Abusive relationships: More than just violence

23rd April, 2017   |    By Amy   |    3 min read

What do you imagine when you hear the words “abusive relationship”?

Many people think of violent scenarios like a woman being beaten by her partner, or a friend coming to school with a black eye after a fight with her boyfriend.

But victims of abusive relationships don’t always have obvious symptoms like bruises or black eyes. In fact, many of them have never been hit, beaten, punched or physically hurt in any way by their boyfriend or girlfriend.

We talk about violence a lot because it’s easy to recognise, but abuse isn’t limited to violence alone. Emotional violence can cause just as much damage as physical abuse without leaving a single scratch or scar.

How to spot an emotionally abusive relationship

Emotionally abusive relationships usually happen when one person tries to control the other person’s actions and behaviour. According to Reach Out, your relationship could be emotionally abusive if your partner is possessive, overly jealous and criticises you often.

This includes behaviours like:

  • Calling all the time to make sure you’re where you said you would be
  • Pressuring you into having sex or doing things you don’t want to do
  • Reading your diary or emails without permission
  • Accusing you of being unfaithful when you haven’t been
  • Isolating you from family and friends
  • Criticising you in front of others
  • Breaking things of value or threatening to use violence
  • Saying things like “If you dump me I’m going to kill myself”

For more warning signs, visit Domestic Violence NSW.

Victims of emotionally abusive relationships might start doing badly at school or uni; have trouble sleeping and spend less time with friends and family. Many of them don’t realise that their partners are abusive.

This video, Love Control, which is featured alongside others in The Tune In Not Out Domestic Violence page is a groundbreaking film produced by Women’s Health In the North. It draws directly from young women’s experiences of abusive relationships and shows how quickly controlling behaviour can escalate into full blown violence. Please note is does describe details of an abusive relationship that some may find disturbing.

Why do people stay in abusive relationships?


Young people with little relationship experience can confuse possessiveness and jealousy with love, and not recognise that their partner is hurting them. Abusive relationships eat away at self esteem and confidence, and victims can think that they aren’t strong enough to leave.

Abusive relationships aren’t abusive all the time, so it is also common for victims to downplay the abuse and focus on the good parts of the relationship.

Victims can be afraid of what their partner might do if they break up. Often they blame themselves for the abuse, but it is important to remember that abuse is never the victim’s fault.

What to do if you think you might be in an abusive relationship?

Talk to someone who you trust, like a parent, counsellor, teacher or close friend. Deciding to end the relationship can be daunting and it is normal to feel anxious and frightened, but remember that the abuse is not your fault and that you deserve to be treated better.

For more information

Check out the domestic violence section here on Tune In Not Out – here you will find factsheets and videos and also Reach Out who have put together a great factsheet that explains abusive relationships in more depth.

For 24 hour support, call the Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) or Lifeline on 13 11 14.  If you feel that you are in immediate danger, call 000.

Blog post written by Amy

Also check the related topics:  

Abusive relationships Domestic violence

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