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Is This An Abusive Relationship?

You may be trying to decide if you are in an abusive relationship or one that is becoming abusive. Although every situation is different, the following are some things you may want to consider.

  • An abuser may have some or all of the following characteristics (There is no typical, easily identifiable abuser. The characteristics that follow may not be present in every abuser and are not necessary for their behavior to be considered abusive.):
  • Dual personalities: Abusers are often described as having a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" personality and are generally not known in the community as violent persons. Usually, abusers refrain from physical aggression outside of the home or other private settings. Abusers' attitude and behavior may change immediately once they are in a private place--where they think it is "safe" to be abusive. Abusers may be loving, kind, and remorseful at times, but this is all part of maintaining power and control.
  • Extreme jealousy: An abuser may suspect you of being unfaithful without any rational reason or evidence to support such a belief. An abuser may be jealous of any meaningful relationships you have with others, including those with parents, siblings, children, friends, or even pets.
  • Controlling and possessive behavior: An abuser may control your access to money, social relationships, job opportunities, and may monitor all your activities by making you account for any time apart or money spent. An abuser may treat you as a "possession" and may engage in seemingly "playful" but unwelcome use of force during sex.
  • Emotional dependency: An abuser may be emotionally dependent on you and may make constant demands for reassurance and gratification. An abuser may be hypersensitive to anything interpreted as criticism and may be critical of others and difficult to please.
  • Poor self-esteem: An abuser may feel inadequate about a variety of things, including (but not limited to) masculinity, sexuality, providing for the family, and parenting. These feelings may be masked by an extremely tough or "macho" image.
  • Roles: Abusers tend to enforce rigid gender roles or believe in the traditional male "head of the household" role. They may coerce or demand behavior from you because you are a woman.
  • Blame: Abusers may blame other people or circumstances for their behaviors and feelings; they may have difficulty taking responsibility for their mistakes or problems.
  • Abusive history: A high proportion of abusers experienced abuse as children or witnessed abuse between their parents and learned this behavior (but this does not excuse their actions).
  • Unpredictable: Abusers' actions may be unpredictable, and you may feel as though you never know what the abuser will do next. Abusers may hold others, especially you, to unrealistically high expectations.
  • Social isolation: Abusers may have few friends outside the family and may have poor social skills. However, abusers may also be "social charmers" and have a lot of friends, none of whom would think they would be abusive (see "Dual personality" above).
  • Cruelty: Abusers may be cruel not only to you but to children and animals as well. They may be preoccupied with violence, guns, knives, etc.
  • Inappropriate use and display of anger: Abusers may use anger if they do not get what they want. They may display anger as verbal abuse, physical touching of any kind without your consent (even a kiss), threats of violence, and breaking/destroying objects of value to you.

There are many possible reactions to an abusive relationship. You may be a victim of abuse if your response to your partner/relationship includes some or all of the following:

  • Overfunctioning or overachieving: You may tend to take on more than a reasonable share of responsibilities. You may have a high need to succeed and please others. Your partner's failure to accept responsibility may force you to compensate for his/her behavior.
  • Feeling powerless: You may feel as though you have no control over your life. You may be immobilized by fear and feel that you "have to take it." Decisions about family, friends, and activities are based on how your partner will react.
  • Feelings of guilt or shame: You may feel guilty over failure of a marriage or relationship. This is often reinforced by your partner who blames you for all that goes wrong. Guilt over failure may be accompanied by shame for "putting up" with the abuse.
  • Continuous hope: You maintain hope for positive change in your partner's conduct. Others may try to intervene and convince you the relationship is unsafe/unhealthy, but you may continue to hope.
  • Previous abuse: A significant portion of abuse victims were abused earlier in their lives within or outside of the family. Many also had mothers who were abused by their partners.
  • Decreased self-esteem: You may underestimate your true abilities and level of achievement or feel badly about yourself. Self-esteem is likely to be eroded over time by constant criticism from the abuser such as name calling, put-downs, and belittling your achievements.
  • Identity concerns: You may lack a firm sense of individualization and autonomy. You may feel incomplete without a partner. Your identity may be or become strongly dependent upon your role as a partner/wife/mother.
  • Passive/dependent behavior: You may accept the traditional feminine role, often to an exaggerated degree. Your behavior may be reinforced by economic dependency and increasing feelings of helplessness and fear as the abuse continues. This behavior often reflects survival instincts: you may find that by appeasing your partner you avoid some of the abuse and temporarily increase your safety.
  • Self-blame: The abuser blames you, and you may begin to believe it over time. You may accept responsibility for the abuser's actions. Anger turned inward often produces guilt.
  • Fear and denial: You may fear the abuser's anger, but you may also deny and minimize this fear. Denial and minimization are common coping strategies for surviving the abuse.
  • Stress: You may have severe stress reactions (headaches, stomachaches, sleeplessness, anxiety, etc.). You may spend an increasing amount of time trying not to make the abuser angry.
  • Social isolation: Your partner may isolate you from family, friends, neighbors, and other forms of support, or you may limit your contact with these people out of shame and embarrassment. Your partner may criticize and blame family and friends.
  • Determination and bravery: You are very strong physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Your strength helps you survive.


SAFETY ALERT: Computer use can be monitored and it is impossible to completely clear all website footprints. If you are in danger, please use a safer computer that your abuser can not access directly or remotely, or call ODVN 800-934-9840 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE. If you are at a safer computer, click here for more information on internet & computer safety. (PDF, 22KB). Safety Alert taken from the Ohio Domestic Violence Network http://www.odvn.org The comprehensive resource on domestic violence 800-934-9840