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Abuse or Violence in a Personal Relationship

Trust Your Instincts

When one person scares, hurts, or continually puts down the other person, it is abuse. Sources of support at Virginia Tech include:

Whether problems in a relationship include you or someone you know, whether abuse is obvious or not, learn to recognize and respond to warning signs. Patterns of abuse or violence can vary greatly in frequency and severity, from a single blow that may or may not strike the victim to chronic, severe battering. This type of violence can occur among heterosexual or same-sex couples and does not require sexual intimacy. It occurs in many forms:

  • Physical abuse: hitting, slapping, kicking, choking, strangling, pushing, punching, beating.
  • Verbal abuse: constant criticism, humiliating remarks, not responding to what the victim is saying, mocking, name-calling, yelling, swearing, interrupting, changing the subject.
  • Sexual violence: forcing sex on an unwilling partner, demanding sexual acts that the victim does not want to perform.
  • Isolation: making it difficult for the victim to see friends and relatives, monitoring phone calls, reading email, controlling where the victim goes, taking the victim's car keys.
  • Coercion: making the victim feel guilty, pushing the victim into decisions, sulking, manipulating, always insisting on being right, making up impossible "rules" and punishing the victim for breaking them.
  • Harassment: following or stalking, embarrassing the victim in public, constantly checking up on the victim, refusing to leave when asked.
  • Threats and intimidation: threatening to harm the victim, family members and pets; using physical size to intimidate; shouting, keeping weapons and threatening to use them.
  • Destruction of property: destroying furniture, punching walls, throwing things, breaking dishes, destroying victim's personal belongings.
  • Self-destructive behavior: abusing drugs or alcohol, threatening self-harm or suicide, driving recklessly, deliberately doing things that will cause trouble.

Signs of abuse also may include:

  • Unrealistic expectations: No matter how hard the partner tries, the abuser is unsatisfied.
  • Blaming others for his/her problems: Mistakes are blamed on others.
  • Jealousy: A partner uses jealousy as a symbol of love.
  • Lying: a partner changes truth or keeps secrets.
  • Hypersensitivity: A partner is easily insulted or becomes very angry.
  • Lacks respect for women: A partner says or treats women as inferior or stupid.
  • "Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde": A partner suddenly changes moods or breaks into a rage.
  • History of abuse: If a partner was abusive to the last partner, there is a good chance abuse will happen again.
  • Cruelty to animals or children: A partner shows insensitivity to pain and suffering of others.

Think about how you are treated and how you treat your partner. Ask yourself, does he or she:

  • Embarrass or make fun of you in front of your friends or family?
  • Put down your goals and accomplishments?
  • Make you feel like you are incapable of making a good decision?
  • Use intimidation or threats to get you to comply?
  • Tell you that you are or would be nothing without him/her?
  • Treat you roughly; grab, push, pinch, shove, or hit you?
  • Call you several times or show up, to make sure you are where you said you would be?
  • Use drugs or alcohol as an excuse for saying or doing hurtful things?
  • Blame you for how they fell or act?
  • Pressure you sexually for things you don't want or are not ready for?
  • Make you feel that there is no way out of the relationship?
  • Prevent you from doing things you want to do, like spending time with friends or family?
  • Try to keep you from leaving after a fight, or leave you somewhere after a fight to “teach you a lesson”?

Do you:

  • Sometimes feel scared of how your partner may act?
  • Constantly make excuses to others for your partner's behavior?
  • Believe that you could help your partner change if you could only change something about yourself?
  • Try not to do anything that would cause conflict or make your partner angry?
  • Feel as if, no matter what you do, your partner is never happy with you?
  • Always do what your partner wants you to do instead of what you want?
  • Remain with your partner because you are afraid of what your partner would do if you broke up?

If your partner has been violent with you

  • Talk with someone about your experience. Having your partner abuse you is traumatic, and it is crucial to have support.
  • Plan for safety.
  • Know that you are not alone.
  • You are not to blame.
  • Get to know and use Emergency Support Contacts.
  • Talk with a trusted family member, administrator, dean, or friend about what is happening in your relationship and, if possible, make arrangements to stay with a trusted person when needed.
  • Keep a spare set of keys and some money in a place where you can get to them in a hurry.

If you have been violent toward your partner

  • Know that you are not alone. Recent research indicates that 20-30% of college dating relationships have included incidents of verbal and physical abuse.
  • Understand that violence is a learned behavior. Violent, abusive behavior can be changed.
  • Take responsibility for what you’ve done. The first step toward making a change is to acknowledge that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
  • Seek professional help.

If you want to help a friend

  • Listen and show support.
  • Be careful not to blame the victim for the actions of others.
  • Allow your friend to make choices about how they want to proceed.
  • Avoid making judgments. In particular, avoid questions like “Why don't you end the relationship?”
  • Remember that every situation is different.
  • Get to know and use Emergency Support Contacts.
  • Find someone that you can talk to about the situation.

For additional help

For more information on how to react to an act of violence, see: