Identifying The Signs Of Spousal Abuse

Updated February 14, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised that this article might mention trauma-related topics that include sexual assault and violence, which could be triggering. If you or someone you know is or may be experiencing abuse, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, available 24/7, at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233), or text "START" to 88788. Live chat is also available on the National Domestic Violence Hotline website.

Spousal abuse can refer to any kind of abuse occurring in romantic relationships. There can be many types of spousal abuse, such as coercion, intimidation, limited social interaction, financial control, education or career control, physical violence, and sexual abuse. If you are experiencing any type of spousal abuse, you may wish to seek legal assistance, medical attention, and therapy. Online therapy can be an easy way to connect with a licensed mental health professional.

It Can Be Possible To Overcome Spousal Abuse.

What Is Spousal Abuse?

Spousal abuse is generally a form of domestic violence. It isn’t necessarily restricted to married couples. Instead, it usually refers to any kind of abuse that exists within an intimate relationship.

It can also take the form of mental or physical abuse, and many domestic violence cases include both. Sometimes, it can go even deeper and become more specific, involving sexual or economic abuse and stalking, to name a few examples.

Domestic abuse is typically a behavior pattern, so the harmful events almost always happen more than once. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, spousal abuse is typically one-sided, with one of the partners attempting to exert power and control over the other person in the relationship.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline also states that these issues don’t usually appear overnight, and it can take a while for them to emerge. In other words, spousal abuse can develop over a gradual process as the relationship goes on.

The issue of domestic violence is often viewed as a significant problem in the United States. It can be important to note that the issue is typically not limited to any one group of people. It can happen to anyone from any background.

Domestic violence can be challenging to identify, and it often goes unreported. As you continue to read, you may find many examples of spousal abuse to look out for. If any of them are relatable, please don’t hesitate to seek help.

Coercion And Intimidation

Perpetrators of domestic abuse often resort to tactics like bullying, threats, and belittling to gain emotional control over their target.

For example, they might criticize your appearance or how you carry yourself. They may attempt to control what you wear or other aspects of your appearance. If you don’t comply, they may raise their voice or otherwise intimidate you until you do. They may even try to accuse or blame you for things that have nothing to do with you, or that weren’t your fault. Nonetheless, the purpose of these actions is generally to maintain control over you.

Limited Social Interaction

Another sign of domestic abuse is that the abuser may try to limit who you can socialize with, and they might even express jealousy.

Let’s say you want to visit your family or friends. You may need to ask for permission, and if you do, an abusive partner may try to watch and keep tabs on you. If they follow you, this can also be considered stalking, which can be common in many cases of domestic violence. Alternatively, an abusive partner may prevent you from spending time with friends and family altogether.

Similarly, they may attempt to humiliate you in public in an effort to make you avoid interaction with others. This can be considered domestic abuse because its goal is generally to control you emotionally.

Financial And Educational Or Career Control

One of the more subtle signs of domestic abuse can be how the money in the household is handled.

Typically, the abuser gives themself full economic control and may refuse to give you money for the things that you need, even if you earned it yourself. They may even try to prevent you from working to reinforce their control over the finances.

In some cases, you may not be allowed to attend school to further your education and find a career path that benefits you because that would empower you in a way that could take control away from your abusive partner.

Physical Violence

If you are experiencing physical violence from your partner, it is generally a guaranteed indicator of an abusive relationship.

It Can Be Possible To Overcome Spousal Abuse.

Physical abuse can refer to many things, such as your partner putting their hands on you and hurting you and using weapons (or threatening to use them). It can also include not being fed or being allowed to bathe or sleep. You might not be allowed to see a doctor or find medical care because this could reveal signs of domestic violence, such as bruises and cuts, to medical professionals.

However, this type of abuse doesn’t necessarily need to involve pain, bodily harm, or discomfort. Getting locked out of the house on purpose, or being left stranded in an unknown area, can also belong in this category of domestic abuse, as well as being forced to consume drugs and alcohol against your will.

Sexual Abuse

Lastly, one of the most underreported forms of domestic abuse can be sexual abuse. Even though this type of domestic violence is typically between two partners, it doesn’t necessarily mean both are consenting. One might be forced to have sexual contact against their will or made to do things they aren’t comfortable with.

Some other tactics of sexual abuse can include making you feel like you owe them sexual favors, refusing to use any form of birth control, or lying about using it.

In some instances, one partner might deliberately try to pass an STD onto the other, either as revenge or as an attempt to control who they can be with. For example, if the survivor of abuse leaves after contracting an STD from their abusive partner, it’s possible they may feel reluctant to find someone else.

Finding Help For Spousal Abuse

While talking is often an important part of overcoming an abusive relationship, you may need to find additional professional help. It may not be easy to move on, but please know that it can be possible with support.

Legal Assistance

As mentioned before, domestic violence cases are often underreported, and this underreporting can happen for numerous reasons. Perhaps the survivor feels guilty, ashamed, or scared due to the damage that has been done and the threat of retaliation from their partner.

Depending on your situation, getting law enforcement involved, creating a domestic violence case, and seeking out legal help may be necessary to keep you safe. 

Medical Attention

Secondly, domestic violence often results in injuries that require medical care. Very frequently, unreported cases of abuse are discovered through physical exams, as there are some typical signs of physical abuse, like marks, bruises, and fractures on the head, face, limbs, and chest.

On the other hand, when abuse is reported, medical examinations can also be used to convict someone of abuse.


Lastly, survivors of abuse often benefit from seeking out therapy to help them during this difficult time. Because of the emotional and physical abuse, there can be a decrease in psychological and physical health, which can lead to decreased productivity and a lower quality of life.

There are therapists who may specialize in treating individuals who are experiencing spousal abuse. These professionals can help you navigate through a very confusing and difficult situation. It can be common for survivors who are on the fence about leaving their spouses to ask themselves, “Am I doing the right thing?” or, “Will it be worth it?”

The short answer is usually yes. Leaving is often in your best interest, but you may need to understand that this type of abuse is usually fueled by a desire to overpower and control another person. You may feel like something in your life is missing in the aftermath, similar to when any type of relationship ends, but please know that it can be possible to rebuild and thrive. Therapy may give you the closure that you need to move on.

Getting Help

Therapy can be a crucial step in healing after abuse. However, traditional in-person therapy can be intimidating and inaccessible for some people. If this is the case for you, you may benefit from online therapy. Online therapy can make it simple to connect with a licensed mental health professional who can provide you with the help and support you deserve.

Survivors of spousal abuse often experience PTSD symptoms. As this study explains, online therapy for PTSD can be as effective as in-person therapy. If you’ve experienced abuse or are experiencing other mental health challenges, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Additionally, if you need more information, you can also contact the 24/7 National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or you can visit their website at to find more information on how to create a plan to escape domestic abuse and find safety.

Support may also be available for abusive partners who wish to make a change. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, many of the risk factors for abusive behavior are learned behaviors. A person’s upbringing and the environment that they grew up in, as well as educational levels and history of substance use disorder, can contribute to the manifestation of domestic abuse later on in life. Nonetheless, with intervention and commitment, these behaviors can be changed.


Spousal abuse can come in many forms, such as physical violence, sexual abuse, education or career control, financial control, coercion, intimidation, and limited social interaction. The common thread between these types of spousal abuse is generally that they occur between partners in a romantic relationship. Please know that help is available if you are experiencing any type of abuse. It can be important to seek medication attention and legal assistance, and therapy may help you work through any complicated thoughts and emotions surrounding this situation. If traditional in-office therapy isn’t accessible or comfortable for you, you may benefit from trying online therapy instead.

For More Help and Support With Abuse.

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