What is Relationship Abuse?

Relationship abuse is a pattern of behavior used to establish power and control over another person through fear, intimidation, and power. It often includes the threat or use or violence. Abuse occurs when one person believes that he or she is entitled to control another. It is an effective method for gaining and keeping control, and there are usually no adverse consequences for the perpetrator of the abuse. Either partner can be the abuser, but the overwhelming majority of relationship violence is perpetrated by men against women. When the abuse occurs within an intimate relationship, such as marriage, dating, or family, the abuse is often referred to as domestic violence.

A Healthy Relationship

Healthy Relationship Wheel graphic

All relationships exist on a spectrum, from healthy to abusive to somewhere in between. Below, behaviors are outlined that occur in healthy, unhealthy and abusive relationships.

Healthy Unhealthy Abusive
Both partners are... One or both partners are... One partner is...
Engaging in open communication Not talking or fighting Hurtful, threatening, insulting or demeaning
Respecting opinions and boundaries Not being considerate of opinions and boundaries Disrespecting feelings, thoughts, decision, opinions or physical safety
Trusting Doesn't believe their partner Physically hurting or injuring the other
Honest Misrepresenting the truth Blaming their partner for harmful actions, excuses abusive action and or minimizes abuse behavior
Equal Feeling their desires or choices are more important Pressuring or forcing their partner to do things they don't want to do
Enjoying personal time Limiting social supports Controlling or isolating partners social supports
Viewing finances as a partnership Feeling financial insecurity Controlling finances

Power and Control Wheel

The Power and Control Wheel helps to link the different behaviors that together form a pattern of violence and shows how the violence is maintained through psychological abuse. It shows the relationship as a whole and demonstrates how each seemingly unrelated behavior is an important part in an overall effort to control.  Following the Violence Wheel is an explanation of each abusive behavior.

Violence wheel graphic


  • Making the partner afraid by using looks, actions, gestures
  • Smashing things--like punching holes in walls
  • Destroying or giving away her property
  • Abusing pets--or sometimes killing them
  • Displaying weapons

Verbal Attacks / Emotional Abuse

  • Putting him or her down
  • Not taking responsibility for one's own actions
  • Name calling
  • Playing mind games
  • Humiliating the person
  • Making him or her feel guilty, e.g., calling him or her "prideful" if he or she does not agree or comply


  • Controlling what he or she does, who the partner sees and talks to, what he or she reads, and where the partner goes
  • Limiting the partner's outside involvement--excessive possessiveness
  • Using jealousy to justify actions--sexual jealousy and unfounded accusations of affairs

Minimizing, Denying, and Blaming

  • Making light of the abuse and not taking his or her concerns about it seriously
  • Saying the abuse didn't happen
  • Shifting responsibility for abusive behavior
  • Saying the abused caused it

Using Loved Ones

  • Making the partner feel guilty about the children
  • Using the children to relay messages
  • Interfering with visitation
  • Threatening to take the children away

Abusing Authority / Spiritual Abuse

  • Treating the partner like a servant
  • Acting like the "king or queen of the castle"
  • Being the one to define men's and women's roles
  • Demanding obedience, claiming superior righteousness (e.g., because of the priesthood or having served a mission), making all the decisions, demanding forgiveness, telling partner, "You don't have the Spirit," saying that a temple marriage must be saved at all costs, telling him or her that they are "prideful" if they do not agree or comply.

Economic Control

  • Preventing the partner from getting or keeping a job
  • Making the partner ask for money
  • Giving her an allowance--with no participation in developing a budget
  • Taking her money
  • Not letting the partner have access to family income

Coercion and Threats

  • Making and/or carrying out threats to do something to hurt the partner
  • Threatening to leave the partner, to commit suicide, to report the person to welfare
  • Threatening to make a false accusation
  • Making him or her do illegal things

Abuse tends to escalate. It often begins with threats and intimidation that may escalate to physical abuse. Finally, it may become life-threatening, with serious behaviors such as choking, breaking bones, or the use of weapons.

Physically Assaultive Behavior

Physical abuse often begins with what is excused as trivial contact that escalates into more frequent and serious attacks. It might include any of the following:

  • restraining
  • pushing
  • pinching
  • slaps and punches
  • kicks
  • biting
  • tripping
  • throwing
  • choking
  • severe shaking
  • burns
  • stabbing
  • mutilation
  • breaking bones
  • gunshot wounds

Is Your Relationship Abusive?

The following questions can help you to determine whether your own relationship has characteristics of abuse.

Has your loved one. . .

  • Embarrassed or made fun of you in front of your friends or family?
  • Humiliated you in private or public?
  • Withheld approval, appreciation or affection as punishment?
  • Put down your accomplishments or goals?
  • Continually criticized you, called you names, or shouted at you?
  • Ignored your feelings regularly?
  • Made you feel like you are unable to make decisions?
  • Ridiculed or insulted your most valued beliefs, your religion, race, or social class?
  • Used intimidation or threats to gain compliance?
  • Told you that you are nothing without him?
  • Treated you roughly--grabbed, pushed, pinched, shoved or hit you?
  • Wrestled with you? Wrestling with a partner is, at the least, a legal license for free touching and, at the most, a sign of a desire to dominate you.
  • Called or texted you several times a night or shown up to make sure you are where you said you would be?
  • Been very jealous--harassed you about imagined unfaithfulness?
  • Blamed you for how their feelings or actions?
  • Insulted or driven away your friends or family?
  • Prevented you from doing things you want--like spending time with your friends or family?
  • Manipulated you with lies?
  • Insisted you lose weight or dress the way your partner wants?
  • Used drugs or alcohol as an excuse for saying hurtful things or abusing you?
  • Pressured you sexually for things you aren't ready for?
  • Raped you or subjected you to other violent or degrading non-consensual sexual acts?
  • Tried to keep you from leaving after a fight or left you somewhere after a fight to "teach you a lesson"?
  • Taken car keys or money away?
  • Made you feel like there "is no way out" of the relationship?
  • Threatened to commit suicide if you leave?
  • Subjected you to reckless driving?
  • Thrown objects at you?
  • Abused pets to hurt you?
  • Punched, shoved, slapped, bit, kicked, choked or hit you?

Have you. . .

  • Sometimes felt scared of how he will act?
  • Constantly made excuses to other people for his behavior?
  • Believed that you could help him change if only you changed something about yourself?
  • Tried not to do anything that would cause conflict or make him angry?
  • Felt like no matter what you do, he is never happy with you?
  • Always done what he wants you to do instead of what you want?
  • Stayed with him because you were afraid of what he would do if you broke up?

Help is Available

(Some of the resources listed below are not created, maintained, or controlled by BYU-Idaho. These materials are intended to serve as an educational resource, and BYU-Idaho does not endorse any content that is not in keeping with university policy or the doctrines and teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)

Other Resources

Should I Stay or Should I Go?  by Lundy Bancroft and JAC Patrissi