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The term “intimate relationships” is used here to be maximally inclusive of any romantic and/or sexual relationship between two non-biologically-related people, including dating or courtship relationships, relationships in which the romantic partners live together in the same household (cohabiting), relationships in which two people have children in common but are no longer formally romantically or sexually involved with one another, and marital relationships. Ideally such relationships are loving and supportive, protective of and safe for each member of the couple. Unfortunately, some people, while fulfilling these nurturing, positive needs of their partners at least some of the time and at least early in their relationship’s development, also behave abusively, causing their partners and often others as well substantial emotional and/or physical pain and injury. In extreme cases, abusive behavior ends in the death of one or both partners, and, sometimes, other people as well. Non-lethal abuse may end when a relationship ends. Frequently, however, abuse continues or worsens once a relationship is over. This can happen whether the relationship is ended by just one of the partners or, seemingly, by mutual consent.

There are several types of abuse that occur in intimate romantic relationships. It is frequently the case that two or more types of abuse are present in the same relationship. Emotional abuse often precedes, occurs with, and sometimes follows physical or sexual abuse in relationships. Sexual and non-sexual physical abuse also co-occur in many abusive relationships, and, as with emotional abuse, sexual and non-sexual abuse often are combined elements of a single abusive incident.

Emotional Abuse also called psychological abuse or aggression, verbal abuse or aggression, symbolic abuse or aggression, and nonphysical abuse or aggression. Psychological and emotional abuse has been variously characterized as “the use of verbal and nonverbal acts which symbolically hurt the other or the use of threats to hurt the other” (Straus, 1979, p. 77); “behaviors that can be used to terrorize the victim that do not involve the use of physical force” (Shepard & Campbell, 1992, p. 291); the “direct infliction of mental harm” and “threats or limits to the victim’s well-being” (Gondolf, 1987), and ” an ongoing process in which one individual systematically diminishes and destroys the inner self of another. The essential ideas, feelings, perceptions, and personality characteristics of the victim are constantly belittled.” (Loring, 1994, p. 1).

Psychological and emotional abuse is considered an important form of abuse because many women report that it is as harmful or worse than physical abuse they suffer.

Woman with arms crossed is sulking while her partner is talking to her

Behaviors regarded as psychologically and emotionally abusive include, but are not limited to:

Insulting the partner.
Swearing at one’s partner or calling him or her names.
Belittling or ridiculing the partner; insulting the partner.
Belittling or berating one’s partner in front of other people.
Putting down the partner’s physical appearance or intellect.
Saying things to upset or frighten one’s partner; acting indifferently to one’s partner’s feelings.
Making one’s partner do humiliating or demeaning things.
Demanding obedience to whims.
Ordering the partner around/treating him or her like a servant.
Becoming angry when chores are not done when wanted or as wanted.
Acting jealous and suspicious of the partner’s friends and social contacts.
Putting down one’s partner’s friends and/or family.
Monitoring the partner’s time and whereabouts.
Monitoring one’s partner’s telephone calls or e-mail contact.
Stomping out of a room during an argument or heated discussion.
Sulking and refusing to talk about an issue.
Making decisions that affect both people or the family without consulting one’s partner or without reaching agreement with one’s partner.
Withholding affection.
Threatening to leave the relationship.
Doing something to spite one’s partner.
Withholding resources such as money.
Refusing to share in housework or childcare.
Restricting the partner’s usage of the telephone and/or car.
Not allowing one’s partner to leave the home alone.
Telling one’s partner his or her feelings are irrational or crazy.
Turning other people against one’s partner.
Blaming the partner for one’s problems and/or one’s violent behavior.
Preventing the partner from working or attending school.
Preventing the partner from socializing with friends and/or seeing his or her family.
Preventing the partner from seeking medical care or other types of help.
Throwing objects (but not at the partner).
Hitting or kicking a wall, furniture, doors, etc.
Shaking a finger or fist at one’s partner.
Making threatening gestures or faces.
Threatening to destroy or destroying personal property belonging to one’s partner.
Threatening to use physical or sexual aggression against one’s partner.
Driving dangerously while one’s partner is in the car as a conscious intentional act to scare or intimidate.
Using the partner’s children to threaten them (e.g., threatening to kidnap).
Threatening violence against the partner’s children, family, friends, or pets.

