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Abusive relationships

When one person tries to dominate or control someone they are in close contact with, that is an abusive relationship.

The abuse can be physical, emotional, sexual or financial. It can involve violence, intimidation, threats, insults or psychological manipulation.

People from all walks of life can be in an abusive relationship. They can be a man, woman or child. They can be heterosexual or in a same-sex relationship. They can be from any culture, ethnic group or religion.

When you are in an abusive relationship, you may feel it’s your fault, but you are absolutely not to blame for another person’s behaviour.

If you think you are in an abusive relationship, or know someone who might be, get help now.

Types of abuse

The term domestic violence usually makes people think of someone physically hurting someone close to them, usually a man hurting a woman. Violence is a crime and the abuser is breaking the law.

However, abusive relationships do not always involve physical violence. There are other kinds of equally damaging abuse, none of which are acceptable. The abuser can be a man or a woman. Types of abuse include:

  • physical abuse – physical violence, throwing things, denial of food, threatening or dangerous behaviour
  • verbal abuse – intimidation, name-calling, yelling and swearing
  • psychological and emotional abuse – putting you down, blaming or ignoring you, treating you as an inferior, frequently saying your behaviour is inappropriate, questioning your sense of reality
  • sexual abuse – rape, unwanted or forced sexual acts or behaviour, sexual threats and insults, restricting access to birth control, refusing to wear a condom
  • social abuse – demanding attention and resenting your relationships with others, isolating you from friends and family, accusing you of being unfaithful, embarrassing you in public, putting down your friends and family to drive you apart
  • spiritual abuse – ridiculing your religious beliefs and culture, or preventing you from being part of your religion or cultural group
  • financial abuse – giving you an allowance, not allowing access to bank accounts, hiding assets, preventing you from working, sabotaging interviews or meetings, theft, damaging your ability to save or pay bills
  • child abuse – physical and sexual abuse, neglect, verbal and emotional abuse of a child
  • elder abuse – similar to child abuse, but directed at elderly people.

What is the 'cycle of abuse'?

If abuse happens once, it can happen again. It can become a ‘cycle of abuse’ that may involve a number of different phases

  • The build-up – tension starts to increase, with verbal, emotional or financial abuse.
  • The stand over – the behaviour worsens, the person being abused may feel they are ‘walking on eggshells’.
  • The explosion – things erupt, sometimes into violence.
  • The remorse – the abuser feels ashamed of their behaviour and tries to justify it; they might seem distant.
  • The pursuit – the abuser promises not to do it again, they make excuses, they might pay more attention to the person they have abused.
  • The honeymoon – both people in the relationship may be in denial about how bad the abuse is; the cycle often starts again.

Where to get help

People often stay in an abusive relationship for longer than they should. Once you know that you are in an abusive relationship, however, you should do something about it

If you (or someone else) are in danger, or if you have been threatened, physically hurt or sexually assaulted, then call the police on triple zero (000). With enough evidence, they can lay criminal charges.

Alternatively, you can call the following helplines (24 hours a day, 7 days a week):

Last reviewed: August 2017

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