel, especially when the relationship is dangerous. Here are some of the common and genuine barriers to leaving an abusive relationship:

  • Fear – of increased abuse or of actually being killed, fear that the abuser will commit suicide, that no one will believe you, that the abuser will stalk you, that unsupervised visits with the abusive partner will put your kids at risk. The majority of domestic homicides occur when or right after the victim leaves the abuser.
  • Isolation – of the victim from friends and family by the abuser has probably been going on throughout the relationship. Abusers often make sure any support system has been dismantled, so if you leave, you’re left alone to find a job, transportation, childcare, housing, and social services.
  • Economic Reality – may be that you aren’t able to support yourself and your children. You may not have marketable skills or access to government assistance or cash, checks, or other important documents that the abuser has controlled.
  • Childhood Experiences – may leave you feeling that abuse is unavoidable in relationships or that it is okay to be abused by people you love and who say they love you.
  • Connection to the Abuser – and manipulating feelings of love or compassion may lead you to believe that you alone can help the abuser overcome their problems or that your abusive partner is all-powerful and will find you if you leave.
  • Beliefs About Self – low self-esteem often results in victims who accept blame for a relationship’s problems. You might think you deserve to be abused.

If abuse is part of your relationship, you’re far from alone. One in three teenagers say they know someone who’s been physically or emotionally hurt by a romantic partner. That means you probably know someone who is being abused in their relationship.

If someone is abusing you, or if someone you know is being abused, please contact our Helpline. We’ll work with you as you explore your options and you decide what’s best for you. You don’t deserve to live in fear. No one does