Getting Out of the Abusive Cycle of Intimate Partner Violence

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Gary Gilles is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in private practice for over 20 years. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the University ...Read More

What is intimate partner violence?

In simple terms it is any act, attempt or even a threat of force or violence by either a family member or intimate partner toward another person with whom they are in relationship. The term intimate partner violence encompasses a wide range of behaviors that includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological harm, stalking or intimidation by a current or former partner or spouse. Physical abuse can include throwing objects, pushing, kicking, biting, slapping, strangling, hitting, beating, threatening with any form of weapon, or using a weapon. Psychological abuse can include harassment and various forms of verbal abuse such as name calling, degradation, and blaming. Intimate partner violence can occur among heterosexual or same-sex couples and does not require sexual intimacy. The violence can be initiated by either a male or female but it is much more common that a male will inflict violence on a female partner.


What are the warning signs of intimate partner violence?

It’s important that you understand the potential warning signs of intimate partner violence. One of the cardinal symptoms of intimate partner abuse is when a person has weak explanations or inconsistent reasons for physical injuries they’ve encountered such as bruises, cuts or other noticeable problems. These may be a sign that the person is experiencing a problematic partner relationship and should be pursued with more inquiry. Here are additional signs of possible partner violence.

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  • Controlling behavior. When their partner goes to great lengths to limit their contact with other people, questions them about where they’ve been or who they’ve seen.
  • Intimidation. When their partner breaks or smashes items in anger, destroys the person’s property, or displays weapons.
  • Threats. When their partner makes threats to harm them or get back at them for something that was previously done.
  • Verbal and emotional abuse. When their partner berates them, calls names or plays mind games.

Why does the abused partner stay in the relationship?

To a person who is not in a violent relationship, it may be difficult to understand why someone, especially a woman, would choose to stay in a violent, abusive and demeaning relationship. But, we need to look deeper into the emotional ties that keep the person in a dysfunctional and enmeshed relationship. While the reasons differ from person to person, here are some of the most common reasons victims continue to stay in these abusive relationships:

  • Fear for their safety. The abusive partner may threaten to hurt or kill them (and children) if they leave or report the abuse to law enforcement or child protective services. A pattern of learned helplessness may be firmly established if the abuse has been going on for some time.
  • Financial dependence on the abuser. Most abusive partners exercise a great deal of control over the person with whom they are in relationship. The abusive partner may have total control over the financial assets of the person. If the abused partner decides to leave, they might have no financial resources to fall back on.
  • Lack of a social support system. Because the abuser is often controlling of their partner’s time, they may isolate them from family and friends to the point that the abused partner does not feel connected to anyone outside the relationship with the violent partner. The abused person may also feel embarrassed to admit to others that they are in such an unhealthy relationship.
  • Self-blame. Many times victims believe that the abusive is somehow their fault. They have a distorted view that if they were a better partner, they would not incur this type of treatment. So, they continue trying to be faultless to no avail.
  • Belief in false repentance. Some abusers feel a sense of remorse after an abusive incident and apologize profusely, saying that it will never happen again. This tends to endear the person to the abuser, falsely believing that the abuser really loves them.

Understanding the abusive cycle

The abusive behavior usually begins early in the relationship but is often justified or rationalized by the victim. They might say that their partner is under a lot of stress or has a short temper or is naturally impatient. Many women caught in an abusive partner relationship were brought up in families where they were taught to take care of men and believe that it is their role to nurture their partner, even when he is unkind or hurtful.

After the abusive cycle has been going on some time, the abused person may feel that their only choice is to stay in the relationship. Some women may recognize that they are co-dependent in the relationship but interpret this as their problem and not their abusive partner’s. To some extent the presence of codependence is part of the problem but it is not a justification for staying in an abusive relationship. Some women, in order to cope with the pain and emotional detachment they feel in the relationship may turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the emotional pain. Others may attempt to escape through a suicide attempt or drift into a deep depression.

It is not uncommon that victims of chronic partner violence experience symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that include nightmares, flashbacks, exaggerated startle responses, and difficulty sleeping, among others.

Getting out of an abusive relationship

Your first line of defense is to always demand that the abusive and violent behavior stop. This may sound obvious but many victims believe that they don’t deserve to be treated with respect and therefore don’t demand it. The next step may be to get a restraining order or protective order against your abusive partner. However, remember that the police can enforce a restraining order only if someone violates it, and then only if someone reports the violation. This means that you must be endangered in some way for the police to step in.

If and when you are ready to stop the violence, here are some additional suggestions:

  • Locate the number to your local battered women’s shelter. Contact them to find out how you would use their services, if necessary.
  • Tell a trusted family member, friend, coworker or neighbors about your situation and develop a plan of escape.
  • Keep a record of all violent incidences, noting dates, events and threats made.
  • Keep any evidence of physical abuse, such as pictures.
  • Hide an extra set of car keys.
  • Set money aside. Ask friends or family members to hold money for you.
  • Pack a bag and be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Include anything that is important to you, such as identification, car title, birth certificates, social security cards, credit cards, clothes for yourself and your children, shoes, medications, banking information, money, important phone numbers. etc.
Keep Reading By Author Gary Gilles, LCPC
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