Understanding Intimate Partner Violence

By Lauren Krouse

Everyone deserves to feel safe, secure, and loved in their romantic relationships. Although it’s normal to go through challenging times and have disagreements with your partner, it’s not OK if they become abusive.

It can be challenging to realize that your partner is displaying aggressive or abusive behavior toward you, known as intimate partner violence. No one wants to admit that the person they care about so deeply is the same person who’s hurting them. 

It’s crucial to understand the signs of intimate partner violence and know where and how to seek support. No matter the details of your situation, we all deserve relationships that are free of violence and rooted in respect. Here’s what you need to know, including how to get help for yourself or a loved one.

What Is Intimate Partner Violence?

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a form of domestic violence where someone’s partner or ex-partner engages in a pattern of behavior to gain and maintain power and control over them. These actions can range from damaging someone’s sense of self-worth with constant critical comments to keeping them away from friends and family, harassing them online, or physically attacking them.

Warning Signs of Abuse

Intimate partner violence can take on many forms. It’s common for a relationship to feel good at first, only for red flags to pop up over time. 

Although it’s normal to worry about upsetting your partner sometimes, fear is an important feeling to look out for. If you find yourself constantly worrying about “setting off” your partner or notice a friend going to great lengths to meet their partner’s demands, you or your friend could be dealing with intimate partner violence. 

Being in an abusive relationship may also lead to physical symptoms, like chronic pain, gastrointestinal issues (stomach aches, nausea, diarrhea), sexually transmitted infections, traumatic brain injury, and cardiovascular diseases. 

Here are different types of abuse and signs to look out for:

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is often the most apparent form of abuse. Examples of physical abuse in a relationship include when your partner: 

  • Pulls your hair
  • Slaps, kicks, bites, chokes, or smothers you
  • Throws objects at you 
  • Interferes with your eating or sleeping
  • Uses weapons like guns or knives against you 
  • Drives recklessly with you in the car
  • Forces you to use drugs or alcohol 
  • Stops you from leaving your home 

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse can be subtle, but it’s just as serious as other types of abuse. You may be in an emotionally abusive relationship if your partner: 

  • Is extremely jealous or possessive 
  • Insults or criticizes you 
  • Dominates your time and isolates you 
  • Frequently demands to know where you are and what you’re doing 
  • Tries to control what you wear and who you spend your time with
  • Gaslights you by questioning or denying your memory of events

Digital Abuse

Digital abuse is when someone uses technology to control or harass you. Some examples of digital abuse are when a current or ex-partner: 

  • Demands constant check-in texts or calls 
  • Sends threatening messages 
  • Tracks or tries to control your behavior on social media 
  • Pressures you to send explicit messages or images
  • Insists on knowing your passwords 
  • Looks through your phone repeatedly

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is when your partner forces or pressures you to do certain sexual acts or uses your sexuality against you. Signs can include when your partner: 

  • Insults you with sexual, degrading names 
  • Forces or pressures you into sexual acts 
  • Restrains or strangles you during sex without your consent 
  • Involves others in sex without your consent 
  • Forces you to watch or make pornography 

Financial Abuse

Financial or economic abuse is when a partner takes control of your money or your ability to provide for yourself. Some examples of financial abuse include when a partner or ex-partner:

  • Controls or keeps track of how you spend your money 
  • Stops you from working or attending school 


Stalking refers to when someone watches, follows, or harasses you. Signs of stalking include when a partner or ex: 

  • Repeatedly sends unwanted texts, messages, emails, or voicemails 
  • Shows up at your home, school, or workplace without telling you or being invited 
  • Keeps tabs on your whereabouts or follows you from place to place
  • Leaves unwanted gifts repeatedly

Who’s at Risk of Intimate Partner Violence?

Intimate partner violence is common and affects more than 12 million Americans per year. Anyone can be a victim or perpetrator of abuse, no matter their background, sex, gender, race, or sexuality. 

Some communities face a higher risk of abuse in relationships:

Not all people in these groups are at equal risk. People in marginalized communities may face higher rates of intimate partner violence because abusers can take advantage of social and economic inequities. For example, an abuser may establish control by offering to pay for things their partner can’t afford on their own, or they may threaten to out their partner’s sexuality to maintain control.

The Impact of Intimate Partner Violence

Intimate partner violence is associated with many mental health issues, including feelings of blame and guilt, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, substance use disorder, eating disorders, and suicidal behaviors

If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “HOME” to 741741.

  • If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.


How to Get Help Right Away for Intimate Partner Violence

If you suspect you may be experiencing intimate partner violence, you deserve support, and your safety is the most important thing. Confide in a trusted adult or contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 800-799-7233 or TTY 800-787-3224, texting “START” to 88788, or opening a chat online

If you feel that you are in immediate danger, call 911 and leave your location as quickly and safely as possible.

How to Make a Longer-Term Plan to Leave and Stay Safe

Don’t judge yourself if you aren’t able to leave as soon as you recognize you’re experiencing intimate partner violence. Often, the threat of leaving increases your risk, and getting out of your current situation may be dangerous. 

It can take time to plan a safe exit. Start by identifying friends and family you trust and let them know what’s happening. This can be hard, but it’s important to have a support network. You can also build this network through the domestic violence resources listed below. 

Once you’ve identified a few people you trust, you can plan some safe ways to talk with them. You might:

  • Pick safe meeting locations 
  • Get a burner phone you can use to communicate 
  • Use devices that are completely separate from your household, such as a library computer
  • Identify a neighbor or someone else in your community you can trust who may keep an eye on what’s happening for you and call the police if there’s clear trouble or they don’t hear from you within a certain amount of time

From there, you can create a leaving plan. This can be the most dangerous time, so it’s important to have a plan in place. Professionals from the resources below can help you develop a plan, but in general, you’ll want to: 

  • Know where you will go when you leave 
  • Have a bag packed and ready with cash, clothing, important documents, spare keys, and any important items you’ll need, since you may not be able to return to your home (prescriptions, devices and chargers, etc.)
  • Identify people you can reach out to for general support

Although it can be scary and upsetting to accept that you may be in an abusive situation, you can get help and, in time, recover your strength and sense of safety in the world. 

If you’re worried about someone, learn how to gently express your concerns. Keep in mind that the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available to support you, too, and you can contact them anytime to get personalized tips on how you can empower your loved one to seek help.

Additional Resources for Intimate Partner Violence

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If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.