Identifying The Signs Of Spousal Abuse: A Guide

Medically reviewed by Karen Foster
Updated February 26, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Spousal abuse can refer to any kind of abuse occurring in intimate relationships between any number of partners. 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/or therapy. Online therapy can be an easy way to connect with a licensed mental health professional and find support in surviving spousal abuse. Read on to learn more about possible warning signs, experiences and supportive measures that can help many. 

Experiencing spousal abuse?

What is spousal abuse?

Spousal abuse is generally defined as a form of domestic violence. It isn’t necessarily restricted to married couples. Instead, it can refer to any kind of abuse that exists within an intimate or committed relationship.

Domestic abuse can form behavioral patterns once it occurs, which is why seeking support can be so critical to a survivor’s experience. 

Additionally, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, spousal abuse is generally one-sided, with one of the partners attempting to exert power and control over the other person or people in a relationship.

Spousal abuse can develop gradually over the course of a relationship. After the first occurrence, survivors are encouraged to seek help to protect their safety and quality of life.

Domestic violence is viewed by many 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 might often go unreported due to its nature. As you continue to read, you may find many examples of spousal abuse to look out for or that you resonate with. If you find that you relate to any of them in your current relationship, please don’t hesitate to seek help. There are many avenues of support available to you. 

Below, we’ve listed possible examples and experiences that can be present in patterns of spousal abuse. 

Coercion and intimidation

Perpetrators of domestic abuse might 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 also 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. 

The purpose of these actions can be to maintain control over the person they are with. This can be considered a form of emotional abuse, and it doesn't have to be tolerated by survivors. 

In cases like these, it can be helpful to remind oneself about our inherent sense of autonomy and worth as humans—serving as a possible reminder that all members of the relationship can make their own decisions. 

Limited social interaction

Another sign of domestic abuse can be when the abuser may try to limit who someone can socialize with—possibly showing reactions that could be deemed to be “out of proportion” or that might be rooted in jealousy. 

For example: 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 to monitor you, this can be considered stalking by definition, which can be common in many cases of domestic violence. It can be resolved with police involvement and documentation. Alternatively, an abusive partner may prevent you from spending time with friends and family altogether—finding ways to come between you and your support system.

Additionally, they may attempt to humiliate you in public in an effort to make you avoid interaction with others. This can be a form of manipulation designed to encourage self-imposed rules of restriction in your own social life, possibly prompting you to feel as if any effort to go out “isn’t worth” the possible embarrassment. 

These examples can be considered domestic abuse, because their general goals are to attempt to control you emotionally.

Financial and educational or career control

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

In cases of economic abuse or excessive control, the abuser might give themselves 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.

Online therapy can be a valuable tool to help many to draw proper boundaries; possibly helping many to limit the effectiveness of these tactics. 

Physical violence

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

Get the support you deserve from a therapist

Physical abuse can refer to many things, such as your partner putting their hands on you and hurting you, or using weapons to physically intimidate you (or threatening to use them). 

It can also include not being fed or being allowed to bathe or sleep. You also 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. This can be because these actions are generally considered “risky” or possibly dangerous, which could be directly affecting your physical health and safety. 

Sexual abuse

Lastly, one of the most underreported forms of domestic abuse can be sexual abuse.

This type of domestic violence can be between two or more partners, and can occur if at least one isn’t actively consenting. 

For example: One might be forced to have sexual contact against their will, or might be 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. 

Survivors of this form of abuse might benefit from supportive strategies (such as online therapy), possibly helping them to build back their confidence and supporting them through the healing process. 

Finding help for spousal abuse

While telling stories can be an important part of overcoming an abusive relationship, survivors may need to find additional professional help through supportive strategies to fully heal. 

It may not be easy to move on, but please know that it can be possible with support.

Legal assistance

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 can result in injuries that require medical care. Unreported cases of abuse can be discovered through physical exams, as there are some typical signs of physical abuse—such as marks, bruises and fractures on the head, face, limbs and chest.

Your practitioner can connect you directly to resources that can help in your safety and quality of life. The examinations themselves can also be used to convict someone of abuse and validate your experiences as a survivor.

Online therapy

Lastly, survivors of abuse can benefit from seeking out therapy to help them during this difficult time.

There are therapists who generally specialize in treating individuals who are experiencing spousal abuse or who have survived it. These professionals can help you navigate through a very confusing and difficult situation.

When survivors of abuse leave the situation, they may question if they truly made the right decision or if it really was “that bad.” 

A therapist can affirm your choice, support you in the transition and remind you that you are worthy of safety in a bond. 

We do want to note: You may feel like something in your life is missing in the aftermath, similar to when any type of relationship ends. However, it can be helpful to remember that it can be possible to rebuild and thrive. 

Online therapy may give you the closure that you need to move on.

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Experiencing spousal abuse?

Getting help

Therapy can be a crucial step in healing after abuse. However, traditional in-person therapy can be intimidating and inconvenient 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.

Is online therapy effective?

Survivors of spousal abuse might experience PTSD symptoms as a result of what they have survived. As this study explains, online therapy for PTSD can be as effective as in-person therapy. Survivors undergoing this type of therapy were able to reduce healing time by 25%, possibly as a result of the lowered barriers to support. 

If you’ve experienced abuse or are experiencing other mental health challenges, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Takeaway

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. Please know that help can be made available if you are experiencing any type of abuse. Supportive strategies (such as online therapy) can be helpful as you work through any complicated thoughts and emotions surrounding this situation. BetterHelp can connect you with a therapist in your area of need.

Find compassionate support after abuse

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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