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Characteristics of an Abusive Relationship With Women

By Jessica Taylor ; Updated June 13, 2017

Women account for 85 percent of domestic violence victims in the United States, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and approximately one in four women will experience domestic abuse at some point in her life. A person in an abusive relationship with a woman may not always use physical violence, though most abusers share similar characteristics. Becoming aware of these characteristics will help you spot red flags and avoid trouble before it escalates.

Types of Abuse

Abuse takes many forms. Just because someone hasn't physically harmed a woman doesn't mean the relationship isn't an abusive one. The National Domestic Violence Hotline characterizes abuse as "any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure or wound someone." This includes physical violence, sexual abuse, such as forced intercourse, and emotional and verbal abuse, such as name-calling, threats, insults and manipulation.


"Domestic violence and abuse are used for one purpose and one purpose only: to gain and maintain total control over you," says Those who have abusive relationships with women will often use fear, guilt, shame and intimidation to wear a woman down and gain control. An abuser may attempt to keep tabs on a woman and subject her to intense questioning concerning where she's been and what she's been doing. He may also restrict her from making personal decisions by controlling what she wears, controlling her money or even forcing her to ask permission to leave the house. Abusers often use isolation as a way to keep control over women, separating them from their friends, family and other support systems.

Anger and Violence

Anger features predominantly in abusive relationships. Abusers often have quick tempers, and may become angry at a moment's notice. "Disagreements are to be expected, and discussions to resolve them are normal," says clinical psychologist and relationship counselor Maisha Hamilton Bennett. "But when nearly every disagreement escalates to an argument in 60 seconds flat, there are serious underlying problems."

Violent outbursts also occur. Violence, even when it's not directed at a woman, is yet another way abusers threaten, intimidate and control women. "Witnessing a violent temper directed at a television set, others on the highway, or a third party clearly sends us the message that we could be the next target for violence," says clinical psychologist Joseph M. Carver.

Other Characteristics

Men in abusive relationships with women often display other common traits such as paranoia, jealousy, and constant criticism, says psychotherapist and marriage counselor Fred A. Clark. Help Guide further notes that abusive partners frequently blame their partners for their abusive behavior. These and other behaviors often lead to feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment for both parties. An abuser may then try to "make up" for his abusive behavior; the relationship then goes through a short honeymoon period, until the abuse starts again.


Abusive relationships often escalate from emotional abuse to physical violence, says, though even if physical violence never occurs, emotional abuse can be just as damaging. Abusive relationships can cause serious depression, anxiety, feelings of worthlessness and suicidal thoughts. Those who feel they have an abusive relationship with women should seek help from a qualified professional to end the cycle of abuse and learn how to have healthy relationships. Victims of abuse should also seek help by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE.

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