Intimate Partner Violence: Recognizing Abuse

Anyone can be the victim of intimate partner violence (IPV). Knowing the signs of IPV and having a safety plan in place can save your life.

What is IPV

IPV is a pattern of abuse directed at a current or past intimate partner. The abuse may be physical, psychological, and/or emotional. IPV is also called domestic violence and domestic abuse. IPV may involve those living together or apart, dating, married, separated, or divorced.

Who IPV Affects

IPV affects people of all ages, economic, educational, cultural, and religious backgrounds. It is most commonly seen as men being violent to women. However, men are also victims of IPV. It may also affect those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and/or transgender. Children are also at risk of exposure to IPV in the home.

Characteristics of an Abuser

Abusers come from all walks of life. They tend to:

  • Be possessive and jealous of any other relationships their partner has
  • Want to exert control—to keep their partner from leaving
  • Be verbally and/or physically hurtful
  • Blame others for their problems
  • Have sudden mood changes—quickly shifting between affection and abuse

Common Signs of Abuse

Physical Abuse

Examples of physical abuse are:

  • Hitting, shoving, punching, kicking, choking
  • Throwing or destroying things
  • Blocking you from leaving the room or house
  • Subjecting you to reckless driving
  • Threatening or hurting you with a weapon

Emotional Abuse

The abuser does things to make the victim feel scared, worthless, and helpless. This is a pattern of behavior. It is not just an insult once in a while. Examples are:

  • Insulting, blaming, criticizing, name-calling
  • Humiliating you in public
  • Accusing you of having affairs
  • Controlling all the money
  • Telling you what to do, where to go, and who you can see
  • Threatening or hurting your children

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse can be sexual acts, demands, or insults. Examples are:

  • Unwanted touching or sexual comments
  • Calling you sexual names, such as "slut" or "frigid"
  • Forcing you to have sex
  • Attacking your sexual body parts or hurting you during sex
  • Withholding birth control, then forcing you to have an abortion

Knowing If You or Someone Else Is Abused

Ask yourself these questions about your partner:

  • Does your partner shove, hit, shake, or slap you?
  • Does your partner:
    • Make light of the abuse?
    • Insist that the abuse did not happen?
    • Blame you for the abuse?
  • Does your partner often put you down, call you names, or try to embarrass you?
  • Does your partner try to make you afraid? Does your partner threaten you or destroy your property,
  • Does your partner control:
    • What you do?
    • Who you see and talk to?
    • Where you go?
  • Are you made to feel guilty about the children? Has your partner threatened to take the children away?

Here are some signs that a family member or friend may be abused:

  • The person appears fearful, depressed, withdrawn, and does not want to talk
  • The partner criticizes the person in front of you—making remarks that make you feel uncomfortable
  • The person has repeated bruises, broken bones, or other suspicious injuries
  • The person may:
    • Be late or absent from work often
    • Stop working
    • Leave social events early because the partner is waiting
  • A partner tries to control everything the person does

How Are Children Affected?

Child abuse happens much more often in families where there is IPV.

Children living with abuse have disrupted lives. They have a higher risk of emotional and behavioral problems, such as:

  • Self-blame and low self-esteem
  • Withdrawal
  • Aggression toward others
  • Problems in school and relationships
  • Hurting themselves and committing crimes

Children who live with abuse are also more likely to become abusers as adults.

Finding Help

If you or someone you know is being abused, seek help. Talk with someone you trust, such as a close friend or relative. Consider calling a domestic violence hotline and talking with a counselor. Some online resources will protect you when using their website. They will erase your history and/or close the browser with the push of a button.

Have an honest talk with your doctor. Your doctor can help you with referrals for help.

Remember, IPV is not your fault. No one ever has the right to abuse another person. You have a right to be safe.

Planning for Your Safety

If you are in an abusive relationship, it is important to have a safety plan. A plan can be helpful whether you want to stay or leave the relationship. An IPV counselor can help you develop a plan. It may include these steps:

  • Set up a signal with your neighbors. That way, they can call the police if you are in danger.
  • Get a restraining order—if you need legal help to keep your abuser away.
  • Plan an escape route and a safe place to go. This could be with relatives, friends, or a domestic violence shelter.

Have important items ready if you want to leave. Consider keeping some of them with a trusted relative or friend. These items include:

  • Important phone numbers and phone calling card
  • Money, checkbook, ATM, and credit cards
  • Driver's license
  • Keys for home, car, and office
  • Important papers for you and your children, including birth certificates
  • Social security cards, health insurance cards, and medical and school records
  • Restraining order and information—including photographs—that will document past abuse
  • Medications
  • Change of clothes
  • Children's favorite toys/blankets

If you plan to leave the relationship, try to put a credit card or debit card in your own name. That way your abuser cannot cancel the cards. If you or your children are ever in danger or possible danger, call for emergency help.


The National Domestic Violence Hotline


Ending Violence Association of Canada
Health Canada


Dicola D, Spaar E. Intimate partner violence. Am Fam Physician. 2016;94(8):646-651.
Intimate partner violence. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Accessed October 28, 2021.
Intimate partner violence. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed October 28, 2021.
Intimate partner violence. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network website. Available at: Accessed October 27, 2021.
Last reviewed October 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Last Updated: 10/28/2021

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