What Is Abuse In A Relationship?

Suffering and Healing | | , Content Strategist & Blogger
Updated On: March 9, 2023
what is abuse in a relationship

Do you know what is abuse in a relationship or are you unsure about what constitutes abuse? Abuse is the misuse of power, trust, and control in a couple’s relationship. The first signs of an abusive relationship are visible in a couple’s life when one of the partners acts like a control freak and tries to regulate their partner’s life according to their own will.

This unfair pattern is visible in most marriages where a spouse dominates their partner and disturbs the marital equation with a series of abusive patterns. There are numerous ways in which abuse while dating or in a marriage can be defined. Before delving deeper into it, let us first find out the types of abusive relationships.

Types Of Abuse In A Relationship

What is an abusive relationship definition? When one person hurts another person, whether physically or mentally, it is known as abuse. It usually happens in a cycle, and continues over a period. What is considered abuse in a relationship? There are different types and can be classified as:

  1. Physical abuse: This kind of abuse is characterized by physical assault. It can include hitting, slapping, kicking, choking, and in extreme cases, even burning and mutilation. Signs of physical abuse may manifest as bruises, cuts, and other physical marks
  2. Emotional abuse: Using insults, hurtful words, and undue criticism to make the other person feel bad. Emotional abuse can be done in private, or even in public. Hurtful remarks about a person’s looks or abilities all amount to emotional abuse
  3. Sexual abuse: Making one’s partner have sex, or perform any sexual act forcefully. Marital rapes also constitute sexual abuse. Sexual abuse can include a range of activities. It can happen to both men and women. Children may also be victims of sexual abuse at home
  4. Psychological abuse: Use of threatening behavior to scare the partner or children into doing something they don’t want to do. The intent is to make the abused person dependent on the abuser. A partner might psychologically abuse the other to get what they want
  5. Financial abuse: Using money to control the other person, when one of the partners is financially dependent on the other. A financial abuser may pay for the other’s expenses to pressurize the other person into sexual submission

Related Reading: How Do I Stop Abusing My Wife?

What constitutes abuse in a relationship?

The dynamics of ‘control’ regulate abuse in a relationship. What is an abusive relationship exactly and why do people feel the need to resort to such extreme measures?

Abusers are often control freaks who feel that things are fine as far as they are in their control. With huge need for control, such individuals manipulate situations in their favor by balancing positive reinforcement with criticism. At times, they may say ‘I am very lucky to have such a partner…’ or use praise, flattery, and gifts to express their ‘true love’.

But the situation may change the very next day where the abuser may put psychological pressure on the victim. As a result, the abused individual may face silent treatment, threats, guilt trips, swearing, bullying, manipulation, etc.

This kind of diverse behavior leaves the victim puzzled, clueless and confused. They are unable to analyze situations from a neutral perspective. This abusive pattern of ‘reward and punishment’ exploits the vulnerabilities of the abused and slowly erodes their confidence and self-worth.

As a result, he/she may take all the blame on themselves for all the wrongs happening in their relationship. Blame-shifting in a relationship ruins it. Soon, this abuse in a relationship becomes a vicious cycle, where the abuser enjoys ‘one-upmanship’ over all the major affairs in the marriage.

Signs of an abusive relationship
The dynamics of ‘control’ regulate abuse in a relationship

Like a master, he/she controls and manipulates the spouse, which is detrimental to any kind of marriage or a relationship. To avoid that vicious cycle of emotional blame and problems, here are a few signs that can help you identify the abuse in a relationship like marriage.

What are the signs of abuse in a relationship?

The signs of an abusive relationship initially can be hard to catch on but if nothing is done about it in this stage, getting out of an abusive relationship can be very difficult. So what are the warning signs of an abusive relationship?

