Abuse of any form eats you up from the inside out. It crushes your self-esteem and disconnects you from life. You don’t have to hide and healing is possible though. It starts with understanding the 8 types of abuse in a relationship. It isn’t just physical.
What is abuse in a relationship?
The question of what is considered abuse in a relationship can be difficult to pinpoint precisely. Most people think of physical abuse but there are many more types of abuse that people can inflict on each other. Essentially, abuse is any action or behavior that causes harm or mental anguish.
As counselor Elizabeth McCormick explains in her article onwhat is abuse, there are also subtypes of abuse. For instance, neglect and sexual abuse can sometimes come under physical abuse. Alternatively, you can also have guilt-tripping and name-calling under emotional abuse.
8 different types of abuse in a relationship
Regardless of the abuse, it eventually leads to mental issues such as depression. Victims often become desensitized to frequent abuse, and they take on the shame and the guilt. Nevertheless, if your gut is telling you something is wrong, then it is.
First, you need to understand what is abuse in a relationship by reviewing the following descriptions of the types of abuse. As you’ll quickly see, it’s more than just about being in a physically abusive relationship.
1. Emotional abuse
Abusive relationships don’t always start with physical violence. Instead, the types of abuse in a relationship can start with more subtle signs, specifically those geared towards emotions. These can be as simple as ignoring you or belittling your feelings.
More specifically, spousal abuse often involves a dominant male. Of course, women can be abusive but some traditional males take the need to protect too far.
As Dr. Clare Murphy explains in her article on over-protection, stopping you from doing things or treating you like a possession is also listed under the types of abuse in a relationship.
Within the emotional forms of abuse in a relationship, you can also find manipulation, blaming, passive-aggressive, and shaming. On top of that, you have controlling behavior as well as criticizing or even isolating yourself from friends and family.
This list is not exhaustive because any verbal or behavioral action that makes you feel shame, guilt or fear is emotional abuse.
People often think of sexual abuse in relationships as the obvious one alongside physical abuse. Although, the CDC now refers to Intimate Partner Violence to cover all the subtypes of sexual abuse.
TheCDC shows that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men have been a victim at least once in their lives. This includes being stalked by a partner. Although, of course, sexual abuse also includes unwanted touch or pressure to perform certain sexual acts.
Physical abuse in a relationship can include hitting or shoving as well as throwing things. Of the forms of abuse in a relationship, this is the most likely to lead to depression, anxiety and even PTSD. You can also usually connect it to substance abuse, both for the victim and the abuser.
As thisRehabspot article explains, victims and abusers are 11 times more likely to be involved in violence on substance abuse days. It makes sense if you consider that people turn to substances to numb both the physical and emotional pain.
Other less well-known physical abuse examples include force-feeding, choking, restraining and dangerous driving. Basically, anything that can harm you physically or puts your life in danger is part of the physical types of abuse in a relationship.
We all have needs and boundaries to help us function as healthy and grounded human beings. Intellectual boundaries are often overlooked, especially in a relationship where the lines can get blurred. Nevertheless, everyone has the right to their own thoughts or ideas.
A typical example could be if a spouse stops you from going to church or your spiritual meetings. Perhaps they make you feel stupid for having these beliefs?
No matter what your beliefs are, as long as you’re not hurting anyone, you are free to hold them. Otherwise, you simply crush your self-esteem.
Different types of abuse under the intellectual theme could also fall into the digital world. For instance, your spouse could belittle you by attacking your opinions publicly.
This type of spousal abuse is very close to emotional abuse. Regardless, it’s important to remember you are entitled to your beliefs about how to live your life. And that boundaries are part of that.
Learn more about how to love with boundaries in this video by therapist, Candace Plattor:
It all starts innocently with the abuser proposing to help sort out the finances so you don’t have to worry. This quickly escalates, and you find yourself cut off from the so-called joint accounts with no access to funds. In essence, the abuser has full control.
