Abusive relationships

Who experiences domestic abuse?

It is mostly women who are the victim in an abusive relationship, but men can certainly be the victim too; they may for example experience the rage of a narcissist or the emotional swings and anger of a partner with borderline personality disorder.

Surprisingly, many highly intelligent, high functioning and powerful women can find themselves in an abusive relationship. They may be in a senior position at work, lead a big team of people and be a high earner, but at home they are afraid to utter a word out of place.

“I found it difficult to talk about the emotional abuse as I felt as if I should have been stronger and seen it: ‘how could an intelligent woman like me be so stupid!!’ “

Mrs BR, Surrey

What is domestic abuse?

There are many different types of domestic abuse. Some people feel that if they have not suffered any physical abuse it doesn’t count or isn’t serious enough to be called abuse, or to be considered an abusive relationship. However, almost everyone who has suffered physical abuse says that the emotional abuse was worse.

If you have experienced anything listed below you have been abused.

Physical abuse

This can range from pushing and shoving to cuts and bruises, broken bones, strangulation, rape and even death.

The abuser is often full of remorse after hurting their victim but if they have done it once they can, and usually do, repeat their aggression, despite all they say in their apology.

Threats, intimidation and blame

The abuser may put their face close up to yours and shout at you, or back you into a corner making you feel scared, whilst not actually touching you. They may destroy your possessions. You may feel threatened, intimidated or frightened although nothing has actually happened, but it’s still abuse. You may be blamed for things you haven’t done or that are beyond your control.


This includes telling you what you can and can’t wear and how you can do your hair, where you can go and who you can see. Also micromanaging and restricting your life, sexual coercion, threats, punishment and isolation.

Emotional abuse

This includes accusing you of flirting or having an affair, or even just looking at another man. Also shouting at you, constantly criticising you, insulting you, making unpleasant comments, humiliating or belittling you. They may undermine you by dismissing your opinions or making you doubt them by saying you’re being oversensitive. They may use emotional blackmail by giving you the silent treatment or making threats of suicide.


Gaslighting is where the abuser tries to convince you that what you’re hearing, seeing, or feeling isn’t real. For example they:

  • refuse to listen to what you say, or tell you they don’t understand
  • question your memory of an event
  • change the subject or question your thinking
  • trivialise your needs or make your feelings seem unimportant
  • pretend to have forgotten what actually happened
  • deny something they had previously agreed to

Victims of gaslighting often say they feel ‘crazy’, which is understandable because the abuser’s aim is to make them question their sanity.

Financial abuse or control

This includes keeping you short of money, not fully disclosing the financial situation to you, or not letting you work


This can happen either by your partner actually stopping you from seeing your friends and family, or by making it so difficult and uncomfortable for you that it’s easier just not to go, so you gradually become isolated. They may also not want you to go out to work or to study, which can also isolate you. They may monitor or block your phone calls or emails or social media.

Harassment and stalking

This is when your ex contacts you repeatedly or won’t leave you alone, checks up on you, follows you, turns up where he knows you’ll be, has cameras installed in the house or puts tracking devices on your phone or car.

Leaving an abusive relationship

You will need to make a realistic assessment of whether you will be in danger when you leave and/or say you want to separate, and if so, how great the danger is. Women subject to serious physical abuse, or leaving men capable of this, are in most danger at the point of separation. Your local domestic abuse support service such as Women’s Aid will be able to give you advice and support you to leave, but you will need a well thought out plan.

It’s never a good idea to leave your home, especially if you have children, unless you have somewhere else to live. The aim should usually be to get the abusive partner to leave: please see the section on non-molestation and occupation orders.

Divorce Consultant Diana Jordan

You might also be interested in reading the ‘Legal Structure of Divorce’ a two-minute guide to divorce proceedings.

A Better Way of Dealing with Divorce: book