  1. No control over decision making: The abuser takes full control over the decision making in the household. Even as a homemaker, a married woman may have to depend upon the ‘permission’ of her husband for basic decisions like daily household needs and her personal healthcare. According to the National Family Health Survey 2005-06, only 37% of married women agreed that they participate in basic decision making like their own healthcare, purchases for daily household needs and visiting their own family or relatives. The remaining lot is dependent upon the husband’s ‘approvals’, which is one of the strong signals of being in an abusive relationship
  2. Attacking independence of the spouse: Independence is the key hindrance in the way of an abuser. Initially, an abuser may try to thwart the independence of the spouse through tactical ways. He may convince her not to overexert herself while taking care of the house and job together. Later, he may ask her accounts for expenses, both small and large. Or he may allocate a very small amount for monthly expenses, which can cause unwanted stress to the wife. This kind of financial abuse puts unwanted strain on the victim and leaves them at the mercy of the abuser
  3. Restriction on the freedom of movement: It is shocking to know that only one-third of women are allowed to go on their own to the market, to a health facility or even to meet their friends. If such a husband lets his wife go for such essential visits, he may keep a check on her frequently via messages or calls, which can even affect the woman’s peace of mind. By putting restrictions on his wife, an abusive husband exhibits a possessive personality
  4. Controlling behavior: Controlling behavior plants the seed of problems and doubts in a couple’s life. Your every move, every expense, every word is scrutinized and controlled by the abusive partner. At times, situations even become too difficult when the victim fails to ‘open up’ to her family or friends even over phone calls. The ordeal continues when the abuser tries to impose controls over finances and expenditures. When the budget shifts a little or things don’t go his way, anger and rage can create unwanted problems. Jealousy also plants the seed of controlling behavior. If an abusive partner thinks that a victim is not faithful and talks freely to the opposite sex, then he also may put a check on mobile messages and call records, which again pulls the victim back in their own shell
  5. Spousal violence is common: An extreme sign of abuse, spousal violence affects many households. Did you know, one in three married women report having been slapped by their husband. In extreme cases, this spousal violence may take the form of forced sex or marital rape, according to 28% of women surveyed under the recent National Family Health Survey 2015-16

Related Reading: 5 Signs Of Emotional Abuse You Should Watch Out For Warns Therapist

What are the causes of abuse in a relationship?

What is abuse in a relationship then and do abusers always suffer from mental disorders? Usually, it is observed that abusers have strange personality disorders. The concept of ‘give and take’ is missing in their dictionary. Such individuals are selfish and just focus on ‘I, me and myself’ in life. And yet, exposing a narcissist may make you seem like a narcissist yourself.

These needy individuals feel that every person, including their spouse, family and friend circle, should function according to their needs and expectations. Failing this basic tenet becomes the root cause of abuse in a couple’s relationship. Here are some basic causes of abuse in a relationship, according to the Bonobology expert panel.

  1. Seeing ‘abuse’ as ‘normal’: Often, people who grow up in abusive situations see abuse as normal in a couple’s life. This is the main reason why abusers continue to abuse the spouse, without even harming them physically. As a child, such abusers may have witnessed their parents in emotional, psychological or financial abuse and may perpetuate the same cycle in their own marriage. In other cases, children who witness parental violence or suffer from it see physical abuse as a sole way to resolve conflicts
  2. Taking entitlement of the spouse quite seriously: Many abusive husbands feel ‘entitled’ to their spouses and interpret this as a favored ground to control their self-esteem, financial independence and inflict violence. As per the societal belief, they feel they should have the power and control over their partner which will give them an upper hand in the marriage
  3. Lack empathy: Abusers, due to their narcissistic nature, are too self-absorbed and fail to empathize with their partners or understand their points of view. In any case, they are not ready to give the benefit of doubt to their partner. This one-sided view blocks and puts a toxic influence on the marriage
What is considered abuse in a relationship

So, after knowing the ins and outs of what is abuse in a relationship, it is the right time to take a call on where your relationship is leading. If you feel that the abuser is trying to curb you into a vicious cycle of negativity and problems in a relationship, then help is on hand here at Bonobology.

Our panel of expert counsellors is there to help you identify, overcome and recover from abusive relationships. So, open up and make a difference in your life.


1. What type of abuse is the hardest to detect?

Since there is no physical evidence of it, emotional and psychological abuse are hardest to identify.

2. What is the most common form of abuse?

Physical abuse is by far the most common abuse that women have to suffer.

3. Who is more vulnerable to abuse?

Since men are often physically stronger and emotionally not as sensitive, that puts women more at risk of being victims.

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Readers Comments On “What Is Abuse In A Relationship?”

  1. I am in an abusive relationship right now, verbal not physical. I love my husband but we can’t have a conversation without screaming or yelling at each other. Alot of times I am the one starting the fights and I know that I can be controlling and mean. I am lost right now and I don’t know if I want to continue in this relationship

  2. So,Its must to have a job for every women before geting married n also not leaving it ever.You can see that a job is a better partner than living with an abuser .

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