Important Information About Domestic Violence: What To Know And How To Stay Safe

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated May 25, 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.

Domestic violence can be defined as "a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship." By nature, this pattern of behavior can be harmful and destructive to many areas of a person’s life.

Although many people have survived domestic violence, it can still present a prevalent concern in many homes and many families. A clear, thorough and detailed understanding of domestic violence can be paramount in facilitating validation for survivor experiences and true change on a societal level. 

Read on to learn more about how to identify, react to and support those who are living with the effects of domestic violence.

Are you a survivor of domestic violence?

An extensive overview of domestic violence

There are multiple forms of domestic violence. While some can be more obvious than others, each can be damaging and can be life-threatening. Beyond more common types, additional forms of abuse to watch for can include emotional abuse, online or “cyber” abuse, financial abuse and reproductive abuse.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse can happen when someone mistreats their partner by punching, slapping, choking or otherwise making other variations of unwanted and forceful physical contact. 

Abandonment, intentionally dangerous driving, and forcing one's partner to partake in drug or alcohol use can also fall into the category of physical abuse.

Many perpetrators of physical abuse might use this behavior as a means of controlling their partner or fostering feelings of intimidation for the sake of control.

Anyone can abuse or be abused in this way, regardless of defining characteristics—and regardless of whom the abuse stems from, it is considered to be equally wrong and should not be tolerated in any circumstance.

Sexual abuse

This form of abuse can manifest in the form of rape, sexual insults, pressuring one's partner to partake in sexual acts that the latter is uncomfortable with, intentionally trying to transfer a sexually transmitted infection or forcibly impregnating (or trying to impregnate) one without consent.

While the acts above can be readily apparent forms of mistreatment, there are further variations of sexual abuse that can occur that may not be as obvious. These can include bullying one's partner into viewing sex as an obligation, threatening to cheat or sleep with someone else or intimidating a partner after they have already stated that they do not wish to partake in sex or sexual acts.

Emotional abuse

Although emotional abuse might not leave physical scars and marks like that of physical and sexual abuse, it can still be an equally malevolent force that is carried out by perpetrators of domestic violence. Emotional abuse can moreover leave many psychological scars and damage the self-esteem of the survivor. 

This form of abuse can take place in the form of name-calling, possessiveness, humiliation, property damage, bullying and cheating. It can also involve telling one's partner that they are lucky to be in a relationship with them, or that they'll never find anyone else who loves them as much. Emotional abuse can also occur when someone is excessively monitored, trapped in their home, controlled or wrongly blamed for acts or behaviors that aren’t their fault. 

Online abuse

Online abuse can occur when one's partner employs technology as a means of mistreating their significant other. Sending mean emails or threatening texts, carrying out pranks on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram or using GPS to monitor one's partner can all fall into the category of online abuse. 

Perpetrators of domestic violence may also use technology to abuse their partners by demanding their account login credentials, sending excessive text messages or leaving abusive voice messages.

Financial abuse

As the name might suggest, financial abuse can occur when one partner controls, misuses or otherwise abuses the earnings of their partner. In many instances, financial abuse can be illegal, and depending on the circumstances; the victim may have a strong standing to go after the person perpetuating the abuse legally.

Reproductive abuse

Reproductive abuse can have some similarities to sexual abuse. Instances of reproductive abuse can include dishonesty about being on the pill/having a vasectomy, poking holes in condoms, meddling with birth control, refusing to practice safe sex, forcing a partner to get an abortion, preventing a partner from getting an abortion, forcing impregnation and bullying a partner who wants to use birth control. 

Warning signs of domestic violence

In many cases, survivors, friends and family members may identify warning signs that evidence that a partner is being abusive to other members of the relationship. Some of the most common warning signs of impending domestic violence can include mean-spirited insults, humiliation, destruction of property, throwing objects, threatening words or body language, excessive contact and isolation.

Why do people perpetrate domestic violence?

Many might wonder about the possible causes of abuse and what might prompt certain individuals to mistreat their loved ones.

Research has shown that one of the most common traits of people who abuse others is exposure to some type of abuse themselves, whether they witnessed or experienced it. They may have been abused as a child, or one (or both) of their parents may have been on the receiving end of abuse. In a similar vein, studies suggest that around one-third of children who are abused will grow up to abuse someone else. 

However, every person can be different—and survivors of abuse are not destined to become abusive by any means. Online therapy and intervention can support survivors in fostering healthy patterns, further encouraging them to find healthier behaviors rather than abusive ones to overcome stress and relational strain.  

Regardless of the reason, abuse is never tolerable or acceptable. Additionally, any individual who is experiencing domestic violence is generally encouraged by experts to leave the relationship. Those who remain in abusive relationships can be at risk of physical and emotional harm—and could even be in danger of losing their life. However, studies show that the time the individual chooses to leave the relationship can be the most dangerous time as the abusive partner may retaliate or refuse in some way to allow them to leave. Each situation is complex and not always understood by those outside the relationship.

Are you a survivor of domestic violence?

How can online counseling support survivors of abuse? 

Relationships can be difficult and complex. However, domestic violence is never acceptable. Anyone who is experiencing abuse or mistreatment from their partner is generally heavily urged to exit the relationship. However, in some cases, this can be much easier said than done. 

If you’re experiencing domestic violence or have been in a violent relationship in the past, speaking with a therapist may help you figure out your next steps. BetterHelp, an online counseling platform, can connect you with licensed therapists who can help. 

If going to a therapist in person makes you feel uncomfortable, the safety of online therapy may be a more ideal option for your situation. 

Does online therapy work? 

Those who have been exposed to or experienced domestic abuse can benefit from online therapeutic interventions. One study published in Internet Interventions assessed the efficacy of an internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) program for survivors of intimate partner violence. 

Researchers found details that suggested that there were large and statistically significant positive effects on measures of PTSD, depression and anxiety disorder resolution—as well as small effects on measures of quality of life. These results are thought to show the effectiveness of online therapy in helping those who have experienced violence in their relationships. 


Domestic violence can come in many unique forms and can look different from relationship to relationship. Understanding the signs of abuse can help you and your loved ones recognize when it may be time to seek help. Although it can be vital to leave a relationship that is abusive, it may not be simple to do. Speaking with an online counselor can give you the convenience you need to be transparent about what you’re going through. Healing can be possible with the right support and tools.
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