Take Steps to Protect Yourself from Relationship Violence

The Basics

The Basics: Overview

It can be hard to know if your relationship is headed down the wrong path. While it’s not always possible to prevent relationship violence, there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

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. Talk to relationship violence experts.

If your partner is controlling or abusive, it’s better to get help now than to wait. Controlling or violent relationships usually get worse over time.

Remember: if your partner hurts you, it’s not your fault.

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The Basics: Definition

What is relationship violence?

Relationship violence is when one person in a relationship is abusive or controlling toward the other person – especially when they disagree about something.

Relationship violence is sometimes called dating violence, domestic violence, or intimate partner violence. In some relationships, both partners act in abusive or controlling ways.

When many people think about relationship violence, they think about physical violence, like hitting or pushing. But people can also use other methods to control their partners, like threats or insults.

Relationship violence can include:

  • Physical violence, like pushing, hitting, or throwing things
  • Sexual violence, like forcing or trying to force someone to do something sexual
  • 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

If you feel controlled by or afraid of your partner – even if you haven’t been hurt physically – trust yourself. There are experts who can help you figure out what to do next.

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The Basics: Healthy Relationships

How do I know if my relationship is healthy?

In a healthy relationship:

  • Both people feel supported, respected, and valued
  • The couple makes decisions together
  • Both people have friends and interests outside of the relationship
  • The couple settles disagreements with open and honest communication
  • Both people are honest about their feelings and needs
  • There are more good times than bad

Healthy relationships have problems, too. But in healthy relationships, both partners take responsibility for their actions and work together to sort out problems.

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The Basics: Warning Signs

How do I know if my relationship might become violent?

Relationship violence can start slowly and be hard to recognize at first. For example, when people first start dating, it’s common to want to spend a lot of time together. But spending less time with other people can also be a sign that your partner is trying to control your time.

Try asking yourself these questions:

  • Does my partner respect me?
  • Does my partner blame me for everything that goes wrong?
  • 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 done 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. Domestic violence agencies have counselors who are experts at helping people with questions about their relationships. You don’t even have to give your name.

If you have questions about your relationship, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233) or chat online with a trained advocate.

If you are in danger right now, call 911.

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The Basics: Health Effects

How can relationship violence affect health?

Some health effects are easy to see, like physical injuries. But the stress of relationship violence can also lead to other serious problems like:

  • 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
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Take Action!

Take Action: Protect Yourself

If you think your partner is controlling or abusive, take steps to protect yourself.

Trust your instincts.

You are the expert on your life and relationships. If you think your relationship is unhealthy or you are worried about your safety, trust your gut.

Plan for your safety.

If you are in a relationship with someone who is violent or might become violent, make a plan to keep yourself safe. 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.

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Take Action: Get Help

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

What about cost?

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 (the health care reform law). 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.

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