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Abuse in relationships and Domestic Violence

Abuse in a relationship can take many forms and people of any gender, and any age, can be abusive partners or victims of abuse. Learn how to recognise the signs of abuse in a relationship, and how to seek help.

You can be affected by abuse at any age, and people from all backgrounds and walks of life can be both abusers and victims of abuse. Sometimes abuse can be invisible to people outside a relationship, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

It’s not your fault

Abuse is always wrong, and never the fault of the person who is being abused. A person who commits abuse always has a choice, and if they choose to be abusive, it’s no-one else’s fault but the person who is committing the abuse.

What is domestic violence and abuse?

Domestic abuse or violence or sometimes called intimate partner violence is a pattern of behaviour that someone uses to control or have power over their partner, ex-partner, family member, or someone they live with.  

Domestic abuse and abuse in relationships more generally comes in many different forms and often involves more than one type of abuse. The combination of different types can make it difficult to leave.

It’s also common for there to be no physical abuse (hitting, pushing, grabbing) – 45% of domestic abuse survivors were not physically abused. Other types of abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse.

Coercive control

Coercive control refers to any behaviour that isolates the person from support, intimidates them and deprives them of their independence. It can come in many forms including the different types of abuse mentioned below.

Sexual abuse

Abusers may manipulate their partner into having sex, force sex upon them or do things during sex that are not wanted. All of these are sexual abuse and assault.

Rape is always rape even if it is within a marriage or relationship. No one ever has the right to your body without your consent.

Emotional abuse

Often involves undermining the person’s self-worth by putting down their accomplishments, criticising them and embarrassing them in front of others. This can cause the person to feel reliant on the abuser and can make them feel that they deserve the abuse.

Examples may include:

  • Criticising the way you look or dress
  • Saying you’ll never find anyone better than them
Psychological abuse

Using intimidation and fear tactics to gain control. For example, threatening to harm themselves or isolate the person being abused from sources of support including family and friends.

If there are children involved in the relationship, this can make getting away from the safely far more challenging, especially if the abuser uses the children to control or threaten their partner.

Gaslighting is also common in abusive relationships. This is where the abusers causes the person to question their sanity or memories. They may deny that something happened or claim they are exaggerating what actually happened.

Financial abuse

Abusers can sometimes use money to control the other person. By withholding their access to money, preventing them from getting a job, or controlling what they can spend money on, the person being abused has less independence and is more likely to stay in the abusive situation.

Physical abuse

This includes treating the other person roughly – for example grabbing, hitting or pushing them with an intent to harm them, acting aggressively and raising a hand to hit them.

Digital abuse

This can include checking social media accounts and emails, tracking their location through social media or other apps and posting videos or photos online without their consent, for example sharing nudes- this is known as intimate image abuse or revenge porn.

More about ‘revenge porn’


This could be online and/or in person- for example, following their partner/ex-partner or sending messages, letters or gifts that are unwanted.

If you have experience any of these or feel scared of your partner or someone you live with or monitor and change your own behaviour to avoid their reaction, you need to get help.

It’s sometimes really tempting to make excuses or misinterpret violence, possessiveness, or anger as an expression of love. But, even if you believe that the person hurting you loves you, it is not healthy or acceptable.

People often try to change their own behaviour so that their partner will stop being abusive, but the reality is, only the person being abusive can stop the abuse. It is never your fault or something you have done that prompts abuse – it is the choice of your partner. 

Abusive people hardly ever change their behaviour, however much they promise to. Abuse almost never stops by itself, it just gets worse over time. If you are in a situation where someone is hurting you, even if it’s someone you love, it’s not your fault and seeking help and advice is the best option.

The law on domestic abuse defines it as between two people over the age of 16. If the person is under 16, this is considered child abuse. However, this is not to say you cannot experience abuse or be in an abusive relationship if you are under 16, even if your partner is a similar age. Always seek help and support.

Where to get help

Clare’s Law

If you feel unsafe or uncertain about someone’s behaviour and are worried they could become abusive or violent, you can use the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme also known as Clare’s Law to find out more information about them from the police.

If after submitting a request, they find evidence of a history of abusive offences they will consider sharing this with the person at risk so they can make an informed decision about their relationship with them. You can also submit a Clare’s Law request on behalf of someone else if you are worried for their safety.

Visit our page on getting help with abuse which describes how to get support and how to support someone else you think may be being abused and safety planning. 

There are also many dedicated helplines for domestic abuse to support you.

If you are a young person or are worried about a young person you can visit the Childline website or call them on 0800 1111. If you’re worried someone might see you have been on this page, find out how to cover your tracks online.

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