Breaking the Silence: Exploring the Reality of Relationship Violence

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In a relationship where love, trust, and connection are supposed to flourish, violence is a frequent issue that can endanger one’s sense of safety. This issue is often talked about quietly, but it’s important to take action to address it. 

Relationship violence, often referred to as domestic abuse or intimate partner violence, encompasses a range of abusive behaviors that occur within personal relationships. It involves using physical, emotional, psychological, or even economic control to manipulate and dominate one partner over another.

Understanding the various aspects of relationship violence is not just a matter of awareness. It empowers individuals to recognize the warning signs and break free from cycles of abuse. This article will help you understand the dynamics of abusive relationships and help you prevent this pervasive issue.

Types of relationship violence

Regarding relationship violence, it’s important to understand that it can take many forms. Each manifestation of this type of violence has unique features and consequences that must be considered and examined. 

Physical violence

Every minute, almost 20 individuals in the US suffer physical violence from their intimate partners. This translates to more than 10 million men and women annually. 

Physical violence is a form of control where one person intentionally hurts another, causing fear and intimidation. This can be hitting, punching, kicking, slapping, choking, or even using weapons or threats. It can also include depriving someone of sleep, damaging property, harming pets, and preventing someone from seeking medical attention when necessary. 

Sexual violence

Sexual violence refers to any sexual act or behavior that happens without the person’s consent. Individuals who endure both physical and sexual violence face a higher risk of injury or even fatality compared to those subjected to only one form of violence. Sexual violence can involve actions such as:

  • Rape
  • Unwanted sexual touching
  • Physical restraint
  • Creating an environment where the individuals feel scared to say no 
  • Reproductive coercion

Emotional and psychological abuse

Emotional abuse, sometimes called psychological abuse, means intentionally hurting someone’s feelings or thoughts. It often happens before or simultaneously as physical or sexual abuse. Emotional abuse includes:

  • Verbal abuse, such as yelling, saying mean things, and making threats
  • Keeping individuals away from others
  • Making individuals feel crazy
  • Manipulating as saying they’ll hurt themselves
  • Making individuals feel small

Financial abuse

Between 94-99% of individuals with relationship violence have also gone through financial abuse. Financial abuse occurs when someone takes charge of another person’s access to money and resources. It can take many forms, including:

  • Employment-related abuse which prevents individuals from earning money
  • Prevent individuals from accessing existing funds 
  • Not letting one have their own money
  • Destroy one’s credit rating
  • Refusing to provide essentials like food, clothing, a place to live, or medicine
  • Demanding a reason for every expense and using physical, sexual, or emotional abuse as punishment 

Digital and cyber abuse

Digital and cyber abuse refers to using technology and social media to control and harm current or past dating partners. There are two types of such behavior:

  • Cyber-aggression involves direct attacks like threats, insults, or sharing of private information
  • Cyber-control involves monitoring a partner’s social life and activities at all times in an abusive manner.

Causes of relationship violence

Understanding the root causes is pivotal to addressing and preventing relationship violence effectively. The following are some reasons behind violence within a relationship:

Power imbalances

Domestic violence entails actions employed to acquire or sustain power and dominance. The core of relationship violence lies in the desire of one partner to assert or uphold power and control within the intimate relationship. 

Abusers often believe in their entitlement to control their partners and deem threats and violence justifiable to achieve their desired outcomes. Culture also has been observed to endorse patriarchy and uphold male dominance by embracing and advocating for hegemonic masculinity. 

Past trauma 

People who have faced trauma might find it hard to control their emotions effectively. Managing strong feelings like anger, fear, or sadness can be challenging for them. When these emotions become too intense, it can result in sudden, severe outbursts or aggression within a romantic relationship. 

Substance abuse

The abuse of substances like alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana often stems from a variety of personal reasons, including the attempt to cope with conflicts within relationships. However, self-medication can inadvertently worsen relationship problems, potentially leading to relationship violence.

The use of alcohol or other drugs may increase the likelihood that the abuser will commit an act of domestic violence because it reduces inhibitions and distorts perceptions. It’s unfortunately common for those who commit violent acts to shift the blame onto the substance(s) they’ve used instead of owning up to their actions.

