Signs of relationship violence and abuse

It can be difficult to spot abuse within a relationship—whether it’s physical, psychological, or sexual. Intimate partner violence (IPV)—also known as partner maltreatment or domestic violence—is a serious issue for both civilian and military couples. By some estimates, military couples struggle with IPV more than civilians. Knowing the signs of an abusive relationship can help keep you and your loved ones safe and healthy.

When violence happens close to you, it can be hard to realize that it’s serious or even getting worse. Couples might adjust to slow escalations in violent behavior without noticing that something needs to be fixed. Still, it’s important to understand what violent or abusive behavior within your relationship looks like.

  • Physical violence is any intentional behavior that causes bodily harm or injury. It can include blocking exits, throwing objects, pushing, hitting, punching, strangling, and using weapons. Feeling excessively afraid or experiencing minor bodily injuries (such as sprains, bruises, or small cuts) or ones that require medical help (such as head injuries or broken bones) can indicate physical violence in your relationship.
  • Psychological aggression includes both verbal and non-verbal intentions to cause emotional damage or restrict someone’s daily life. Some examples are yelling, cursing, insulting, stalking, or threatening physical or sexual violence. You also might be at risk if your partner stops you from speaking or spending time with family and friends, limits your access to money, or blocks your access to school, work, or legal and medical assistance.
  • Sexual violence includes being forced—verbally or physically—to engage in unwanted sexual activity. Other signs of sexual violence include restricting the use of (or access to) birth control or engaging in sexual activity when one partner is unable to give consent (for example, if she or he is sleeping or injured).

Understanding your risks and consequences

The causes of violent behavior are often very complex. Some factors associated with military service such as long deployments, traumatic brain injury (TBI), combat exposure, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can increase a military couple’s risk of violence. Combat exposure and PTSD also can cause imbalance and unpredictability within the brain systems that regulate emotion and behavior, making it difficult to control impulsive responses. Misuse of alcohol or drugs can lead to higher levels of physical aggression and make it hard to manage emotions in a healthy way as well.

Intimate partner violence can have long-term, negative effects on your well-being and your family’s health too. Men and women in abusive relationships also tend to have poorer health and lower relationship satisfaction. They’re more likely to experience depression and anxiety too. When partners with children are violent towards each other, they’re also more likely to be violent toward their kids. And children who experience or witness abuse are more likely to experience it as adults.

What you can do

Recognizing abuse can be difficult, but taking the steps to address it can be even harder. If at any point you’re concerned about your safety, it’s important to take action.

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