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What is Physical Abuse in a Relationship?

By Holly McGurgan ; Updated June 13, 2017

Physical abuse can quickly derail a relationship. and may put you at risk of serious injury. Physical abuse is the use of physical force against someone in a way that endangers or injures that person, according to Seek refuge in a safe location, and report physical abuse to the police to can help you avoid further injury.


Physical abuse includes any violent type of behavior, including hitting, forced sex, biting, grabbing, shaking, punching, slapping, burning, kicking or shoving. In extreme cases, abusers may use weapons. Adults and Children Together Against Violence reports that physical abuse includes both actual harm and threats.

Progression of Abuse

Abuse may build gradually, and often with emotional abuse progressing to physical abuse, according to Emotional abuse includes attempts to belittle, humiliate, criticize and control you. Your partner may tell you that you are to blame for her treating you poorly, and may be so jealous and possessive that she tries to prevent you from maintaining relationships with your friends or family members.

Relationship Types and Abuse

Physical abuse can occur at all income levels and at any age, and affect people of either sex. You may experience abuse whether you are married or dating, or are in a heterosexual or homosexual relationship. Escaping an abusive homosexual relationship may be particularly difficult. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that fear of homophobic law enforcement, court personnel, domestic violence programs and medical and social services providers may keep homosexual, intersex and transgender people from leaving abusive relationships.

Identifying Physical Abuse

Any threat or action that harms you, even in a very minor way, is physical abuse. says that minor abuse, infrequent abuse or abuse that stops if you become passive and give in to the wishes of your abuser still constitute physical abuse. Even if your partner only injures you once, you may still be at risk of physical abuse in the future.

Warning Signs

Abusers may use emotional abuse to demean and belittle abusers, making you feel that you can do nothing to stop the abuse, or even that you deserve the abuse. While physical abuse victims may be too ashamed to admit to being victims, obvious warning signs exist. If you think a friend or relative is being abused, look for the common signs of physical abuse. They include frequent accidents and injuries, missing work or school, wearing clothing that hide injuries and scars, wearing sunglasses indoors, being overly anxious to placate or please a partner and being unable to do anything or go anywhere without a partner's approval.

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