These examples are based on items from various instruments used to measure emotional aggression in romantic and family dyads.

Economic Abuse: This could be considered a subcategory of emotional abuse since it serves many of the same functions as emotional abuse and has some of the same emotional effects on victims. However, it can be distinguished by its focus on preventing victims from possessing or maintaining any type of financial self-sufficiency or resources and enforcing material dependence of the victim on the abusive partner that is, this behavior is intended to make the victim entirely dependent on the abusive partner to supply basic material needs like food, clothing, and shelter or to supply the means to obtain them. The desire to isolate the victim from other people can be one of the motives for economic abuse as well, however. Behaviors that could lead to the material dependence of a victim of abuse on her or his abuser some of which are already listed under the larger Emotional Abuse category include but are not limited to, when the abusive party:

Makes monetary or investment decisions to which the partner might object that affect both people and/or the family without consulting the partner or without reaching agreement with the partner.
Withholds resources such as money or spends a large share of the family budget on him- or herself leaving little money leftover for purchase of food and payment of bills.
Refuses to share in housework or childcare responsibilities so the partner can work.

Restricts the partner’s usage of the family car or other means of transportation.
Does not allow the partner to leave the home alone.
Prevents or forbids the partner from working or attending school or skills training sessions.
Interferes with work performance through harassing and monitoring activities like frequent telephone calls or visits to the workplace (in the hopes of getting the partner fired, for example).

Social Isolation: This also could be considered a subcategory of emotional abuse since it serves many of the same functions as emotional abuse. It can be distinguished by its focus on interfering with and destroying or impairing the victim’s support network and making the victim entirely or largely dependent on the abusive partner for information, social interaction, and satisfying emotional needs. Socially isolating the victim increases the abuser’s power over the victim, but it also protects the abuser. If the victim does not have contact with other people the perpetrator will not be as likely to have to deal with legal or social consequences for his behavior and the victim will not be as likely to get help, including help that may lead to an end to the relationship. Abusive behaviors that could lead to the social isolation of a victim of abuse (some of which were already listed under the larger Emotional Abuse category above) include:

Acting jealous and suspicious of the partner’s friends and social contacts;
Putting down the partner’s friends and/or family.
Monitoring the partner’s time and whereabouts.
Restricting the partner’s usage of the telephone and/or car; not allowing the partner to leave the home alone.
Preventing the partner from working or attending school.
Acting in ways that are aimed at turning other people against the partner.
Preventing the partner from socializing with friends and/or seeing his or her family.
Preventing the partner from seeking medical care or other types of help; threatening the lives or well-being of others with whom the partner might have contact.

Physical Abuse also called physical aggression or abuse; intimate partner violence or abuse; conjugal, domestic, spousal, or dating or courtship violence or abuse. Physical aggression in the context of intimate relationships has been defined as “an act carried out with the intention, or perceived intention, of causing physical pain or injury to another person” (Straus & Gelles, 1986). This is behavior that is intended, at minimum, to cause temporary physical pain to the victim, and includes relatively “minor” acts like slapping with an open hand and severe acts of violence that lead to injury and/or death. It may occur just once or sporadically and infrequently in a relationship, but in many relationships it is repetitive and chronic, and it escalates in frequency and severity over time.

Physical abuse includes, but is not limited to:

Spitting on.
Slapping or hitting with an open hand.
Spanking (non-playfully).
Pushing; shoving; grabbing.
Arm twisting or bending.
Hair pulling.
Hitting or punching with a fist.
Throwing objects at the partner.
Hitting with hard or sharp objects.
Kicking; biting (non-playfully).
Throwing or body slamming the partner against objects, walls, floors, vehicles, onto the ground, etc.
Pushing or shoving or dragging a partner down stairs or off any raised platform or height.
Cutting; scalding or burning.
Forcing a person out of a moving vehicle.
Holding down or tying up the partner to restrain the partner against his or her will.
Locking a partner in a room, closet, or other enclosed space.
Choking or strangling.
Beating up.
Attempting to drown.
Threatening with a weapon.
Attempting to use a weapon against a partner.
Actually using a weapon against a partner.

