Intimate Partner Violence: Types, Consequences, and Support

sad woman on chairAbuse is a pattern of behaviors typically used to exert control over another person. Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a form of abuse between two people in a relationship together, such as dating partners or spouses. IPV can occur in relationships regardless of race, culture, age, sexual orientation, physical ability, or economic status. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated in 2014 that, based on the number of reported incidents, IPV affects 20 people each minute in the United States, or about 12 million people each year.

Types of Intimate Partner Violence

Abusive behavior exists along a continuum ranging from minor to fatal and tends to escalate in intensity and frequency. Types of intimate partner violence include:

  • Physical abuse involves bodily harm to another person and has potential to result in visible injuries such as bruises and broken bones. Examples of physical abuse include hitting, pushing, shaking, pulling hair, or restricting another person’s movement.
  • Emotional/psychological abuse includes verbal and nonverbal behavior that can result in the victim feeling worthless, guilty, ashamed, or embarrassed. Some behaviors that can be considered emotionally abusive include: blaming, belittling, name-calling, insulting, humiliating, isolating, intimidating, and criticizing.
  • Sexual abuse is coercing or forcing another person into unwanted sexual activity or engaging in sexual situations where victims are unconscious and unable to consent. Sexually abusive behavior includes sabotaging birth control, sexual harassment, unwanted sexual touch, and rape. Rape can occur within a marital relationship and is sometimes referred to intimate partner sexual violence.
  • Financial or economic abuse means that one person in a relationship gains control over the other through financial means. Someone using financial abuse may control how, when, and where money is spent, withhold information about finances and bank accounts, provide their partner an allowance, or take money in deceptive ways.
  • Spiritual abuse happens when a partner uses religion or spiritual beliefs to control another person. Perpetrators using spiritual abuse may deny their partner’s beliefs, prevent them from participating in religious ceremonies, use religion to intimidate them, or use religion to justify the abuse.
  • Stalking is repeated, unwanted attention from a partner that causes a victim to fear for his or her safety or the safety of someone close to him or her. Stalking includes behaviors such as sending unwanted gifts, learning a person’s schedule or routine, sending repeated unwanted email or texts, and unexpectedly arriving at places where victims spend time.

The Effects of Intimate Partner Violence

Victims may experience numerous effects and consequences as a result of IPV. As the duration, number of types, and severity of abuse increase, the likelihood of developing mental and physical health issues also increases.

Possible physical consequences include:

Mental health issues that may result from IPV include:

Children witnessing intimate partner violence are at greater risk for developing various mental, physical, and behavioral issues.

Support for IPV Survivors

There are helpful and unhelpful things people can do when they discover someone is being abused. Asking people in abusive relationships why they stay or pressuring them to leave is unhelpful and should be avoided. Asking “why” can increase the survivor’s self-blame, guilt, and sense of shame. Some of the reasons people may stay in an abusive relationship include:

  • Financial: The person may fear being without housing, transportation, or may rely on the abusive person for financial support.
  • Children: A parent may not want to deal with custody issues or the court system. Perpetrators often use the survivor’s mental health status, lack of income, or substance use against the survivor during the court process to obtain custody.
  • Conflict with religious or cultural beliefs: The person may have religious or cultural beliefs that conflict with divorce.
  • Threats: The perpetrator may make threats of suicide or to hurt the children or family pets if the person leaves.

Asking people in abusive relationships why they stay or pressuring them to leave is unhelpful and should be avoided. Asking “why” can increase the survivor’s self-blame, guilt, and sense of shame.Keep in mind that abuse survivors have a right to make their own decisions. Instead of asking why the person stays, it can be more helpful to offer your support. You can express concern about the abusive person’s behavior and the survivor’s safety. Offer to babysit occasionally or to prepare a meal, provide a safe place to stay, or help the survivor identify or obtain services in the community.

Be mindful that perpetrators often try to isolate their partners and may be suspicious of their partners interacting with others. Try to avoid direct confrontation with the perpetrator, as it could be dangerous for you or to the person you’re trying to help. Keep the abused person’s safety as well as your own in mind when providing help.

Counseling and advocacy are additional options available to help survivors. Working with a therapist or other mental health professional may help victims weigh pros and cons of leaving, create safety plans, obtain legal assistance if desired, and create a safe space where survivors can process difficult subject matter they may not feel comfortable sharing with anyone else.

