Relationship Violence

Relationship violence refers to behaviors that occur within the context of an intimate relationship that are used by one person to establish power and control over another person. Relationship violence occurs within current and former dating relationships and marriages, and within relationships that involve people of all sexualities (including heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual and pansexual) and people of all genders (including woman, man or transgender).

Relationship violence may take the form of verbal or written threats, physical acts of violence, or other behaviors that are designed to be intimidating or to provoke emotions such as fear, guilt and shame. It can occur in all forms of intimate relationships and frequently occurs as a pattern of behavior over time, rather than as a single isolated incident.

Relationship violence frequently takes the form of the following behaviors:

Verbal abuse:

  • Name calling
  • Embarrassing a partner in public or in front of friends
  • Continually criticizing the other person
  • Threats against one’s safety or the safety of loved ones

Emotional abuse:

  • Isolating an individual from friends and family
  • Withholding affection and approval as a form of punishment
  • Making all of the decisions in a relationship
  • Ridiculing the beliefs, values, and appearance of the other person
  • Controlling how the other person spends their time, dresses and where they go
  • Demonstrating extreme jealousy
  • Blaming the other person for everything and avoiding responsibility

Physical abuse:

  • Preventing the other person from leaving
  • Throwing or breaking objects
  • Pushing or shoving the other person
  • Scratching, hitting or kicking the other person
  • Threatening to or using weapons

Sexual abuse:

  • Calling the other person derogatory sexual names
  • Unwanted or unwelcome sexual touching
  • Pressuring the other person to engage in sexual acts

Abuse in LGBTQ relationships:

  • “Outing” or threatening to “out” someone
  • Not respecting gender identity, pronouns, name
  • Minimizing the abuse/blaming the victim
  • Forcing to engage in activities one is not comfortable with
  • Saying someone is “not really LGBTQ” or “not LGBTQ enough”
  • Limiting your contact with the LGBTQ communities
  • Gossip/rumors
  • Controlling your life and friendships
  • Stating that no one will believe someone in a same-sex relationship or of a Trans* identity
  • Interfering with hormones
  • Using your identity as an excuse to not have consent for sexual activities
  • Choosing where to go out in public or for help (safe, safer places)

Cycle of Violence

Relationship violence often occurs in a predictable and repeated cycle. Over time, the cycle of violence may occur more quickly and with greater levels of aggression.

Phase 1: Tension Building

  • Tension and stress mount; often experienced as “walking on eggshells”
  • Increased anger, blaming, and arguing
  • Verbal abuse may increase

Phase 2: Abusive Behavior

  • Abusive partner has lost the ability or desire to control anger
  • Acts of violence occur
  • Survivor often feels fearful, helpless, trapped
  • Abusive/violent behavior reduces stress and tension

Phase 3: Honeymoon Period

  • A period of relative calm
  • Abuser apologies and promises to stop the behaviors
  • Abuser may deny or minimize the incident or blame the other person
  • Phase 1 begins again, and the cycle repeats itself.

 Barriers to Leaving Abusive Relationships

There are many reasons a person may not be ready or able to leave. Some include:

  • fear of physical danger
  • fear of not being believed
  • isolation/lack of support
  • negative beliefs about themselves, as a result of the abuse
  • In LGBTQ relationships, fear of being outed
  • financial barriers
  • belief that things will get better if they stick with the relationship
  • fear of the unknown/failure
  • societal/religious messages
  • pressure from family or friends