Is It Domestic Violence If I Am Not Being Hit?

Grayscale photo of person in hoodie looking out toward cityMany people struggle to understand how our culture defines domestic violence. Some believe that to constitute domestic violence, a person must be beaten or violently struck in some way. However, domestic violence behaviors do not necessarily include physical assault. While it may include sexual, emotional, and/or physical abuse, the most consistent component of a domestic violence relationship is an ongoing effort to maintain power and control over one’s partner.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (2016) lists several abusive behaviors that are earmarks of domestic violence:

  • Frequently accusing one’s partner of lying and/or cheating: “You were 15 minutes late getting home. Who were you having sex with?”
  • Controlling finances. For example, the abusive person may make eight times the wage their partner earns, yet insist they split household bills equally. The abusive person may insist they control all the money and offer an allowance they control rather than share equally in financial responsibilities.
  • Forcing sexual acts, sometimes minimized with comments such as, “I just had too much to drink,” or, “I knew you really wanted it.”
  • Isolating the person. This can appear in the form of behaving rudely or in other socially inappropriate ways to discourage their partner’s friends and family from wanting to be around them. The abusive person may find ways to keep their partner from spending time with family or friends, monitor their partner’s conversations, and forbid their partner from communicating with others.
  • Preventing a partner from working or advancing their education.
  • Destroying a partner’s property.
  • Hurting, or threatening to hurt, a partner’s pets.
  • Belittling a partner for not doing things “right” (in the abusive person’s opinion).
  • Intimidating by creating an environment where a partner feels the need to “walk on eggshells”; the world revolves around keeping the abusive person from being disturbed.
  • Treating the abusive person’s partner as if their needs and feelings do not exist, or as if they are a servant. At times, the abusive person may promise to change, but their behavior does not improve for long, if at all.

Abusive individuals often want the people they abuse to believe they are at fault: “If you would only ____, I would not get angry. You provoked me. You are crazy.” To be clear, there is nothing any person can say or do that provokes or deserves abuse. While a person may behave in ways that could benefit from modification, those are relationship issues. Domestic violence is not a relationship issue; it is in many cases a criminal act.

Abuse loves when we don’t talk about it; it thrives in silence. By giving a voice to those who feel they have none and talking about their pain, we give abuse nowhere to hide.

In many states, a domestic violence charge does not necessarily need to include touching a partner. Destroying property, stalking, and harassing—including menacing texts and phone calls—can constitute domestic violence. Domestic violence may be addressed in three different types of court: criminal, civil, and family (American Bar Association, 2001). Abusive people will sometimes attempt to pressure or manipulate a partner into dropping charges or to lie to help minimize the consequences of the abusive person’s behavior.

Often, a domestic violence relationship may seem like any happy relationship in the beginning, but becomes more controlling and abusive over time (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 2016). Because of this, people who have been abused sometimes report feeling shame for not recognizing the signs of abuse sooner. It is not unusual for someone leaving a domestic violence relationship to state they realized they were in a domestic violence relationship only after they felt it was too late to leave, and that they wanted to leave sooner but did not believe they could materially survive alone. However, many resources are available to assist with safety plans, housing, legal advocacy, and other resources.

Getting Help for Domestic Violence

If you or someone you care about is in a domestic violence relationship, you are not alone. To speak confidentially with a trained advocate, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. Live, private chat is also available at Information and thousands of resources, including counseling, across the United States are available to people in an abusive relationship and to friends and family of a person they believe to be in an abusive relationship. Contact a trained therapist if you need further guidance or support.

Abuse loves when we don’t talk about it. It thrives in silence. By giving a voice to those who feel they have none and creating spaces for them to talk about their pain—and offering support as they do so—we give abuse nowhere to hide.


  1. American Bar Association. (2001). Know your rights: Domestic violence. Retrieved from
  2. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. (2016). What is domestic violence? Retrieved from
  3. National Domestic Violence Hotline. (2016). Is this abuse? Retrieved from

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

  • Leave a Comment
  • patricia

    October 14th, 2016 at 11:25 AM

    My sister endured both physical and emotional abuse from her ex husband and luckily I can say ex husband because if he wasn’t that and hadn’t been forced out of her life I truthfully feel that he would have ended up killing her. There are still some times that we all live in fear not knowing where he is or what he is doing but we protect ourselves against him the best we know how and try to stay on guard. He hasn’t made a move yet so fingers crossed he has just moved on and moved us out of his life and line of anger.

  • Aimee

    October 15th, 2016 at 6:19 AM

    Don’t ever let someone con you into believing that you are not a victim of domestic violence just because you don’t have bruises and broken bones. When someone is using words and actions against you that they do specifically to tear and wear you down, then believe me, this is just as much abusive as anything else they could do to you. So you might not need a bandage but you sure do need help recovering all the same.

  • Mandy

    October 15th, 2016 at 1:26 PM

    I have finally had to get a restraining order but I am still afraid that he will just see this as a piece of paper and he won’t let that stop him.

  • perry

    October 17th, 2016 at 7:45 AM

    One thing that does not get mentioned a whole lot is the fact that men can also be victims of this kind of emotional and domestic violence and I think that there are far fewer services available to them than there are to women.
    Well maybe the services are out there but it is that men are going to be less likely to seek them out because they are afraid that this will somehow make them look weak.

  • Susan

    October 17th, 2016 at 10:10 AM

    If this makes you feel less than your whole self, then yes it is abusive and it needs to stop.

  • sharon

    October 18th, 2016 at 2:10 PM

    I know that it is abuse and it is definitely wrong, but as far as the term domestic violence, I think that this means something different like physical abuse.

  • Ginger

    October 19th, 2016 at 10:35 AM

    This does bring up an interesting topic so I would be curious about what most state laws have to say about this issue.

  • posey

    October 20th, 2016 at 10:49 AM

    aargh this is only about semantics.
    Just because it might not fit the traditional definition of what we view as abuse does not mean that it is not abusive.
    If it hurts and it wounds and you feel the impact of those words just like you would feel a hit, then I think that it is very fair to say that this is abusive and if at all possible it would probably be wise to try to extract yourself from that situation.

  • Mandy

    October 21st, 2016 at 10:41 AM

    So my parents were abusive to us because believe me there was nothing that any of us ever did that was right in their eyes.

  • Lisa

    July 16th, 2017 at 2:59 PM

    I agree Posey. Continued deception & betrayal and then being blamed for that or manipulated into thinking that it is your fault, is domestic violence as well. It crushes you emotionally and spiritually, if not physically. It still kills your soul so that you may be living and breathing but you are a ghost.

  • Nancy

    July 21st, 2017 at 7:52 AM

    It took me years to get over the emotional abuse my ex husband did for over 21 years

  • Val

    August 9th, 2022 at 12:59 PM

    i’m hoping to get out of my situation soon..i can’t take much of it anymore.

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