Sexual abuse includes behaviors that fall under legal definitions of rape, plus physical assaults to the sexual parts of a person’s body, and making sexual demands with which one’s partner is uncomfortable (Marshall, 1992a; Shepard & Campbell, 1992). It also had been defined as including “sex without consent, sexual assault, rape, sexual control of reproductive rights, and all forms of sexual manipulation carried out by the perpetrator with the intention or perceived intention to cause emotional, sexual, and physical degradation to another person” (Abraham, 1999, p. 592).

Sexual abuse includes, but is not limited to:

Demanding sex when one’s partner is unwilling.
Demanding or coercing the partner to engage in sexual activities with which the partner is uncomfortable.
Coerced penile penetration of any kind (oral, vaginal, or anal).
Physically coerced sexual acts of any kind (e.g., through threats with or use of weapons or threats or use of other means of inflicting bodily harm).
Using an object or fingers on one’s partner in a sexual way against his or her will.
Use of alcohol or drugs on one’s partner to obtain sex when the partner was (and/or would be) unwilling.

Physical attacks against the sexual parts of the partner’s body.
Interference with birth control.
Insistence on risky sexual practices (such as refusal to use a condom when a sexually transmitted disease is a known or suspected risk).
Forced or coerced participation in pornography.
Forced or coerced sexual activity in the presence of others, including children.
Forced or coerced prostitution or non-consensual sexual activity with people other than and/or in addition to the partner.
Forced or coerced sex with animals.
Forced or coerced participation in bondage or other sadomasochistic activities.

Stalking (also known clinically as obsessional following. This type of behavior also can be directed toward people with whom the perpetrator has not been romantically involved and can involve motives other than sexual or “amorous” ones notably anger, hostility, paranoia, and delusion. Stalking has been defined variously as: knowingly and repeatedly following, harassing, or threatening another person. Unsolicited and unwelcome behavior, that is, initiated by the defendant against the complainant, that is, at minimum alarming, annoying, or harassing, and that involves two or more incidents of such behavior. A course of conduct directed at a specific person that involves repeated visual or physical proximity; nonconsensual communication; verbal, written, or implied threats; or a combination thereof that would cause fear in a reasonable person with repeated meaning on two or more occasions, and “the willful, malicious, and repeated following and harassing of another person that threatens his or her safety” and “an abnormal or long term pattern of threat and harassment directed toward a specific individual.

As a form of intimate partner abuse, stalking is frequently associated with separation or the end of a romantic relationship. However, some of the behaviors classified under the emotional abuse, economic abuse, and social isolation categories listed above that occur in both intact and ended relationships qualify as stalking behaviors as well. Walker and Meloy (1998) have suggested that, with regard to intact intimate romantic relationships, stalking is an “extreme form of typical behavior between a couple that has escalated to the point of monitoring, surveillance, and overpossessiveness, and that induces fear. Results from the National Violence Against Women Survey (Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998) indicate that many women who are stalked by intimate partners (36%) are stalked by their partners both during and after their relationships end.

Stalking includes, but is not limited to, behaviors such as:

Secretly following and/or spying on the partner.
Hiring someone else to follow or spy on the partner.
Verbally threatening the partner (implicitly or explicitly) through telephone calls or messages on telephone answering machines, written or electronic correspondence, or in person.
Sending cards, letters, gifts or other packages, etc. to the partner’s home or office or leaving such things at the partner’s home, office or on or in the partner’s vehicle inappropriately i.e.,
inappropriately given the status of the relationship).
Appearing in places the partner frequents and waiting for the partner to catch a glimpse of him or her.
Threatening to damage or destroy the partner’s personal property.
Damaging or destroying the partner’s personal property.
Stealing from the partner.
Accosting the partner or someone close to the partner.

So are you in an abusive relationship?

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