Similarly, with material abuse, you are just as violated if your spouse destroys or steals your possessions. A car is an obvious example because once destroyed, you are isolated. In terms of types of abuse in a relationship, this plays a big part in crushing your autonomy.
The types of abuse in a relationship are varied. This almost doesn’t matter. On the contrary, the key question is, “What is abuse in a relationship?”. To answer it, simply observe any act or behavior that can harm your physical or mental health.
Whilst clearly the mind and our emotions are linked, there is a difference. Mental abuse is more focused on influencing your thought processes rather than simply your emotions. So, where emotional abuse undermines your self-esteem, mental abuse impacts your sense of reality, as in gaslighting.
Sexual abuse in relationships can also overlap with both mental and emotional types of abuse in a relationship. For instance, forcing someone to perform sex acts that degrade them is also a form of mental abuse.
Similarly, sex can be used as a way to control other people’s feelings such as making people feel ugly or unwanted. Once more, the abuser has hurt the victim.
Sadly, someone’s culture can also be used against them to inflict harm. Whilst this overlaps with the other types of abuse in a relationship and is often less talked about, it’s equally damaging. It can also come up in the digital world where people often attack each other publicly.
Signs of cultural abuse are similar to the other types of abuse in a relationship. When someone’s fundamental core is attacked, it can also lead to depression and anxiety. People can quickly become withdrawn especially if the abuse is also getting physical and they want to hide the wounds.
Typical examples would be to isolate people from their community, deny their traditions or criticize their practice. The ultimate aim is to harm the victim.
8. Discriminatory abuse
If your partner is treating you badly because of a disability or your gender, you could be experiencing discriminatory abuse. In this case, physical abuse examples could be stopping you from accessing, for example, your wheelchair.
Other different types of abuse within this category could be mocking your gender on social media. They might even bring your age into it. This is further exacerbated if they’re exploiting you at the same time by, for instance, using your social aid for their benefit alone.
Guidelines for when facing abuse
Regardless of the types of abuse in a relationship that you’re facing, you’re not alone and help is available. Leaving isn’t always an easy or safe option without first having a plan. So, educate yourself as much as possible as a first step.
You can also reach out to online support groups or therapists that specifically deal with physical abuse in a relationship. They will help you see the abusive relationship patterns, and they’ll validate your story. There’s nothing worse than doubting yourself during these tough moments.
In terms of dealing with your abuser, never engage and keep statements to a minimum. The idea is to avoid adding fuel to their emotions. That means not answering back and not trying to reason with them. Simply state that you can talk later and then walk away.
If you’re in a physically abusive relationship, try to get to a safe place as soon as you can. Try to reach out to friends and family if you can or get yourself to a local support group. Even if you don’t have access to your finances, those support groups can help you free yourself.
So, what is considered abuse in a relationship? It’s very broadly anything that can harm you physically, mentally, or emotionally. No one should ever have to suffer at the hands of others. They themselves might have been victims once upon a time, but nothing ever excuses turning on others.
Abusive relationship patterns rarely end and never without help. It’s tempting to tell ourselves that things will change when we face different types of abuse in a relationship. Nevertheless, the only way to help ourselves is to get help.
With a therapist or support group, you can heal and recover. You can find people to talk to who have been through their own experience of abuse. There’s power in the community that will reawaken you to find the life you deserve, free from harm.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Annes passion and purpose in life are to guide people to find their own path and contentment by learning about themselves. Only then can we build and nurture the deep connections we all deserve to have. With a background in psychology and neuroscience coaching, she has helped countless couples transform their communication from aggression to assertiveness and appreciation.
She is both an ICF certified coach and mindfulness-certified, while being a counselor in training, meaning that she offers a holistic approach. You can expect to transform your view of yourself, your relationship, and the world by better understanding the habits of your mind and letting go of the unhelpful ones. You have power over your mind but you dont have to do it alone.