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Learn about Abuse

Lesbian Couple with Son

Relationship abuse is a pattern of behaviors used to gain or maintain power and control over a partner, which can manifest in several ways. There’s usually more than one form of abusive behavior in an abusive relationship.

Understanding how abuse appears and intersects can prepare you to respond to situations safely for yourself and others.​

Why People Abuse their partners

Domestic violence stems from a desire to gain and maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Abusive people believe they have the right to control and restrict their partner’s lives, often either because they believe their feelings and needs should be the priority in the relationship or because they enjoy exerting the power that such abuse gives them.​

Tactics of abuse (in any form) to dismantle equality in the relationship to make their partners feel less valuable and undeserving of respect.​

Abuse is a learned behavior. Some people witness it in their own families growing up; others know it slowly from friends, popular culture, or structural inequities throughout our society. No matter where they develop such behaviors, those who commit abusive acts choose to do so — they also could decide not to.​

Many people experience or witness abuse and use their experiences to end the cycle of violence and heal themselves without harming others. While outside factors (including drug or alcohol addiction) can escalate abuse, it’s essential to recognize that these issues do not cause domestic abuse.

Why do people stay in abusive relationships?

1. Fear

A person will likely be afraid of the consequences if they decide to leave their relationship, either out of fear of their partner’s actions or concern over their safety.

2. Normalized abuse

If someone grew up in an environment where abuse was expected, they might not know what healthy relationships look like. As a result, they may not recognize that their partner’s behaviors are unhealthy or abusive.​

3. Shame

It can be difficult for someone to admit that they’ve been or are being abused. They may feel that they’ve done something wrong, deserve the abuse, or that experiencing abuse is a sign of weakness. 

4. Intimidation

A survivor may be intimidated into staying in a relationship by verbal or physical threats or threats to spread information, including secrets or confidential details (i.e., revenge porn, etc.). 

5. Low self-esteem

After experiencing verbal abuse or blame for physical abuse, survivors can easily believe those sentiments and think they’re at fault for their partner’s abusive behaviors.​

6. Lack of resources

Survivors may be financially dependent on their abusive partner or have previously been denied opportunities to work, a place to sleep on their own, language assistance, or a network to turn to during moments of crisis. 

7. Immigration status

Undocumented people may fear that reporting abuse will affect their immigration status. 

8. Cultural context

Traditional customs or beliefs may influence someone’s decision to stay in an abusive situation, whether held by the survivor or by their family and community. Some cultural beliefs normalize abuse, making it difficult for victims to solicit support from the community. 

9. Children

Many survivors may feel guilty or responsible for disrupting their family unit. Keeping the family together may not only be something that a survivor may value but may also use as a tactic by their partner to guilt a survivor into staying.​

10. Love

Experiencing abuse and feeling genuine care for a partner causing harm are not mutually exclusive. Survivors often still have strong, intimate feelings for their abusive partner. They may have children together, want to maintain their family, or the person abusing them may be charming (especially at the beginning of a relationship). The survivor may hope that their partner will return to being that person.​

Click on the different types of abuse to learn more.

  1. Physical abuse

  2. Emotional or psychological abuse

  3. Child sexual abuse

  4. Sexual abuse

  5. Financial abuse

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