Power and Control in An Abusive Relationship

Domestic abuse is a pattern of behavior where one person seeks to gain and maintain control over another person. This behavior typically happens between individuals in a romantic relationship and may also affect these individuals’ children.

A recurrent theme in domestic abuse is power and control. One person, the abuser, seeks to gain and maintain it. The other person, the victim, is on the receiving end as the abuser exhibits behaviors that reinforce their power and control.

How does an abuser gain and maintain power and control?

It depends on the type of abuse. Physically abusive partners seek to gain and maintain control using physical violence and threats of assault. Others use non-physical methods such as sexual abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, and financial abuse.

It is important to understand that domestic abuse does not happen overnight. Instead, a good relationship goes bad as abuse occurs once or occasionally, then becomes more frequent until the abuser takes control of the victim’s life and circumstances.

Abusers gain control using tactics that involve physical and non-physical abuse. Ultimately, abusers seek to instill fear and maintain control.

Why Power And Control?

One theory is that men’s use of violence against women is a learned habit to impose dominance and authority. Psychologists say learning this pattern of behavior starts during childhood and is reinforced through many social, cultural, and even systemic enablers. In most households, the male child is likely to learn that using violence in interpersonal relationships is a way to dominate others. People around him may even encourage him when he displays such aggressive behaviors. On the other hand, the female child learns to be a victim of domestic abuse by watching her mother being abused and often being a victim at a young age too. The Power and Control Wheel is a useful tool to understand this dynamic.

What you can do

If you recognized that your partner displays warning signs or characteristics identified using the power and control wheel, help is available. You can text, call, or chat with an experienced advocate to discuss your situation and find solutions that apply to your situation. 

Call the national helpline on (800) 799-7233 (SAFE) or (800) 787-3224 (TTY).

All calls are anonymous and treated as confidential.