Does your partner often say, “you aren’t good enough” or “you don’t do anything?” Does she call you lazy, crazy, or other names to belittle you? Does this behavior occur regularly? In public, around others to embarrass you? Does the harassment occur at home constantly to damage your self-confidence? 

Abuse may occur in many ways in a relationship. Having an abusive partner, doesn’t mean they have to be physically threatening you to be a danger. Despite references from television and movies that abuse will leave a mark, physical assaults are only one example of what abuse can look like in a relationship. Abuse may be irritating or overbearing actions and conduct, but sometimes it may be something more sinister and dangerous as well.

Is your spouse texting you throughout the day to check when you will be home or your whereabouts because they are concerned for your safety? Does your girlfriend monitor your travel and trips via an app on your phone to see where you go and who you see throughout the day because they don’t trust you? Do you dread going home at the end of the day because you will face “20 questions” on everything you did while you were out of the house without your partner? 

Examples like this show a handful of ways that a person may monitor your actions and movement outside of the home. Things like always wanting to be with you and going with you everywhere are what people might want and expect from a relationship. But when it escalates to never being able to go out on your own again, being constantly monitored when you do go out, or being urged to come home early and cut your plans short to quell your partner’s jealousy, it is not a sign of a healthy relationship, and you should take note. 

Does your girlfriend control your household finances to ensure you can’t do things outside of the household she doesn’t approve? Does your partner withhold funds to ensure you don’t have the financial means to leave them? Are you only provided with enough money to buy necessities you need for the day or the week, but nothing more? Does your spouse prevent you from having all the funds you have earned for work without a reasonable basis? 

When controlling behavior occurs in your household and with a person you trust and care for it can be very difficult to see it as abusive. When you are in a relationship, you don’t always see the signs of a controlling partner, because it may be just someone handling the checkbooks to make sure all the bills are paid, but it may also be someone controlling the financial resources to control you. It may be innocuous, or it may be a way to assert control over you and your relationship. When determining if a person is abusive, we look to see if the person is exerting control over the other partner in their life to control and limit that person’s actions.

Does your partner threaten to harm you or has he ever been physically violent with you? Are you afraid of your partner’s temper, or how they act when they are drinking or using drugs? Has your spouse ever threatened suicide or to harm others if you leave them? Does your partner have firearms, and have they ever threatened to kill you? 

These examples are of physical and threatening types of domestic violence that should not be taken lightly. Patterns of control used by a person may be observed in many ways in your life, from manipulation and stalking to threats to harm themselves or others. When one partner’s actions control their partner’s behavior, especially when causing fear of physical harm, it is domestic violence. 

It is important to know what signs to look for so you can have a healthy and safe relationship. Abusive behavior can not only affect you, your overall health and well-being, but also affects other aspects of your life. Controlling behavior from a partner often damages your relationships outside of the home with family, friends, and work. One tactic used by domestically violent partners is to limit contact with others and control a person. By limiting relationships outside of the home, not allowing you to work, go to school, have social interactions, or go to family events, your partner may be gaining control over your movements and who you can interact with outside of their control. 

There are several types of abuse that can occur, but the most recognized are:

Emotional and Verbal Abuse 

This can include acts of criticism, name-calling, control over your activities and interactions with others, and threats to harm friends, family, or your pets.  Emotional abuse also includes mental manipulation such as gaslighting (making you believe things that aren’t true), blaming you for their abusive conduct, and damaging your self-esteem.

Financial Abuse

This can include acts of controlling money, including cashing and withholding paychecks, taking away your access or cards to the bank accounts and credit cards, refusing to provide money to assist with household bills, limiting your spending money or providing a small allowance of funds, or stealing money. 

Physical Abuse 

This can include acts of physical assault, like hitting, choking, throwing items, threatening you with weapons, or abuse of your family pets. Physical abuse can also include preventing you from leaving your home or preventing you from contacting authorities when help is needed. These actions are the most often types of actions charged as crimes for assault and domestic violence.

Sexual Abuse 

This can include forced sexual encounters, unwanted sex acts, or other coercive means to obtain sexual consent via threats, use of weapons, or other use of force. 

Final Thoughts

These are not all-inclusive examples of abuse. There are many ways a person can be abusive, but ultimately, the best way to determine if you are in an abusive relationship is to examine if your partner is exerting power and control over you that causes you to limit your normal activities or makes you fearful of your safety, or leaving the relationship. Controlling behavior may be verbal, such as making you feel guilty for going out or doing things without them, or may be more threatening and direct, by making it difficult to leave the home or threatening to harm your property, you, or end the relationship if you go against their rules.

Controlling partners may make it difficult to leave the relationship because of reliance on your partner for housing, finances, and emotional support. This is why it is important to be able to identify if your relationship is a domestic violence relationship, so you can gather the tools needed to leave in a safe and stable way. 

Long-term abuse can cause emotional, physical, and long-term psychological harm to an individual and his or her family and children for years to come. It is important for you to know if the conduct is merely an annoyance or a sign of something more dangerous. If you reach a point in your relationship where you feel there is no way out, and you need help, you should reach out to people you trust or advocates to assist you with safety planning to leave the relationship, protection or restraining orders if necessary to secure safety and your residence from your abusive partner (to be discussed in the next article), and resources for assistance with domestic violence education and counseling to learn to identify the patterns of domestic violence, and obtain the support you need to move on in a healthy way.

If you are concerned that you may be in an abusive relationship, there are resources nationally and locally to provide you with education and assistance on abuse in relationships, and to help you with safe ways to leave the relationship. If you are concerned for your safety or want to leave an abusive relationship, you may want to reach out to the following services or schedule a consultation with one of our family law attorneys to assist you. All contact with our office is kept confidential, so you can feel safe to speak freely about your situation with a professional and discuss your legal options.

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Every legal issue is very unique. Accordingly, the information in this blog is intended as general education material and not as legal advice. If you think you may have a legal issue, you should consult an attorney.