What is Relationship Abuse?

by Dr. Kathie Mathis

Having worked in the domestic violence and child abuse area for over 20 years, I am still astounded when I hear a woman tell me that “I am not abused because he doesn’t hit me!” Where are we getting the idea that abuse means only the physical aspects of “hitting, slapping, punching, pinching, etc.” and that one is not abused in other ways? I think that perhaps because media plays a large part in portraying abused victims as having bruises, finger marks, cuts and broken bones, that the other forms of abuse get overlooked. Even the news calls violence and abuse in relationships “domestic disturbance” which minimizes the full negative impact on our homes, communities and country, that domestic violence causes.

I want to describe some of other abuses so that we can better educate ourselves as to what relationship abuse is and then take action if we are victims/survivors of abuse.

The key elements of domestic abuse are:

humiliating the other person
physical injury
power and control over another

Domestic abuse is not a result of losing control; domestic abuse is intentionally trying to control another person. The abuser is purposefully using verbal, nonverbal, or physical means to gain control over the other person. In some cultures, control of women by men is accepted as the norm. This article speaks from the orientation that control of intimate partners is domestic abuse within a culture where such control is not the norm and my be the norm. Today we see many cultures moving from the subordination of women slowly.

What are some of the types of domestic abuse?
The types of domestic abuse are:

physical abuse (domestic violence)
verbal or nonverbal abuse (psychological abuse, mental abuse, emotional abuse)
sexual abuse
stalking or cyber stalking
economic abuse or financial abuse
spiritual abuse
child abuse
elder abuse
pet abuse

The divisions between these types of domestic abuse are somewhat fluid, but there is a strong differentiation between the various forms of physical abuse and the various types of verbal or nonverbal abuse.