The following list, which outlines many common behaviors that abusers use to establish and maintain control in an intimate relationship, is certainly not exhaustive. Batterers are often creative, and they constantly think of new ways to dominate their partners. For that reason, abusive behaviors can encompass any behavior that a person uses to control their partner, especially those that make the victim fearful. The following, however, are some of the most common:
Physical Force – An abusive person may misuse physical power to restrain, injure, and terrify their partner. This results in the establishment of fear and control in the relationship.
Jealousy – At times people confuse or equate feelings of jealousy with feelings of love. An abusive person may frequently and suspiciously ask questions about their partner’s conversations, whereabouts, activities, and experiences. A person who is behaving abusively may become verbally and/or physically aggressive and accusatory when, for any reason, they are not the focus of their partner’s attention.
Manipulation – A person who is behaving abusively will attempt to justify their abusive behavior by relating it to their “concern” or “love” for their partner. They may also attempt to exploit their partner’s feelings of love and compassion.
Lying – Abusive people often lie to themselves and others. They put a “spin” on events in their lives in order to avoid responsibility for the violence that they perpetrate. Lying about affairs and finances are common occurrences.
Unrealistic Expectations – A person behaving abusively may expect their partner to meet all of their needs, to take care of everything for them emotionally and/or domestically.
Isolation – Abusers, once they have established power in the relationship, may isolate their partner by making it difficult or impossible for her to be with family and friends. She/he may block his partner’s access to the vehicle, work opportunities, telephone and Internet services, and any or all connections to the world outside of the relationship.
Blames Others for Problems, Emotions, and Abusive Behavior – A perpetrator of intimate partner violence will often blame others (usually partners and other family members) for their abusive behavior and negative emotions. However, it is their choice to use those behaviors or act on those emotions.
Use of Children – An abusive person may use the children to control their spouse. Children are at times asked to monitor the behavior of one parent and report on that behavior to the other. Or, abusive parents may threaten to or actually harm the children in order to harm the other parent.
Cruelty to Animals – Abusive behavior may include injury to the family pets.
Sexual Abuse – This includes carrying out any sexual interaction that is unwanted by the person with whom you are being sexual. Manipulative and coercive behaviors that are intended to gain compliance are also forms of sexual abuse.
Verbal Abuse – A person using verbal violence may degrade his/her partner; call her/him names, and say cruel and hurtful things. The long-term negative consequences of this victimization can be as devastating as those that occur among victims of physical and sexual abuse.
Duel Personality – “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” – A person behaving abusively may shift quickly between moods. The victim may feel like she has to “walk on eggshells” not knowing what to expect.
Threatens to Harm – Abusers may tell their partners and/or children how they will hurt/punish them if they do not obey.
Breaking or Striking Objects – Abusive behavior may include breaking household items, punching holes in walls, or kicking doors to scare the victim.
Financial Abuse – A person behaving abusively may take complete control of the household money, including controlling all spending and not allowing the other partner to work. The abuser may take out or cancel accounts in the partner's name or sabotage the partner at work, causing her to lose her job. Threats to withhold money for necessities, such as food, are also used to control the family.
Minimizing or Denying Violence – Perpetrators of domestic violence often say things like, “It’s not that bad,” “I didn’t do anything,” and “You’re just overreacting.” Over time, this kind of “crazy making” behavior can cause a victim of abuse to question him/herself and the reality and seriousness of the nightmare that they are experiencing.
If you recognize any of these behaviors occuring in your relationship, please reach out for help by calling 1-800-799-SAFE.