15 Signs Of Domestic Violence That Aren't Physical

Photographed by Refinery29.
In the past few months there has been more attention and awareness about domestic violence in the media, thanks in part to the success of the HBO show Big Little Lies, which centers around a realistic abusive relationship. Part of the reason why Big Little Lies was so jarring for many people to see was that the featured couple (played by Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgård) didn't seem to fit the typical description of what domestic violence "looks like." But that's just the thing — domestic violence doesn't have a cookie-cutter look, because it can happen to anyone.
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Domestic violence also doesn't always present as physical violence, which is a common misconception that people have, says Rachel Goldsmith, LCSW-R, associate vice president for the Domestic Violence Shelter Programs at Safe Horizon. "People presume that if you have not been physically abused, then you're not a survivor of domestic violence," she says. But simply put, domestic violence is defined as a pattern of power and control in a relationship. "A person can try to take power or control over another person in a lot of different ways that aren't physical, and still could be controlling that individual," Goldsmith says.
There are a whole list of abusive behaviors that would fall under the umbrella of domestic violence, and being able to spot them is key to prevention. If you think that a loved one might be in an abusive or violent relationship, express your concern about the things you're seeing from a place of compassion, and provide concrete examples, Goldsmith says. "Know that it can take a while before someone feels safe enough to admit they're experiencing abuse, but it's never a waste to express to a friend that you're concerned," she says.
In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, here are some subtle signs of domestic violence that don't include physical abuse.
If you are experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224 for confidential support.
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Checking in at all times.

Domestic violence occurs in the context of a relationship, and so often there are subtle forms of power and control that initially might seem benign or like normal relationship behaviors, Goldsmith says. For example, someone might constantly check in with their partner and ask what they're doing. "It starts as something that isn’t abusive at all and just seems like a person is caring," she says. "Then, it builds into a pattern of control where a person wants to know where you are and what you're doing at all times."
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Isolating a partner from friends and family.

An early warning sign of domestic violence is when a partner tries to isolate someone from their family, friends, or activities that you enjoy, Goldsmith says. Someone might say that they don't like spending time with their partner's family or friends, and only wants to hang out with them alone. "By isolating someone from their support system, it's easier for a person who's abusive to use these power and control tactics," she says. When things get difficult, it becomes harder for the person being abused to seek support.
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Accusing a partner of cheating.

There's often a lot of jealousy in abusive relationships, so an abuser might paint a picture that their partner is being unfaithful, even if they don't have any concrete evidence, Goldsmith says. In turn, their partner might go out of their way to prove that they're not cheating, which adds a lot of stress to the relationship, she says. "It keeps them sort of attached to the relationship, because they don’t want their partner to think they’re doing anything wrong."
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Incessant texting or calling.

With technology, there's often an expectation that partners can be reachable at any point, Goldsmith says. In an abusive relationship, not answering the phone or a text can become a big deal, she says. "[Technology] is a way that this controlling behavior can really be enhanced, because a person isn't allowed to have that faith to have their own life," she says.
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Shaming.

In an abusive relationship, someone might put down their partner about everything — from their looks, to their intelligence, to the people who they spend time with, Goldsmith says. This is a form of emotional abuse and is, again, a way to regain power over their partner by putting them down.
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Controlling money and finances.

Financial abuse can take many forms, but someone might give their partner an allowance, or control how much of their own income they have access to. In addition to stealing money, they might max out someone's credit cards or limit the amount of hours they are able to work.
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Demanding to know who a partner is spending time with.

In an abusive relationship, someone might demand to know who their partner is with at all times, and use that as a way to control them. "Really, it's just a way of control, it’s also a way that abusive people can make their partners feel guilty, and like they're doing something wrong," Goldsmith says.
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Forcing sex.

Sexual coercion is a big part of domestic violence. Someone might make their partner feel like they deserve sex or actually force their partner to have sex in a physical way. An abuser might pressure their partner into having sex by tapping into certain relationship "roles." For example, they might say that they have to have sex in order to "prove their love" or that they'll just "go get it somewhere else" in order to control their partner further.
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Gaslighting.

Unfortunately, gaslighting is a common form of emotional abuse, by which an abuser convinces their partner that they're "crazy," so that they begin to question their own perceptions of the relationship. They might trivialize their partner's needs or straight-up refuse to listen to their partner altogether. "Someone may try to undermine your credibility or make you feel like you’re not remembering things accurately," Goldsmith says. The whole goal of gaslighting is to break down someone's sense of reality, so they are easier to control.
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Cheating.

Often abusers will continually cheat in order to blame it on their partner, or intentionally make them feel bad. Or someone might cheat in order to make themselves seem more desirable or worthy than their partner.
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Insulting parenting or household duties.

Even if children aren't directly exposed to violence, they are often brought into the situation, Goldsmith says. Many times, people are criticized about their parenting, so that they feel like they're not doing a good job, she says. "We hear abusive people using family dynamics as justification for the abuse, and often children are factored in."
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Withholding medications.

One tactic that some abusers use is withholding medication, particularly related to someone's reproductive freedom, Goldsmith says. For example, someone might hide or destroy someone's birth control pills or condoms as a way to exert power and control over their partner. "It's really important that people understand that a woman has the right to make her own choices regarding her sexual and reproductive health, and a partner who is trying to dictate that is engaging in controlling behavior," she says.
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Passing blame onto a partner.

Someone might minimize, deny, and blame their partner for their abusive acts. One way abusive partners tend to do this is by pointing to actions that they claim their partner did wrong, and say that it "made them" abuse their partner.
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Sending unwanted explicit images.

While consensual sexting might be a welcome part of a romantic relationship, an abusive partner might send someone unsolicited explicit images or force them to do the same.
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Insisting upon having passwords to accounts.

Someone might require that a person share their passwords in order to gain control over their accounts. In some cases, they may attempt to steal their account information. It's important to remember that you don't have to share your passwords with anyone unless you consent to it.
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