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Is it Domestic Violence? The Signs of Abuse and What Survivors Can Do

by | Sep 15, 2020 | RELATIONSHIPS

This is a picture of a dictionary page, with the word ABUSE defined.

Domestic abuse, also known as Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), is an incredibly nuanced topic and one that unfortunately tends to come with stigma and misunderstanding. The unfortunate reality is that domestic violence does not discriminate. Abusive and toxic relationship survivors are not a monolith. Survivors come from all walks of life – healthy and unhealthy childhoods, trauma or no trauma history, wealthy or struggling financially, any and all ethnicities, sexual orientations, religions, education levels, and more can experience domestic violence. Anyone can find themselves in the confusing, chaotic, crazymaking that is an abusive relationship and unfortunately it’s more pervasive than our society would want to believe. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 20 Americans are abused by their intimate partner every minute. Let’s take a look at the various types of abuse that can present themselves in relationships and go over strategies one can employ to help themselves break free. 


First, What defines Domestic Violence?

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Domestic violence includes any behavior within in intimate relationship that is physically violent, emotionally controlling or manipulative, inciting fear and persistent feelings of unsafety, using sexual violence or coercion. It also can entail verbal abuse in the form of insults, name calling, and threats. Abuse often looks like any actions or behaviors that an abuser employs to control and enforce power over their partner by stripping said partner from their autonomy and free-will. 


Unfortunately, it’s not always obvious that one’s partner is abusive, especially in the beginning of the relationship. Typically, the relationship starts out as euphoric. The survivor may feel as if they are falling fast and hard but not see any red flags just yet because the abusive partner is on their best behavior. That is, until the honeymoon phase is over and the abusive behaviors set in. 


Understanding the Cycle of Abuse

Why do people stay in abusive relationships? Well, that questions is incredibly complicated to answer singularly, but one reason may be because of what is called the Cycle of Abuse. The Cycle of Abuse was coined by a Psychologist, Lenore Walker, to describe the phases many survivors of domestic abuse experience throughout their relationship, most of the time without being aware of what is occurring. 


Phase One: Tension Build 

First starts an escalation in tension between the couple. This is the phase in which the abusive partner frequently begins their abusive behavior. This can look like getting in more arguments, using abusive language, jealousy, and more. The overt violence hasn’t begun yet and the survivor likely believes these outbursts are isolated incidents and chalks them up to their partner’s stress at work or a bad day. 

Phase Two: Acute Violence 

The second phase occurs when the abusive partner becomes violent whether it be physical, emotional, sexual, financial, or other types of abuse. The tension has built up and volcano of the abusive partner’s violent tendencies have exploded. It could be caused by external life stressor or the abuser’s emotional state, however, the abuse is not because of anything the survivor has done. These events are often spontaneous and completely out of the survivor’s control. 


Phase Three: Reconciliation/Honeymoon Phase 

The third and final phase of the cycle of abuse occurs when the abuser has calmed down and feels ashamed for their behavior. The abuser will attempt to minimize the abuse or even gaslight his or her partner into believing it didn’t happen or wasn’t that bad. This phase is also when the abuser attempts to love bomb their partner, or overwhelm their partner with attention, affection, loving words and compliments, and romantic gestures. These manipulation tactics employed by the abuser are often so appealing that they are able to convince the survivor to stay, believing their partner has remorse and will not hurt them again. Unfortunately, as the name suggests, the cycle of abuse is doomed to begin all over again.  


Is it Domestic Violence? Some Red Flags and Warning Signs

As mentioned previously, abusive behaviors don’t just pop up overnight. They are gradual and insidiously sneak their way into a relationship. That being said, there are some warning signs one can look for if red flags start to appear. The following signs of domestic violence include, but are not limited to: 


Physical Signs:

  • Slapping, kicking, punching, pulling, biting and choking
  • The use or threat of violence by weapons 
  • Withholding food, water, and shelter
  • Preventing from seeking medical attention
  • Forced drug/alcohol/substance use 


Emotional Signs:

  • Name calling and insults 
  • Possessive and jealousy towards who partner sees/talks to
  • Monitoring location without consent 
  • Isolating from outside support network
  • Withholding affection/giving long-term silent treatment
  • Threatening violence on partner and/or loved ones 
  • Controlling partner’s appearance 
  • Blaming partner for abuse 
  • Humiliating partner 


Sexual Signs:

  • Forced sexual activity outside of consent 
  • Demanding sex 
  • Ignoring partner’s sexual needs and boundaries 
  • Insulting partner in sexual manner 
  • Manipulating or coercing partner into sex 
  • Infecting partner with known or unknown STIs
  • Forcing partner to watch pornography 
  • Forcing alcohol or drug consumption to “loosen up” partner 
  • Reacting negatively when partner doesn’t want sex 
  • Threatening revenge porn to obtain compliance


Financial Signs:

  • Taking control of partner’s independent bank accounts/finances 
  • Giving allotted allowance even of partner’s own earned money
  • Closely monitoring partner’s spending 
  • Forbidding partner to work and make own money
  • Maxing out/opening credit cards in partner’s name 
  • Refusing to provide money for basic human necessities 
  • Stealing money from partner 


Digital Signs:

  • Monitoring social media
  • Demanding access to digital account login data 
  • Using social media sites to stalk and/or monitor actions and location
  • Sending unsolicited nude images and content to partner 
  • Incessant calling, texting, DMing, and attempts at digital contact
  • Looking through partner’s technology without permission
  • Using non-consensual technology GPS systems to track partner 
  • Sharing private/intimate information about partner publicly on social networks 


How Can One Leave Safely? 

Making the decision to leave a relationship where domestic violence is present is incredibly brave, but it cannot be emphasized enough how dangerous it can be. Leaving an abusive relationship is often the most dangerous time for survivors and it’s best to plan out a safety strategy. Many survivors create what is referred to as a safety plan, or personalized roadmap to leaving their abusive relationship safety. In addition to planning out how to physically leave, the safety plan also encases strategies that can help the survivor cope with emotions, open up to their support network, and take legal action if necessary. 


It’s important to remember that in moments of crisis and trauma, one’s brain may not be functioning properly. This is understandable due to all the abuse and trauma the survivor has experienced. Employing a safety plan and sharing it with a trained mental health professional and a member(s) of your support network can best assure the safest possible outcome for a survivor to successfully leave. 


Modern Intimacy is a group therapy practice, founded by renowned Psychologist and Sex Therapist, Dr. Kate Balestrieri. This inclusive blog is designed to provide a wealth of information and resources for mental health, relationships, and sexuality. Subscribe today to get the latest information from our expert contributors from all around the world.



Author Bio

Kayla Tricaso

Kayla Tricaso is the Office Manager and Patient Intake Specialist at Modern Intimacy. Passionate about mental health and social justice, Kayla spends her free time listening to true crime podcasts, reading and working on her personal memoir.



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