Domestic abuse is when your partner uses a pattern of coercive and assaultive behaviors to obtain power and control over you. The American Heritage Dictionary defines coercion as “to force to act or think in a certain way by use of pressure, threats, or intimidation or to compel; to dominate, restrain, or control forcibly; and to bring about by force or threat.”
While every relationship has its ups and downs, what makes a relationship abusive is the repeated and patterned behavior by a partner that attempts to control aspects of the other person’s life through manipulation, fear, bullying, and multiple other coercive tactics. In some abusive relationships, the abusive person physically or sexually assaults their partner, though this not always the case. In other cases, the abusive individual primarily uses emotional abuse (such as name-calling, isolating from friends and family, making you feel bad about yourself), intimidation (such as threats, scary looks, throwing things, or invading personal space to scare you), economic abuse (such as controlling money, not providing proper economic support for children, not giving their partner access to funds), and/or restricting choices and options to obtain and maintain power and control. You might feel as if you aren’t allowed to make your own decisions or decide where you want to go and who you want to talk to. You may feel as if you can only respond to your partner in certain ways, and sometimes your partner blames you for his misbehavior. Often when you resist the ways in which your partner tries to control you, the abuse gets worse, forcing you into an extremely difficult situation with no easy solutions.
Domestic abuse impacts individuals of all ethnicities, races, ages, educational levels, religions, and sexual orientations. Women are overwhelmingly the victims of abuse (with 85-90% of victims of domestic abuse being women abused by male partners), but men can also be victims of abuse by male or female partners, and domestic abuse also occurs in same-sex relationships.
A partner’s decision to use abusive tactics in a relationship is often hard to identify and notice at first. Abusive individuals are known to be extremely manipulative and in many cases are kind, attentive, and charming when a relationship begins. Often abusive behaviors, such as possessiveness (disguised as lots of attention) and jealously (portrayed as caring concern for their partner), appear to be flattering in the early stages of a new relationship. In many cases, abuse becomes worse once the victim has developed emotional, economic, or social ties to the abuser that makes leaving the relationship more difficult.
Each individual’s experience with domestic violence is unique, so there is no “one way” an abusive relationship should look. But many of the tactics that abusive people use are similar, due to the fact that they are very effective tools to control and dominate others. The Power and Control Wheel, developed by survivors of domestic abuse in 1984, portrays the different tactics that perpetrators of domestic violence use in their relationship to obtain power and control. “Power and control” is at the center of the wheel because this is what your partner is trying to obtain. Sexual and physical violence are listed on the “tire” of the wheel because they are tactics used more intermittently to keep the dynamic in place. Listed below are eight separate tactics that work very effectively to control a person. You might have experienced some or all of these tactics. Some examples of how the tactics are used are listed below but know that there are many more ways in which abusers use these tactics.
Putdowns, name calling, making you think you are crazy, playing mind games
Preventing you from seeing family and friends, controlling what you do or who you talk to
Scary looks, actions or gestures, destroying property, abusing pets, displaying weapons
Threatening to leave, hurt their partner, or hurt themselves, coercing you into doing things you don’t want to do, threatening to ruin your reputation
Controlling all of the money, ruining credit, giving an allowance, sabotaging your finances
Treating you like a servant, making all of the big decisions, being the “master of the castle”, having different rules for you than your partner has for himself
Threatening to take the children away, being emotionally abusive in front of the children, teaching the children to not respect you
Not taking abuse seriously, blaming abusive behavior on you, telling you everything is your fault
If your partner is successful in obtaining power and control over you using the above tactics, he might not decide to use physical or sexual violence in the relationship. Most of the tactics listed above do not currently meet the criminal threshold for what is considered to be domestic violence, but that does not make these tactics any less frightening, damaging, or hurtful. In addition, your partner may sexually assault or coerce you (such as constant demand for sex, making your partner do something sexually they don’t want to do), and use physical force (such as pushing, slapping, hitting, kicking, biting, or beating you up) in your relationship. These particularly frightening attacks often show you that your partner is willing to use physical or sexual force, which makes threats and intimidation in future cases often just as powerful and frightening as physical assault or sexual assault.
Abuse is NEVER your fault. It is important to remember that your partner has control over their decisions and when individuals behave abusively, it is a choice they have made to act in this way. Your partner might blame his behavior on your, or make excuses for his behavior (such as he was drinking or stressed out at work, or you didn’t do something right), but it is important for you to know that you did not cause any abuse. Many abusers can be extremely manipulative after an abusive incident, which might include crying and begging for forgiveness, promising that it will never happen again, promising to change, or buying you gifts.
Many women in abusive relationships want the relationship to end and hope to move on with their lives without their partner, while others want the violence to stop but do not want to end the relationship. No one can tell you what is best for you, but rest assured that mixed feelings, doubts, and conflicting emotions are all common responses to this very difficult situation. There are people and organizations available to listen to you and help you think through your options. Often a good place to start is to talk to a trusted family member or friend, which helps breaks some of the isolation and silence around abuse. Another good resource is to contact your local domestic violence program through their 24-hour hotline.
For the power and control wheel in English, click here. Para la rueda de poder y control en Espanol, cliquea aqua. (Spanish version) For the Deaf power and control wheel, click here. For the equality wheel to see what a healthy relationship looks like click here. To find wheels about a variety of topics related to domestic and sexual violence, click here.