Sanctuary for the Abused

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


While in college and throughout your life, everyone is engaged in various relationships, both platonically and intimately. Not all relationships are unhealthy, however, many people are involved in unhealthy relationships. We encourage you to review the information on this page and download a copy of our healthy relationships continuum to see where your relationships are!

Relationship violence is…
A pattern of physically, sexually, and/or emotionally abusive behaviors used by one individual to assert power or maintain control over another in the context of an intimate or family relationship.

Often on a continuum and rarely occur as isolated incidents.

Behavior ranging from verbal threats, put-downs, and name calling to hitting, slapping, pushing, and sexual abuse.

Typically planned and repeated as part of a pattern to control the relationship.

Against the law.

A violation of an individual's body.

It affects everyone including the victim, their family and friends.

Types of abuse
This following list includes types of abuse that may be present in violent relationships. These behaviors may be present at different points during the relationship, to varying degrees, or not at all.

Emotional abuse: Includes actions by a partner that systematically destroy a person's sense of self-esteem and self- worth. Emotional abuse includes jealous behavior, ignoring feelings, belittling values, restricting social activities with others, and withholding love, approval, and affection.

Verbal abuse: Using words to injure another person. This includes name calling, insults, threats of physical and/or sexual violence, threats of self-harm and/or suicide, humiliation, intimidation, and exaggerated criticism for mistakes.

Sexual abuse: Includes any forcible sexual activity that occurs without consent. This can range from unwanted touching to forcible penetration. Sexual abuse also includes verbal criticism of one's body.

Physical abuse: Includes any behavior that causes or threatens bodily harm. Some examples are hitting, slapping, grabbing, breaking things, or threatening to do any of the above.

Cycle of abuse in relationships
Abuse in relationships can follow a cyclical pattern. There are times when abusive behavior happens only once, but unfortunately this is not the case in most abusive relationships. Violent behavior typically repeats throughout the cycle. Keep in mind that not all of the victim/abuser behaviors listed below always occur, they are just some examples of commonly reported reactions.

Stage 1: Tension building: The abuser becomes edgy and starts to react more negatively to frustrations. The tension rises to a point where the abuser feels that he/she has lost control over the behavior/actions of the victim.

Abuser reactions: moody; withdraws affection; criticizes and puts victim down; threatens; yells.

Victim reactions: attempts to calm abuser; nurtures; withdraws from daily activities; feelings of walking on eggshells.

Stage 2: Acute explosion: This is the shortest of the stages because violence most always occurs at this point. The abuser's anger is out of control. The victim becomes more emotionally detached because becoming emotional with the abuser is more likely to trigger violence. It typically ends after a violent outburst by the abuser.

Abuser reactions: physical violence like hitting, choking, slapping; sexual violence ranging from unwanted touching to forcible rape; emotional violence like humiliation, yelling, name calling, badgering; use of weapons.

Victim reactions: attempts to protect self; calling police, family, or friends; tries to calm abuser; tries to reason with abuser; fights back; withdraws.

Stage 3: Honeymoon: This is typically a welcomed stage by both the abuser and the victim. The abuser expresses remorse for his/her actions and the victim starts to believe that the abuser can change and stop being abusive. This stage continues until the abuser begins to feel confident again and starts to feel a loss of control over the victim's behavior. This stage has shown to decrease in length over time and has been shown to in some cases, disappear totally.

Abuser reactions: promises to get help; asks for forgiveness; gets gifts for victim; promises love and devotion.

Victim reactions: agrees to stay; sets up counseling; feels happy and hopeful.

*This information is adapted from Walker, L. (1980) The Battered Woman and a brochure titled "Dating Violence" from Sexual Assault Services and Crime Victim Assistance, Rutgers University.

Characteristics of abusive vs. health relationships
Abusive relationships are based on power and control while Healthy relationships are based on respect.

Emotional abuse (abusive relationship)
Putting another person down; using mind games; humiliating partner; using guilt; constant criticism.

Fairness & negotiation (healthy relationship)
Seeking mutually satisfying resolutions to conflict; using compromise.

Isolation (abusive relationship)

Controlling what your partner does, where she/he goes, how she/he dresses, who she/she sees and talks to.

Non-threatening behavior (healthy relationship)

Acting in a way that makes partner feel safe and secure.

Intimidation (abusive relationship)

Using looks, actions, and gestures that instill fear; destroying partner's property.

Respect listening (healthy relationship)

non-judgmentally; being emotionally understanding and affirming.

Making threats (abusive relationship)

Making or carrying out threats of individual harm to self, partner, or children; threatening to leave partner; threatening suicide.

Honesty and accountability (healthy relationship)

Accepting responsibility for one's actions; admitting wrong; communicating openly and honestly.

Using "power over" (abusive relationship)

Treating partner like a servant; making all decisions without consulting partner's wishes.

Shared responsibility (healthy relationship)

Mutually agreeing on a fair distribution of work; making joint decisions.

Sexual abuse (abusive relationship)

Making the partner be sexual in ways the partner does not want; treating as a sex object; forcing sex.

Trust and support (healthy relationship)

Supporting partner's goals; respecting the partner's rights to feelings, opinions, and activities.

Economic abuse (abusive relationship)

Trying to keep partner from becoming/remaining financially independent.

Economic partnership (healthy relationship)

Making financial decisions together and making sure both benefit from the financial arrangement.

Using children (abusive relationship)

Making partner feel guilty about children; using children to relay messages.

Responsible parenting (healthy relationship)

Sharing parenting responsibilities; being a positive non-abusive role model.

(Adapted from "Is your relationship heading into dangerous territory?" brochure from the University of Texas at Austin (2001). (
shared by Barbara at 5:06 AM



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