Abuse in Intimate Partner Relationships

The term "intimate partner violence" describes physical, sexual, or psychological harm by a current or former common-law partner, boyfriend/girlfriend or spouse. This type of abuse can occur among heterosexual or same-sex couples.

It may be difficult to tell for sure that someone is being abused, as abusive actions and behaviours often do not take place in front of others. However, the following signs and symptoms may indicate that someone is being abused:

Uneven Interactions

  • One partner acts superior to the other
  • One partner often insults or puts the other down
  • One partner often accuses the other of bad behaviour (e.g., flirting or talking too loudly)
  • One partner seems fearful, nervous, unsure or passive when the other is present
  • One partner seems overly possessive or controlling of the other (e.g., always checking up, disapproving of the other's friendships)


  • One partner often apologizes or makes excuses for the other partner's behaviours
  • One partner seems to take the blame for everything that goes wrong (e.g., getting lost on a drive, breaking something)
  • One partner shows fear of conflict with others

Unexplained Injuries

  • One partner has frequent bruises and injuries
  • One partner has elaborate explanations for injuries
  • One partner seems to avoid work or school rather than explain how injuries occurred
  • One partner makes last-minute excuses for why s/he can't meet you
  • One partner uses drugs or alcohol to cope

Signs of Immediate Danger

There are also some risk factors and warning signs that someone may be in immediate danger:

  • One partner threatens self-harm or harm to his/her partner, children, pets or others
  • One partner forces his/her partner to have sexual intercourse
  • One partner has already hit or choked his/her partner
  • One partner has abused others in the past, including pets
  • One partner watches, follows, attempts to control his/her partner
  • One partner is depressed or experiencing major life changes (e.g., job change)
  • One or both partners abuse drugs and/or alcohol
  • One or both partners have access to weapons
  • One partner claims to fear for his/her life
  • One partner has just left the relationship or is planning to leave
  • Ex-partners are engaged in a child custody battle
  • The couple is isolated either geographically or socially (e.g., live far from town, not in touch with family or friends, etc.)
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