Recognizing the signs

Spotting signs isn’t just about being aware; it can be a lifeline for those going through tough times. Understanding the warning signs of an abusive relationship will help to identify abusive behaviors early, potentially preventing further harm and fostering a safer environment for everyone involved.

Physical signs

In the early stages, the physical signs of relationship violence may go unnoticed or be dismissed as minor incidents. Victims might downplay actions like pushing and jolting during a heated argument or conflict, viewing them as isolated incidents arising from heated emotions rather than recognizing them as forms of physical abuse by an abuser.

Behavioral patterns

In such relationships, one partner assumes total control and asserts dominance by monitoring their partner’s every move. This can involve keeping a close watch on your activities, attempting to regulate aspects of your health and body, and leveling unfounded jealousy accusations as manipulative gestures of “demonstrating their commitment and affection towards you.” 


Initially, an abusive partner might express admiration for your friends and family, even showing a keen interest in spending time with them to win you over. As time passes, the abusive partner tends to distance themselves from your loved ones, urging you to do the same. 

An early warning sign involves isolating the person from their support network by restricting or severing contact. Your partner may insist on being present whenever friends or family reach out and may eventually demand that you cease contact with others entirely. They will manipulate you to feel like they’re your life’s sole source of love and support.


Gaslighting occurs when your partner systematically undermines and distorts your perception of reality. This is achieved through denying facts, manipulating the surrounding situation, or dismissing your emotions and desires. 

As a result, it can lead you to doubt yourself. In turn, it grants the abusive partner control and influence over the survivor. You might encounter statements like:

  • “You’re being too sensitive — that never occurred!” 
  • “Are you even listening? I never said that!” 
  • “You’re imagining things!”

Effects of relationship violence

The effects of relationship violence are far-reaching and can profoundly impact the lives of survivors and those around them. 

Emotional and psychological impact

Survivors of relationship violence commonly experience a range of emotional and psychological trauma. This includes higher levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression,  suicidal behavior, sleep and eating disorders, and social dysfunction. They may also grapple with feelings of shame, guilt, and fear.

Read more: Fighting the Blues: How to Build Resilience Against Depression 

Physical consequences

Immediate injuries, such as bruises, cuts, and broken bones, or long-term injuries, such as nutritional deficiency, miscarriage, and a heightened risk of acquiring HIV or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) due to non-consensual sexual activity, are often consequences of physical violence.

Survivors may require medical attention and face long-term health consequences. Sometimes, it can lead to chronic health issues or exacerbate pre-existing conditions.

Prevention and support

Prevention and support are essential components of addressing and combatting relationship violence. Creating a safer, more aware society and offering assistance to survivors is the key to breaking the cycle of abuse.

Raising awareness

Comprehensive education programs in schools and communities are crucial. Develop a comprehensive curriculum and activities that encourage critical thinking that covers relationships, consent, boundaries, and conflict resolution. These programs can teach people about healthy relationships and the warning signs of abuse.  

Providing support for those in need

Survivors dealing with trauma and emotional scars can benefit significantly from accessible hotlines, support groups, and therapy. It’s essential to establish local and national hotlines to cater to the different needs of survivors. Additionally, offering in-person and online support groups can provide a safe space for survivors to share their experiences and receive validation. 

Legal and law enforcement measures

Enforcement of laws criminalizing all forms of relationship violence, including emotional and psychological abuse, should carry significant penalties. Appropriate sentencing guidelines should be determined. Public awareness campaigns should be launched to educate the community about legal consequences. Encourage individuals to report abuse. 

In conclusion

Relationship violence includes various forms that can make someone feel unsafe. The battle against relationship violence requires the collective effort of society to offer support and prevent these destructive patterns. To those who have experienced relationship violence, know that you are not alone, and help is available. Seek support from friends, family, or professionals who can guide you toward healing and recovery.

If you would like to see more resources on violence, check out the Relationships Science Labs. The lab uses the research of the Institute for Life Management Science to produce courses, certifications, podcasts, videos, and other tools. Visit the Relationships Science Labs today.

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