The Basics: Overview
It can be hard to know if your relationship is headed down the wrong path. While it’s not always easy to spot the warning signs of relationship violence, there are things you can do to recognize unhealthy relationships and get help before they become violent.
If you think your partner might be controlling or abusive, it's important to:
- Trust your feelings. If something doesn’t seem right, take it seriously.
- Learn the warning signs of someone who might become controlling or violent.
- Get help. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224) to connect with local resources in your area.
If your partner is controlling or abusive, it’s better to get help right away. Controlling or violent relationships usually get worse over time.
Remember: if your partner hurts you, it’s not your fault.
The Basics: Definition
What is relationship violence?
Relationship violence is when one person in a relationship is abusive or controlling toward the other person. In some relationships, both partners act in abusive or controlling ways.
Relationship violence is also called dating violence, domestic violence, or intimate partner violence. It can include:
- Physical violence, like pushing, hitting, or throwing things
- Sexual violence, like forcing or trying to force someone to have sex
- Threats of physical or sexual violence, which may include threatening to hurt another person or a pet
- Emotional abuse, like embarrassing a partner or keeping that person away from family and friends
- Stalking, like watching or following a partner, or sending repeated, unwanted phone calls or texts
If you feel controlled by or afraid of your partner – even if you haven’t been hurt physically – get help. There are experts who can help you figure out what to do next.
The Basics: Healthy Relationships
How do I know if my relationship is healthy?
In healthy relationships, both partners take responsibility for their actions and work together to sort out problems. In a healthy relationship:
- Both people feel respected, supported, and valued
- Both people make decisions together
- Both people have friends and interests outside of the relationship
- Both people settle disagreements with open and honest communication
- Both people respect each other's privacy and space
The Basics: Warning Signs
How do I know if my relationship might become violent?
Relationship violence can start slowly and be hard to recognize. For example, when people first start dating, it’s common to want to spend a lot of time together. But your partner asking you to spend less time with other people can also be a sign that your partner is trying to control your time.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Does my partner respect me?
- Does my partner blame me for problems, including my partner’s own behavior toward me?
- Does my partner make most of the decisions in our relationship?
- Am I ever afraid to tell my partner something?
- Do I ever feel forced to do things that I don't want to do?
- Have I ever been forced or pressured to do anything sexual with my partner when I didn’t want to?
- Does my partner promise to change and then keep doing the same things?
Get more information about the signs of abusive relationships.
What if I’m not sure if my relationship is violent?
It’s okay if you aren't sure – you can still get help.
If you have questions about your relationship, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224) or chat online with a person trained to help. The hotline and chat are free and available 24/7. You don’t even have to give your name.
If you are in danger right now, call 911.
The Basics: Health Effects
How can relationship violence affect health?
While physical violence can cause physical injuries, the stress of any kind of relationship violence or abuse can also lead to other serious problems. These include:
- Eating disorders
- Depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems – like panic attacks, trouble sleeping, or thinking about suicide
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – a type of anxiety disorder
- Trouble trusting people and building relationships
- Drinking too much alcohol or using drugs
Take Action: Plan Ahead
Relationship violence is not your fault or responsibility. But if you think your partner is controlling or abusive, there are things you can do.
Make a plan.
If you're in a relationship with someone who is violent or might become violent, make a safety plan. This is important whether you are planning to leave your partner or not. Use this form to make a safety plan [PDF - 32 KB].
If you are planning to leave your partner, pack the important things on this list.
Protect yourself online.
When you look at information online, your computer keeps a record of sites you’ve visited. And when you make calls or send text messages from a cell phone, the phone stores that information.
Follow these technology and social media safety tips if your partner is controlling or abusive.
Take Action: Get Help
If you think your relationship is unhealthy or you're worried about your safety, get help now.
Start with a phone call.
If you need help or have questions about your relationship, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233). You'll be able to find a domestic violence agency near you or talk to a counselor over the phone. If you are in danger right now, call 911.
What kind of help can I get?
Domestic violence agencies provide:
- Emotional support
- Safety planning
- A safe place to stay in an emergency
- Legal help
- Help with housing
Can I get help for free?
Yes. Domestic violence agencies offer free services, like hotlines and counseling. They also help people find resources, like housing or lawyers.
Health insurance plans must cover screening and counseling for domestic and interpersonal violence for all women under the Affordable Care Act. This means you may be able to get screening and counseling at no cost to you. Talk to your insurance company to learn more.
What if I think someone else is in a controlling or violent relationship?
You can use these tips to help someone in an unhealthy relationship.
Content last updated September 20, 2021
This information on intimate partner violence was adapted from materials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Office on Women’s Health, and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women.
Sarah DeGue, Ph.D.
Division of Violence Prevention
National Center for Injury Prevention and Control
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention