Identifying The Signs of Spousal Abuse

Updated October 5, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include sexual assault & violence which could potentially 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.

Do you suspect that you are in an abusive relationship? Spousal abuse is very serious, and in some cases, it can be life-threatening. Knowing the indicators isn’t always obvious, though, and sometimes it can be hard to accept that you are being subjected to it. In this article, we will cover what spousal abuse entails, the many signs of it, and how you can get help.

Spousal Abuse Isn't Your Fault

What Is Spousal Abuse?

Spousal abuse is a form of domestic violence that isn’t necessarily restricted to married couples; rather, it generally 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 will have both. Sometimes it can go even deeper and become more specific such as sexual or economic abuse and stalking, to name a couple of examples.

Domestic abuse is typically a behavior pattern, so the events will almost always happen more than once, and according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, it’s usually one-sided, and it’s one of the partners who is trying to have power and control over the other person in the relationship. [1]

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, it can be a gradual process as the relationship goes on.

The issue of domestic violence, as a whole, is a significant problem in the United States, and national domestic violence statistics estimate that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 10 men will experience it. [2]

Although women are more likely to be subjected to domestic abuse, the issue is not limited to just one group of people – it can happen to anyone from any background.

Domestic violence can be challenging to identify, and it often goes unreported, but as you continue to read, you will find many examples of spousal abuse that you should keep an eye out for. If any of them are relatable, you should seek help immediately.

Coercion And Intimidation

Perpetrators of domestic abuse often resort to tactics like bullying, threats, and belittling to gain control over you emotionally.

For example, they might try to criticize your appearance or how you carry yourself, and if you don’t comply, they will raise their voice until you do.

They may even try to accuse or blame you for things that you might have had nothing to do with at all!

Nonetheless, the purpose of them is to keep control over you.

Limited Social Interaction

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

Want to visit your family or friends? You’ll probably need to ask for permission, and if you do, there is a good chance that they will try to watch and keep tabs on you. If they follow you, this can also be considered stalking, which is extremely common in many cases of domestic violence.

Who you can see and what places you can go to is entirely at their mercy, and they might even find ways to discourage you from doing the things that you want to do.

For instance, they might attempt to humiliate you in front of others in an effort to make you not want to interact with others, especially if it happens repeatedly. This is considered domestic abuse because its goal is to control you emotionally.

Financial And Educational/Career Control

One of the more subtle signs of domestic abuse, because it doesn’t seem violent, is how the money in the household is handled.

Typically, the abuser will themself full economic control and can refuse to give you money for the things that you need, even if you worked for it yourself.

They might even try to prevent you from working, too, simply to reinforce dictatorship over the finances.

A victim of abuse also might not be allowed to attend school to further your education and find a career path that benefits you because that would be empowering you, which is something a perpetrator of domestic violence wouldn’t want.

Physical Violence

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

Spousal Abuse Isn't Your Fault

Physical abuse can be many things such as him or her putting their hands on you and hurting you, using weapons (or threatening to use them), but 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 cause this could reveal signs of domestic violence, such as cuts and bruises.

However, this type of abuse doesn’t necessarily need to involve pain or bodily harm or discomfort, and there are some examples that are more specific that can be classified as this.

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.

Sexual Abuse

Lastly, one of the most underreported forms of domestic abuse is of the sexual variety, which, depending on who you ask, can be included under the previous section due to some similarities, but it still deserves its own segment because it is a very specific kind of abuse.

Even though this type of domestic violence is between two partners, it doesn’t mean both are consenting. One might be forced to have sexual contact against their will or made to do other uncomfortable things, like make them dress up a certain way.

Some other tactics that can be used that can be included as sexual abuse are making you feel like you owe him or her sexual favors, or 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 abused individual leaves and they happen to catch an STD from the abuser, they will feel reluctant to find someone else.

Finding Help For Spousal Abuse

While talking will be an important part of overcoming an abusive relationship, you will probably need to find additional professional help in a few different ways. It’s not easy to move on, but it’s possible with support.

Legal Assistance

As mentioned before, domestic violence cases are underreported, and it can happen for numerous reasons. Maybe the victim feels guilty, ashamed, or scared because of the damage that has already been done and the threat of retaliation from his or her partner.

Depending on your situation, getting law enforcement involved and creating a domestic violence case and seeking out legal help may be necessary to keep you safe. This option can be quite unnerving to do, but ultimately, it might be for the best.

Medical Attention

Secondly, domestic violence often results in injuries that require medical care. Very frequently, suspected, unreported cases of abuse are discovered through physical exams, as there are some typical signs of physical abuse, like marks, bruises, fractures, on the head, face, limbs, chest, and breasts. [2]

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


Lastly, victims of abuse should seek out therapy to help them during this difficult time. Because of the emotional and physical abuse, there is a decrease in psychological and physical health, which can lead to decreased productivity and a lower quality-of-life. [2]

There are therapists who specialize in treating individuals who are struggling with domestic violence and can help you navigate through a very confusing and difficult situation. It is common for victims 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 yes; leaving is in your best interest, but you’ll need to understand that domestic abuse is fueled by a desire to overpower and control another person. You may feel like something in your life is missing in the aftermath, but you will be able to rebuild and thrive without your abuser. Therapy will be able to give you the closure that you need to move on to greener pastures.

Online therapy and tradition in-person sessions are both viable choices, but at BetterHelp, finding an experienced domestic violence counselor or therapist is just a click away, and it’s discrete. You will be able to communicate one-on-one with a licensed professional who can give you the best advice possible for your personal situation.

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 is also available for abusive partners as well 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 abuse, can contribute to the manifestation of domestic abuse later on in life. [2]

Nonetheless, with intervention, these behaviors can be changed with commitment.


Hopefully, this article has given you some insight as to what are some of the most common features of spousal abuse. If any of this sounds like your current relationship, you are encouraged to contact someone immediately so you can get the help that you deserve. Leaving an abusive relationship can be scary, but you can successfully do it with the right support and having a plan laid out for you, for when that day comes.


  1. National Domestic Violence Hotline. (2020). Abuse Defined. Retrieved from
  2. Huecker M.R., Smock W. Domestic Violence. [Updated 2019 Oct 27]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from:

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