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 try to protect yourself.
If you think your partner might be controlling or abusive, you can:
- Trust your feelings. If something doesn’t seem right, take it seriously.
- Find out about the warning signs of someone who might become controlling or violent.
- Get help. Talk to people who are experts in relationship violence.
- Remember that if your partner hurts you, it’s not your fault.
If your partner might be controlling or abusive, it’s better to get help now than to wait. Controlling or violent relationships usually get worse over time.
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, domestic, or intimate partner violence. In some relationships, both partners act in unhealthy or unsafe ways.
When many people think about relationship violence, they think about physical violence, like hitting or pushing. But people can 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 people who can help you figure out what to do next.
How do I know if my relationship is healthy?
In a healthy relationship:
- Both people feel supported, respected, and valued
- Decisions are made together
- Both people have friends and interests outside of the relationship
- Disagreements are settled 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 make decisions and sort out the problems.
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. It may be hard to tell if you are spending less time with other people just for now or if 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?
What are the health effects of relationship violence?
Some health effects are clear, like physical injuries. But the stress of relationship violence can 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
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.
Domestic violence agencies provide:
- Emotional support
- Safety planning
- A safe place to stay in an emergency
- Legal help
- Help with housing
If you have questions about your relationship, call 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233). If you are in danger right now, call 911. Find out more about getting help .
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.
Make a plan to stay safe.
If you are in a relationship with someone who is violent or might become violent, it’s important to plan for your safety – whether you’re planning to leave or to stay.
Take steps to protect yourself:
- Check out this list of things to pack if you are planning to leave your partner [PDF – 174 KB].
- Print this form to make your own safety plan .
Protect yourself online.
When you look at information online, your computer keeps a record of sites you’ve visited. If you are worried that someone may search your computer, check out these tips for using the computer and Internet safely .
If you have questions or concerns about your relationship, there are people who can help. Start by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233). If you are in danger right now, call 911.
What about cost?
Domestic violence agencies offer free services, like hotlines, counseling, and help finding resources such as housing or lawyers. To find an agency near you or to talk to a counselor over the phone, call 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233).
The Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010, also covers screening and counseling for domestic and interpersonal violence for all women.
Depending on your insurance, you may be able to get these services at no cost to you. Talk to your insurance company to find out what this means for you.