References:

  1. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Division of Violence Prevention (2014). Understanding intimate partner violence. Retrieved from www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/ipv-factsheet.pdf
  2. National Center on Domestic Violence Trauma & Mental Health (2014). Current evidence: Intimate partner violence, trauma-related mental health conditions & chronic illness. Retrieved from http://www.nationalcenterdvtraumamh.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/FactSheet_IPVTraumaMHChronicIllness_2014_Final.pdf

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Marjie L. Roddick, MA, LMHC, CTTS, therapist in Vancouver, Washington

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Charlene

    Charlene

    August 28th, 2015 at 10:17 AM

    It was so embarrassing when my ex would hit me and cause bruises, because then everyone would want to know what happened, even though I think that most of them knew. It was terrible to have to to talk about because who wants to have to admit that someone that you thought loved you really doesn’t care enough about you to not hurt you?

  • roger

    roger

    August 28th, 2015 at 1:01 PM

    It is also important to note that this is not singularly a female issue. This is something that can happen to men too and when it does I think that the humiliation can be even greater for them given that we always think of men being more of the aggressor.

  • Marjie L. Roddick, MA, LMHC

    Marjie L. Roddick, MA, LMHC

    August 29th, 2015 at 8:35 AM

    Charlene, I imagine it was hard to feel like you needed to explain the bruises, especially when a part of you thought others already knew what was going on. Most people don’t talk about their abuse, they stay silent about it, at first because of how uncomfortable it feels to admit someone they love is hurting them. Thank you for commenting about it here, sharing can feel healing sometimes. I hope you are able to continue finding supportive people to share your story with as you’re ready.
    Roger, thank you for your comment about gender as well. Men do experience IPV too. The most recent statistics from the CDC in 2014 showed that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 10 men are affected by IPV. The (sometimes unspoken) gender expectations in our society about men tell us men are “supposed to be masculine and not get hurt.” When men are abused it can create a sense of humiliation or shame that often keeps them silent and prevents them from telling anyone about it which becomes a barrier to their own healing.

  • melissa e.

    melissa e.

    August 29th, 2015 at 11:35 AM

    You didn’t mention gaslighting but more and more I see people coming out with their stories about this. Would you agree that this is a type of partner abuse that should be recognized as such?

  • Marjie L. Roddick, MA, LMHC

    Marjie L. Roddick, MA, LMHC

    August 29th, 2015 at 9:27 PM

    melissa, I do agree that gaslighting is a form of partner abuse! Thank you for bringing that omission to my attention! When I talk with people experiencing gaslighting, we discuss it as a form of emotional/psychological abuse. I often hear it referred to in session as “crazy-making” or “mind games” and people say “I felt like I was going crazy.” It can bring on lots of self-doubt and second guessing of oneself.

  • melissa e

    melissa e

    August 30th, 2015 at 2:38 PM

    You are very welcome! ;)

  • Dillon

    Dillon

    August 31st, 2015 at 9:03 AM

    I am in no way taking up for the abuser, but I do think that there are certain situations where those who are abusing someone do not even recognize that it is that kind of behavior. They might think that they are being aggressive or even assertive but they will not admit, or they do not see that their actions are actually hurting someone.

  • Marjie L. Roddick, MA, LMHC

    Marjie L. Roddick, MA, LMHC

    August 31st, 2015 at 8:12 PM

    Hi Dillon, thanks for joining the conversation! I agree, I think there may be some instances where an abusive person doesn’t recognize that their behavior is abusive. I think this is especially true when people have experienced or witnessed repeated abuse from childhood and may begin to believe that treating people aggressively is “normal” behavior. It’s important to note that being abused during childhood is a risk factor for abusing as an adult and does not mean an abused child will grow up to be abusive. I also think it’s worth noting that just because someone doesn’t recognize their behavior is abusive, doesn’t mean it’s ok. Perpetrators of abuse often deny that their behaviors are abusive and frequently try to shift the blame for their behavior to someone else.

  • Dillon

    Dillon

    September 6th, 2015 at 8:28 AM

    Thanks Marjie!

  • Kristen

    Kristen

    October 19th, 2015 at 1:45 AM

    Melissa,
    You just opened up my eyes! Thank You! I had never heard of gas-lighting. I have a ex-boyfriend stalker, but I never realized there was any actual abuse in my relationship until now. He definitely was gas-lighting me – CONSTANTLY. I have a generalized anxiety disorder, and whenever he did something that disturbed me (which happened a lot), he would always claim it was just my “anxiety.” Anyone who has high anxiety knows that sometimes you can’t tell the difference between reasonable and unreasonable anxiety. It turned out my gut feeling and fears were dead on, and that the anxiety I was experiencing was extremely reasonable and healthy. Thank you for pointing out one more concerning sign to look for in future relationships! The more aware we can be of the signs of abuse, the better!

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